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Home Radicals, Moderates and Islamists

Radicals, Moderates and Islamists

The radical-moderate continuum that has defined the dialogue on Islam in the War on Terror is not an authentic perspective, it is an observer perspective.

To the Western observer, a suicide bomber is radical, a Muslim Imam willing to perform gay weddings is moderate and the Muslim Brotherhood leader who supports some acts of terror, but not others, is moderately radical or radically moderate.

These descriptions tell us nothing about Islam or about what Muslims believe, but do tell us a great deal about its observers and what they believe. They turn Islam into inkblots that reveal more about the interpreter than the splotch of ink being interpreted.

Muslims are not radical or moderate. The radical-moderate continuum is how liberal countries rate individuals and countries to decide how well they will harmonize with the national and international consensus. Even if that consensus only exists in their own mind. The label of moderate does not mean a rejection of violence. Otherwise it could hardly be applied to the Muslim Brotherhood. What it means is a willingness to collaborate with Western governments and progressive organizations.

The radical-moderate labels are useful for liberals, but useless for anyone who wants to asses reality. It is tied into a number of false notions that are necessary for maintaining the status quo of liberal democracies. Notions such as the equal moral stature and interchangeability of all religions and peoples are key to running a liberal democracy, but they make it impossible to have a rational conservation about Islam.

In liberal democracies, no one really discusses Islam as a religion. That discussion is preemptively aborted by the defense of the general category of religion. To criticize Islam is to challenge the category of protection for all religions, much as to attack Communism during the Cold War was to attack the First Amendment.

The general category makes it necessary to subdivide the specific religion or ideology into a moderate majority and a tiny minority of extremists. This categorization tells us nothing about Islam and everything about the political and intellectual classes that refuse to rationally discuss it.

Islam is neither moderate nor extreme. It simply is. Extremism and moderate are an observer perspective. That does not mean that Islam is all one thing, an impermeable block. But the one thing that it is not, is liberal.

Liberal Islam is secular Islam, in the same way that liberal Christianity and liberal Judaism are both secularized in their subservience to liberal values. There are indeed secular Muslims out there, but they are a tiny minority of secularists even in the secular West. Their influence is minimal. And it likely would be minimal even if the Saudis weren't spending fortunes in oil money to control the expressions of Islam in the West.

Even these secular Muslims are not necessarily non-violent. What they lack is the broader worldview of Islamic nationalism, that some label Islamism. They will support Arab Nationalist terrorism, which defines peoples by nation, rather than the Islamic Nationalism, which defines them by religion.

Islamic nationalism is not a religion. Nor is it a separate branch of Islam. It is influenced by movements within Islam, but those movements are largely reformist efforts aimed at returning to a more uncompromised Islam. And it is not limited to these movements. The majority of Muslims identify with Islamic nationalism to some degree.

Islamism is simply the political implementation of Islam which is already political. Islamism does not politicize an apolitical religion, it applies a political religion to politics. And most Muslims support that for the simple reason that they are Muslims and Islam is their religion. They may quibble over some of the details and they may be fooled by some smooth talk, but the same may be said of many supporters of National Socialism and Bolshevism. What matters is not whether every single German who thought Hitler had some good ideas supported the concentration camps or whether every single Communist supported the Gulags. Certainly not all did. What matters is that they supported the systems and leaders that made those things possible even when the warning signs were there.

No Islamist movement represents a complete break with Islam. Not even a partial break. The greatest stressors that Islamic terrorist groups impose on their religious codes is the treatment of other Muslims as infidels. And that alone is a telling statement about the tolerance for interfaith violence in their religion. It isn't war that stresses Islamic codes, it's internecine warfare.

Western observers may label those who identify with Al Qaeda as extremists and those who identify with the Muslim Brotherhood as moderates, but these are cosmetic differences. Islamist organizations are not a separate religion. They are the practical implementation of the religion. If we are to have a truer continuum, it would run from secular to religious, rather than moderate to extremist.

What makes Islamists dangerous are not their means, such as flying planes into skyscrapers, but their ends, which involve a global theocracy that reduces non-Muslims to enemies and slaves. Whether this end is accomplished through bombs or elections makes little difference. Hitler and Stalin would be no different whether they won elections or seized power by force. Not so long as their ends involved war, mass slavery and genocide.

The trouble with Islamic nationalism is Islam. There is no way of getting around that. Terrorism is an aspect of the problem. But the problem is a violent system that views the lives of non-Muslims and dissenting Muslims as worthless.

When Muslim terrorists set off bombs in Boston, Mumbai, Jerusalem or anywhere else, what they are really communicating is not some passionate grievance, but an ideology that has no regard for the lives of non-Muslims. That same message is communicated by the treatment of Western prisoners in Dubai or the treatment of Western hostages in Nigeria. It is a message rooted in the xenophobia of the Koran and it is a warning of the system that these acts of oppression and terror are intended to build.

The extent to which most Muslims are committed to the final ends of Islamism, including a total war with the rest of the world and its subjugation under Islamic law, may vary, but there is no denying the fact that in open elections, Islamists have won again and again. The Arab Spring conclusively demonstrated that the Islamist agenda is more compelling than any other. Indeed it is hard to find any political movements in ascendency in the Muslim world today except Islamist ones.

The tiny minority of extremists are not the Islamists who have dominated the Arab Spring as thoroughly as they have dominated the Islamic institutions of the West, it is the secularists who still cling to forms of solidarity based on national identity or economic class.

If their moderate Islam, which will have co-ed prayers in mosques, female prayer leaders and gay Imams is the solution, then there is no hope for a solution because it has no trajectory. The forces that forged a liberalized Christianity and Judaism in Europe are in decline. And they could hardly impose their worldview on a religion whose centers of power are out of their reach.

Liberal Islam is not in ascendency anywhere. In much of the world, including the Muslim world and totalitarian nations such as Russia and China, the continuum is not that of the radicals and the moderates, but the government clerics who are not moderate, but lack all conviction, and the Islamists who want to overthrow them.

Government clerics are rarely moderate. They often support terrorism, so long as it is aimed at other nations. The moderate cleric in Egypt supports war with Israel, but not domestic theocracy. The moderate cleric in Russia supports terrorism against New York, but not Moscow. The moderate cleric in Saudi Arabia supports war with Syria but not assassinations at home. There are exceptions, but these exceptions, when they are sincere, are the tiny minority.

Everywhere Islam is weaponized to be used against someone else, just as Carter once believed that he could use the Iranians and the Afghans against the Soviet Union. But it is folly to think that the means of religious violence can be directed toward any other ultimate end than religious supremacy.

Islamism is applied Islam. It is not extreme, only illiberal, but then Islam is an illiberal religion. It is a religion built on war and conquest.

The Islamist only reminds Muslims of what their religion stands for. It is not a separate entity from Islam because it is rooted within Islam. Its solutions are Islamic solutions. It may break in some ways with history, but not with theology.

The pragmatic solution of denying this is so to keep Muslims from embracing Islamist solutions to political problems is doomed. Muslims do not define themselves by Western standards of liberalism and extremism. They do not rely on Western thinkers to determine their religion for them. They are outside the consensus of liberal democracies and the best evidence of that is the triumph of Islamists in the political spheres of the Middle East and the West.

Tactics that ignore reality are doomed. We have learned that the hard way in many wars. We are learning it now in Afghanistan and in London, Paris and Boston. We can waste time trying to fit Muslims into our categories or we can understand that they are not part of our categories.

Islamism is not a sect, it is the Islamic consensus. It is the closest thing that the Muslim world has to match the liberal worldview of the West. The Islamist is not radical to his own. He represents the majority view of the Muslim world that power and politics should derive from Islam and that Muslims should assert a collective power based on their common Islamic nationalism,

Islamism won in the Arab Spring. It won the Western Diaspora. The idea that we can detach Islam from its political application by branding its political application extremist has failed. The two are intertwined. We cannot weaken Islamism except by weakening Islam, economically, militarily and demographically.


  1. Anonymous20/5/13

    I see it as this: All islams are moderate or partly moderate until they blow you up with an IED.
    Chicago is a prime example of "moderate" islams blowing people up with an IED, finally being noticed by the surrounding people as not being "moderate" any more.
    Or, I and the Universe learned everything we needed to know and learn about islam on 9/11. Heltau

  2. Anonymous20/5/13

    Once again, on the button.
    Thank you, I hope daniel Pipes supporters get to read this as his hedging is worrying me a little.

  3. Anonymous20/5/13

    Dan,the problem in perceptions are generated on the psychological level.These fantastic ideas about what makes the world turn are defense mechanisms inside the minds of the upper-middle classes in the Western world.We have a large population of coddled & protected Baby-Boomers & current & retired government workers.These two groups tend to overlap.Combined,they make up a large influential section of the general public.These people are living the good life,"La Dolce Vida",they don't want to be bothered with distasteful issues which need resolution.These issues cannot be allowed to mar the fantasy world they live in.The need to resolve the distasteful problem can be circumvented by denying that there is a problem!Simple solution,no problem,no need for resolution.No need for hard decisions,all of us overage kids can go back to "La Dolce Vida",the good life!

    RETIRED 5/20/13

  4. Anonymous20/5/13

    Wonderful insights and wordsmithing. The Western brain is logical and since Islam is dichotomous, it strains to understand the basis on which Islam can even exist. Another way I've come to appreciate the differences in how we see Islam lived in people and groups is a timing phenomenon. The secular or "moderates" hope eventually the world will be under Allah rule, but they aren't passionate enough to DO anything to bring this specific result today. Those who are often called "radical or extremists" are those impatient ones who believe NOW is the time Allah has instructed them to march forward just like on a battlefield and take ground.
    I'm concerned that so few see Islam as being the threat. How can we weaken Islam when our petrodollars fuel Wahabbi Islam in 2000+ mosques, our colleges/academia are funded by Saudi Arabia? Demographically, they have taken over sectors of Europe and gained inroads into specific countries governing bodies. And to our shame, the same has begun on US soil. Militarily, the USA has been castrated by Obama and the purposeful Muslim sympathies are obvious in every strategy he creates.
    I don't see how we can beat Islam; i believe it is the Antichrist regime and it will require Jesus and heavens armies to defeat.
    Thanks for your courage and wisdom to fight such a monster as Islam. You are not alone!!!!

    1. Anonymous20/5/13

      Bless you and Daniel for your insights and valuable points of view.

    2. Anonymous20/5/13

      God bless you Linda Strawn

  5. Gould K.L. Brownlee20/5/13

    A lot of Western Leftists' denial about Islam and other enemies of the West, such as Mexican aliens, is rooted in cowardice. Note that after 9/11 the Leftists' solution was to import more lively, vibrant, diverse Moslems into the U.S.

    I remember that imbecile Bush saying that we needed more Islamic clerics to help us preach non-violence to Moslems in the U.S. This is insane. It is either cowardice or treason. A lot of it is cowardice. The Leftist is a strict materialist with no moral principles to speak of, so when he is confronted by obvious enemies the Leftist lapses into a mental pathology that resembles the Stockholm Syndrome.

    That also means that the fear must be transferred to a group that is openly hostile to the actual enemies. In other words cowardice among White people must be enshrined into law if the denial of who our enemies are is to be maintained. And notice how desperate the dreaming sheep were to pin the Boston bombings on a White. Notice how that horrific story has faded away now that it is clear that it was a the work of a third-world savage.

    At a time when terrorism is a 99 percent problem with Islam, the Leftist criminals under the loathsome Holder and Obama define a likely terrorist as a White man who insists on his God-given right to self-defense, to keep most of his money, and who rightly hates the likes of that affirmative-action parasite Obama.

    I never thought I would live to see that day that our government would be the enemy of its own country and the ally of our enemies. But really it's been going on since the 60s. I tried to deny it, but it's just too obvious.

  6. Anonymous20/5/13

    Lenin was wrong. We've built the gallows, climbed onto the platform, placed the noose around our neck and we're reaching for the trapdoor lever. What dupes we are!

  7. Anonymous20/5/13

    Islam is as Islam does.

    What it does to women, little boys and girls is enough to repulse anyone.

    What Islam says in its core texts and from the mouths of its preachers is repulsive as well.

    There is a dichotomy built in to Islam, because the Koran is the record of Mohammed's spiritual journey from Mecca when he was fairly rational and respectful of Judaism and Christianity, to his torments by evil spirits in Medina as he became a raging hate-filled racist and cold-blooded killer. The mandates during the two periods are completely contradictory. Therefore, Islam creates a constant mental conflict with no means of resolution. This inner state is repeated in the constant conflict in the individuals, families, tribes and nations that follow Mohammed's religion and with those who do not.

    Islam is caught in a never-ending war because it opposes and contradicts the very G-D it claims to serve.

    Sibyl S.

  8. Anonymous20/5/13

    Article about the Islamists' War on Women asks why Western feminists don't object more strongly: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/348552/islamist-war-women-lee-habeeb

    Sibyl S.

  9. In the interest of fairness, a cherished liberal value, let's treat them like they treat us.

  10. Anonymous20/5/13

    "To criticize Islam is to challenge the category of protection for all religions, much as to attack Communism during the Cold War was to attack the First Amendment."
    Daniel, While your analysis of Islam now is spot on, your history is not. In the Cold War attacks on Communism were relentless, and fewer and fewer people defended them. In the anti-Viet Nam war movement, most people took great pains to distance themselves from the Commies.

  11. It took me a while after 9/11 to come to similar conclusions, and I think that is in no small part due to the way that President Bush, and other "compassionate conservatives" (grr), set the tone. Like Obama and his traitorous horde, Bush was intent on making some false distinctions (the ones you clarify here) that have done more to endanger this nation than bin Laden ever did.

  12. Daniel,

    There is no such thing as Islamism - there is only Islam! At the core, its a totalitarian creed like Nazism and Communism. It seeks to kill us all, reduce us to being their slaves and to take away the freedoms it took centuries for us to acquire. Muslims do not want Western freedoms - in fact just the exact opposite.

    For that reason alone, democracy and Islam are incompatible. There is no true freedom in the Muslim World - no freedom of religious worship and no freedom of conscience. Dissenters are killed and even eaten! There is no way to meet Islam half way because by nature, Islam is no more moderate than Nazism or Communism was. Take away what defines the essence of Islam and its no longer Islam.

    Which brings us to another point - the Muslim countries that are secular and reasonably free are dictatorships that completely repress Islam, like the post-Soviet dictatorships in the Central Asian Muslim republics. They understand far better than we do - that free elections hold not the key to freedom but the door to complete tyranny.

    And yet our Western elites want to force such complete tyranny upon millions of people in the name of democracy. They don't realize that Islam is the exact opposite of Judaism and Christianity. Once Muslim clerics complete the enslavement of their own people and exterminate religious minorities, they will eventually do the same to us.

    With Islam, there is no true meeting of the minds.Our efforts to appease and accommodate it will only ensure the lights of freedom are extinguished throughout the Western World. We must understand the enemy and his goals before we can defeat him. In short, make no mistake, Islam is the enemy of the open society.
    That is the challenge of the 21st Century.

    The older totalitarian ideologies are now only found in the history books but the 1400 year old threat of Islam remains very much with us.

  13. Islamism refers to political organizations seeking to impose Islam.

  14. Islam is dangerous since it seeks to control every area of life. That would be true even if Islamist groups seeking to impose it did not exist. Its logic and its path is as absolute as Hitler's creed or Lenin's vision of the perfect society. And Islam leads to beheadings, chopping off of hands and genocide. That is the true nature of the beast.

  15. Islamist groups are the organic implementation of Islam. They're just a modern adaptation of Western politics to the Islamic reality.

  16. Daniel,

    The Islamic reality is already with us in the West even without Islamic parties.

    You don't need organized Islamic terrorist factions to impose their will upon the infidels. And in the face of all this, the West is still asleep.

  17. organization always helps

    The Muslim Brotherhood is proof of that


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