This controversial narrative attracted lots of attention after 9/11 and the beginning of the war on terror. Long-ignored Islam became a story, fought over bitterly by rival political groups.
I witnessed this struggle first hand on the Orkut discussion forums, where anti-Muslim Westerners allied with anti-Muslim Hindus, moderate Pakistanis allied with leftist Westerners, and Islamists fought everyone.
Other weird alliances of convenience popped into existence for only the few seconds it took to make a point. The most radical anti-Muslim zealots and the Islamists could agree on one thing: there is no moderate Muslim!
Debates became almost comical at times as these bitter enemies put aside their differences because the one thing they agreed about was Islam. Both anti-Muslim and Islamist radicals agree that Islam is locked in a battle to the death with the US and its allies, a battle that will be won only with the destruction of the other civilisation. Both agree that a real Muslim is extremely violent, responding to the slightest challenge to Islam with aggression. Both think true Muslims hate the cultures of the kufr, force women to wear hijab or niqab, and want to sweep Israel into the sea.
It can be odd to see chilled-out Pakistani Muslims taking time out of chatting about rock music to tell off the extreme Islamists, only to be stabbed in the back by vicious Western or Indian anti-Muslimists!
The idea of Islamists and anti-Muslimists is that any Muslim who shows tolerance towards liberal politics or other faiths is not, in fact, following Islam as described in the Quran. Therefore, they reason, there are no moderate Muslims.
I haven't read the Quran, but I have seen every shade of Christian, each interpreting Christianity for their own ends: communist Christians, anarchist Christians, conservative Christians, pacifist Christians, fascist Christians, pro-war Christians, feminist Christians - you name it. Which ones are the real Christians? Whichever - demographers count all of them as Christian when totting up populations, just as every kind of Muslim from liberal to radical is included in official numbers.
From my Orkut experience, moderate Muslims are a-plenty. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan (IRP) community is the battleground of their struggles with the extremists: here is one of the bloody borders Huntington described, but it is within Muslim communities, not at the edge. They are fighting to define Islam, the winners will decide what Islam is and how it relates to non-Muslims.
Yesterday one Muslim member posted a link to a video allegedly shown on Iqra TV, an Islamic television station based in Saudi Arabia, in which a speaker explains that a wife must consent to her husband's demand for sex and, therefore, Islam has no concept of marital rape. The Muslim member said he had been arguing with another Muslim who supported this idea, the latter blaming adultery on men who are dissatisfied with their marital sex lives. The former asks:
"Do you think it's a valid reason to have forceful sex?"
A): "!!!! I cant belive u asked this question bro?
rape is never justified..
so it's not valid"
B): "LOL...Saudi Mullahs are insane.
Use of force or doing something against someone's will is wrong, no matter what."
C): "There's never a valid reason 4 rape 2 occur. NO means NO the world over."
"Who still says Islam is peaceful...
Oddly ... only the 'sickulars'
The rest of the Muslim world believes in violence and murder and the rest of the world thinks Islam is a violent religion.
Did someone say Irony?"
"If bullets, bombs and chopped off heads are peaceful then we might need to update dictionaries."One Muslim objected, arguing instead that:
"Islam blvs in Justice and justice brings peace."Another joked in response to this:
"Islam blvs in killing and killing brings peace.The thread-starter later remarks:
FTFY" (FTFY is internet geek-speak for "fixed that for you"!)
"Now that I think of it, I can't even recall anyone in IRP who has used the term 'sickular' to ever preach patience or tolerance.The same member had a thread asking what "Islamophobes and Mullahs agree upon", pointing out my earlier observation that both extremes hold very radical views of Islam. This is a rather tongue-in-cheek thread, as Muslim Pakistani members list the extreme ideas about Islam that radical Islamists and anti-Muslim foreigners hold in common. A few examples:
They are all about killing people or stonning them etc etc."
A): "Adultery is punished by stoning to death"
B): "Music is Haram" (forbidden)
C): "Osama Bin Laden is a Jihadi role model for muslims"
D): "Both Mullahs and Islamophobes believe that Islam is incompatible with democracy."
E): "Muslim women should remain covered from head to toe in a black garment all the time"
F): "Both Mullahs and Islamophobes believe that in Islamic law a women's intellect is considered inferior and oft faltering hence her testimony is not equal to that of a man."
Remember, these are the words of practicing Muslims, some of them quite serious and devout about their faith, but nonetheless rejecting the sexist and puritanical views of the extreme clerics. We have seen plenty of the other kind too, radicals who advocate forcing women into niqabs the world over to prevent rape and admit wishing Hitler had succeeded in exterminating the Jews (then immediately denying that the Holocaust had happened). One cheerful fanatic even announced that Israel would be swept into the sea, and then it would be called "Fishrael".
But the moderates weary of that radicalism, and spend more time fighting their Islamists neighbours than arguing over American foreign policies.
Yesterday the debate shifted even further against the Islamists. Members were discussing a news story from Tajikistan where the state has intervened aggressively in religious activity, hoping to crush Islamic extremism. Religious leaders are forbidden from giving sermons on controversial topics; there are stories even of police forcing men to shave their beards. This is an oppressive step unthinkable in "Western" countries. The debate on the IRP community is varied, with some Muslims supporting the oppressive moves, others rejecting it - but on liberal grounds, not religious.
A): "Good step.
Pakistan should follow this now.
We need to take counter radical steps to stop this growing religious and islamic extremism in our land.... If militants can try to force us to keep beards, we should do the exact opposite."
B): "Then you are also a militant. Shame on you bro... You cannot fight fascism with fascism."
C): "Extremely bold step.
Unusual circumstances require unusual rulings."
D): "Good Step. Nip the evil in the bud. this tumor had to be stopped."
E): "Great, should to be followed everywhere...need of time."
F): "Education is the key, not government high-handedness."
G): "lol and here people give speeches in the support of freedom of speech
and also supporting this law that a person doesnt have the freedom to keep a beard"
H): "This sounds so suffocated. Once you start using the iron fist it won't start anywhere then the same people who are supporting this would cry for freedom of expressions."
I): "fascism in any form is wrong."
What we see is Muslims here divided between those who are willing to use the state to destroy Islamic extremism by force and those who prefer more liberal routes.
Yes, liberal, pro-democracy, secular, but devout Muslims exist. These moderate Muslims stand between the violent radicals and the non-Muslim world, sometimes literally dying in defense of liberties for the kufr. They constantly expose and undermine the simplistic global narratives promoted by Islamists.
...So it might not be clever for the rest of us to deny they exist, or to weaken their position by promoting the rival Islamist narrative of a violent, beseiged Islam. For the liberal Muslims stand at the real bloody border - not at the edges of Islam, but at its heart - and it's rather important that they come out of this victorious.