Opinion: Do moderate Muslims exist?

Opinion: Do moderate Muslims exist?

A couple of weeks ago the Guardian was all aghast about the fact that the Quilliam Foundation accused moderate peace-loving Muslims of being radicals. The assumption being that if a Muslim is working for the Scotland Yard, then he must be moderate.

It looks like a slow news day, so I thought this would be a good time to share a few thoughts on the subject.

I think the term 'moderate Muslim' is misleading. People who use this term usually mean to say "liberal Muslim" or "Western Muslim".

According to Tariq Ramadan, a Muslim needs just three things in order to be "European": be law-abiding, speak the language, be loyal to the country and its values (critically and constructively). But, in fact, you can be the most radical Muslim and still be law-abiding, speak the language and be loyal to all the values you're not critical of. A good example of such a Muslim is Tariq Ramadan himself.

I don't think that's enough. Integration is not about being law-abiding, or about accepting those values you think don't conflict with your religion. It's about integrating those values into your outlook and religion.

The Guardian was trying to champion Muslims but, in my opinion, it's articles like these that encourage Islamophobia. If the Muslim organizations mentioned in the Guardian article are 'moderate', and we already know that they are not exactly representative of Western values, this leads to the conclusion that 'moderate' Muslims could be extremely radical. Ergo, moderate Muslims do not exist. QED.

This isn't helped by the fact that most of the public spokespeople for Muslim 'moderates' are either fundamentalists, like Tariq Ramadan, or go from criticizing their religion, to leaving it, like Magdi Allam. But this doesn't mean that Western Muslims don't exist.

The most basic definition of a Western Muslim is a Muslim who ascribes to the liberal Western ideology.

In my opinion, anybody who does the following can not be 'moderate', by definition, no matter how much journalists try to paint them that way:

1. Supports corporal punishments for religious crimes (homosexuality, infidelity, apostasy), whether in the West or 'only' in Muslim countries

2. Thinks Sharia law should be implemented ('but the way it's supposed to, not like they do it in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan etc..')

3. Thinks that Islamic polygamy can be a good idea.

4. Thinks Muslims cannot leave Islam

5. Is antisemitic

6. Thinks freedom of religion trumps all (even if they talk about protecting other religions)

The problem with most studies on Muslims in Europe is that they look at language, employment, schooling or self-identity in order to check integration. But the fact that you feel 'Dutch' or 'German' or 'French' doesn't really mean that you uphold a Western attitude.

There are a few surveys where such questions are asked.

A survey in Denmark in 2009 found that 14% of Muslims were against curtailing freedom of speech when criticizing religion, compared with 79% of Danes. In other words, a vast majority of Danes see freedom of speech as an overriding value. A vast majority of Muslims disagree. 14%, however, think Western values are more important. This 14% might be a minority, but they are the real Western Muslims.

A survey in Austria showed that 22% of Muslims completely opposed integrating Sharia law into the national law. 24% said observing their religion is not more important than democracy. Again, a minority, but one which puts Western values first.

This doesn't mean that they're not religious Muslims, but it does mean that they integrated Western values into their outlook on life and religion. I think it's a shame there's not more research in that direction.

Meanwhile, calling other Muslims 'moderates' just serves the interests of Muslim fundamentalists and 'Islamophobes'.