The Clash of Ignorances The War on Terror Must Not Compromise Muslim Rights

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John L. Esposito



The responses of my colleagues provide a good representation of the extraordinarily
diverse views of Islam, Muslims, and Muslim politics that exist
Like it or not, we are stuck with the phrase moderate Muslim. Yet, as I
read our comments, I keep thinking that for too many, non-Muslims and
Muslims alike, moderate means someone “like us.” Thus, moderate is
equated with progressive or liberal Muslims but excludes conservatives or
traditionalists. Ariel Cohen, in his identification of several moderate
Muslims, mentions Amina Wadud’s leading of a mixed-gender Friday
prayer. This underscores the problem with moderate, especially when the
concept is juxtaposed with extremist. If a woman leading an official prayer
service were a criterion for moderate, then many Christian and Jewish
groups, denominations, and their leaders (e.g., the recently deceased Pope
John Paul II) would fail the test and not be moderates. But they certainly
would not be extremists either. Should we, then, add such other litmus tests
as position on birth control, abortion, and gay rights?
If we go down this road, I wonder how Jews and Christians would react
to Muslim countries or Muslim experts and political commentators who
attempted to set the definition of a moderate Jew or a moderate Catholic,
with the implication that all others were extremists. If, as some non-
Muslims have done with regard to Islam, Muslims established institutes
and think tanks to define, monitor, or implement their notions of moderate
Jew or moderate Christian, how long would it be before they would be
accused of being anti-Semitic or anti-Catholic? Would we define a moderate
Jew vs. an extremist Jew as one who rejects scriptural justification for
claims to Israel, rejects the logic and creation of settlements by religiously
motivated Jews, possesses an enlightened understanding of the origins of
Judaism and of the Hebrew scriptures; rejects all those biblical passages in
which God commands acts of violence and warfare; and eschews any mixing
of their faith with politics in Israel, with the support of fundamentalist
or religious nationalist groups, schools, or settlements?

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