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I found that in Ariel Cohen’s responses, the devil is, so to speak, in the details.
I definitely agree with his understanding of what characteristics constitute a
moderate Muslim – eschewing violence, and advocating tolerance and pluralism.
But when he begins to identify moderate Muslims specifically by
name, I find that he mentions individuals who do not exactly represent the
mainstream Muslim communities, wherever they are. Does that mean that
moderation lies only on the margins of Muslim societies? Surely, this is contrary
to the more widely held view that a small minority in the margins advocates
extremism in the Muslim world while the vast majority is moderate.
This is empirically true everywhere, even in Iraq, where terrorism and insurgency
is practiced by a small minority of the smallest minority (Sunnis).
Cohen claims that there is a “near-consensus” that Tariq Ramadan is a
supporter of the Ikhwan (the Muslim Brotherhood). I am afraid that most
Ikhwanis would disagree with this, as would most Islamic modernists who
value Ramadan’s views. Many prominent scholars of Islam and the Middle
East, people who have actually read his books and followed his career, have
hailed him as a progressive and moderate voice.
In defense of the American government, Cohen makes two claims. First,
he asserts that the American government officials are averse to mixing religion
and politics. I find this comment surprising, given the extent to which
the current administration is allied with the Christian Right and its embrace
of faith-based initiatives. Second, I agree with his claim that these same officials
are ignorant and incapable of distinguishing between a radical and a
moderate. While Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri go free, American government
officials are busy harassing prominent moderates like Tariq Ramadan, international
peace award-winners like Yusuf Islam, and law-abiding Muslim citizens
who go to Canada for a conference.
I agree with Cohen that Islamists must be accommodated under the
rubric of a democratic constitution that allows as much room to those who
reject Islamism as to those who advocate it. However, I remain perplexed by
his closing remarks in his answer to question 3. He appreciates the value of ...