The following article is a part of the series in which we will attempt to deconstruct the Radical/Moderate Paradigm within the Muslim communities and the overarching politics at play.
Over the last century Muslims have been intermittent state of diaspora. In a rapidly changing world where all territories are controlled by nation state governments, Muslims have found themselves, willingly and unwillingly, attempting to reshape their identity, culture and values to integrate themselves into these modern state paradigms.
The Radical and the Moderate: The Western Stratagem for Dividing the Ummah
The Radical Muslim and the Moderate Muslim. Two terms frequently referred to in the Counter-Terrorism Discourse. (Hasan et al., 2012)
The basic idea is that the Radical Muslim is one who incites terrorism and the Moderate Muslim is the one who condemns terrorism and other forms of violence. (Rabasa, 2005) (Ibrahim, 2018)
“Moderate Muslims” are often described as allies against “Radical Muslims” or “Radical Islam”. (Luck, 2016) (Khan, 2018)
And ever since the era-defining 9/11 attacks, it has been a trend for Muslims to condemn terrorist attacks almost immediately after they happen often labelling the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks as “extremists” or “Khawarij” or simply not “real Muslims” in their desperate bid to disassociate themselves from the attacks and the attackers. (Mahdawi, 2017)
This they do in the face of the virulent accusations by westerners who believe that Islam is an inherently violent ideology and it is the root cause of all terrorism. A claim that has been debunked many times over. Muslims scholars have on many occasions condemned terrorism and issued fatwas against militants. (Black, 2014)
It has almost become a routine play. A terrorist attack happens. Westerners start accusing Muslims of being associated with the terrorist plot. Muslims condemn the attacks vocally to absolve themselves of any blame.(Ghumkhor and Mohamud, 2017)
Despite this however, westerners never let go of the rhetoric of “Islam is the root cause of terrorism”. (Spencer, 2005) (Beinart, 2015)
This is mostly due to the underlying biases they have and partially because among the Muslim community, there are “Orthodox Scholars” basically affirming the Western accusations of there being a link between Violence and Islam. (Stahlhut, 2017)
That aside, not all westerners use this rhetoric. Not entirely anyway. They try to approach this from a more, for the lack of a better word, nuanced perspective. Academics therefore engaged in various researches to delineate the root causes of terrorism. And that is basis of the dichotomy between the Radical and Moderate. They were created as a means create a narrative that does not alienate Muslims from the Western Socieities entirely. (Von Sikorski et al., 2017)
But despite their academic rigor they still have their biases and underlying bigotry. (Pavan, 2017)
Those biases notwithstanding, Muslims readily accepted these labels and willingly used them not realizing the overall agenda of normalizing Western intervention in Muslim lands. From the Muslim who barely prays Jummah to the Imam at the Madrasah, all proclaimed Islam means Peace and Muslims are Moderate. Scholars and Imams in the US and beyond have retrofitted this basic narrative for themselves trying to reassure their non-Muslim neighbors that they have nothing to do with terrorists who wish to destroy them. They go to great lengths to reassure their governments they do not wish to cause them any harm. (Mamdani, 2005) (Pal, 2011)
To that they end they frequently use the connotations associated with Moderate Islam to distance themselves from terrorism or any activity that can be deemed as terrorism. (Kurzman, 2018)
The earliest individual to officially lay down this paradigm of the Radical and the Moderate Muslim was the one who started the War on Terror, President George W. Bush.
President Bush, after being advised by Hamza Yusuf, in his address to the Muslims post 9/11 was reassuring his Muslim constituents in America that their war was not against us but Radical elements who were “hijacking our religion”. He defined Muslims as those who loved peace and valued democracy. (CNN, 2001) (O’Sullivan, 2001)
Despite these reassurances however, Government Policies and the Westerners in general have been becoming increasingly discriminatory against Muslims.(Sheehi, 2011)
While it is hard to trace the root of the term Radical Muslim, until recently it was used interchangeably with Fundamentalism. Islamic Fundamentalists are those who seek to create a society in line with the first generation of Muslims emphasizing on the Fundamentals of Islam. (Choueiri, 2010)
The label of Radical in the early discourses was often used alongside the term Islamic Fundamentalists usually assigned to the Salafi/Wahabi movements. (Weismann, 2009) (Guidère, 2012) (Haider, 2013)
Some academics have often highlighted Islamic Fundamentalism as a cause of Radilization and Violence. (DeLong-Bas, Natana, 2004)
However other scholars have criticized the application of the term of Islamic Fundamentalism for various reasons mostly due to the fact that many Fundamentalists disavow themselves from the acts of the so called Radicals. (Lewis, 1988) (Iannaccone and Berman, 2002) (Abou El Fadl, 2007)
Regardless, the Western narrative at large has been centered around dividing the Muslim community along the lines of a “Good” Law-abiding Muslim Citizen and “Bad” Radical Muslim who rejects Western Values of Freedom and Democracy and seek to impose “Islamism”. (Mamdani, 2005) (Volpi, 2013) (Nawaz, 2013) (Beydoun, 2016)
Failure to integrate with “Western Values” has been highlighted as the primary reason for Radicalization.(Hamid, 2017) (Lindekilde, 2012)
Ever since the War on Terror began, many individuals and scholars of varying qualifications and credibility have tried to define what a Radical Muslim and have attempted to outline the root causes of Radicalization. The usage of the term “Radical” gained traction with the increasingly chaotic situation in the Middle East and the rise of think-tanks like Quilliam Foundation and Prevent in UK and RAND in America and personalities like Majiid Nawaz who gained fame and notoriety for his polemics against Islamism. He has also penned the book titled, The Radical, where he describes his experience as a Radical Muslim and how he cured himself of Radicalism. He and his colleagues at Quilliam(2014) have been working with the British Government and organizations like Prevent trying to create De-Radicalization programs to ensure that Muslims “don’t go down” the path of Radicalization. While they claim that their goal is to eliminate any possibility of terrorism, the truth is indeed stranger than fiction. (Begum, 2015) (Griffin, 2016) (Ross, 2016)
The definition of Radical Muslim is not restricted to Muslims who resort to or incite acts of “illegitimate violence”. Radical Muslims nowadays are described as Islamists or those who advocate for Political Islam. And consequently Islamism or Political Islam are described as root causes of Radicalization of Muslims. (Olesen and Khosrokhavar, 2009) (Nawaz, 2013)
Organizations like Hizbut Tahrir and even Ikhwan have been assigned as Radical outfits because they are apparently advocates for a totalitarian Islamic State that seek to subjugate the world and are even accused of training Jihadists in secret. (Karagiannis and McCauley, 2006) (Ahmed and Stuart, 2009) (Rafiq, 2014)
In order to recruit Muslims to the cause of “countering Radicalization”, RAND had outlined a strategy to build the “Moderate” Muslim networks. They define the Moderate Muslims as such:
Moderate Muslims are those who share the key dimensions of democratic culture. These include support for democracy and internationally recognized human rights (including gender equality and freedom of worship), respect for diversity, acceptance of nonsectarian sources of law, and opposition to terrorism and other illegitimate forms of violence. (Rabasa et al. 2007, p. 66)
RAND has also outlined the ideal characteristics of a Moderate Muslim.
Soheib Bencheikh, the Grand Mufti of Marseille, publicly supports not only the French headscarf ban, but more broadly, the principles of secularism and laicism (terms he uses interchangeably). Bencheikh defines secularism as “administrative neutrality,” by which he means that the state should perform the tasks of governance in separation from religion. In an interview, he states that “the separation between religion and politics will clarify Islam as a divine spiritual doctrine, not as an instrument which can be misused to gain the power.” This, he argues, was the original nature of Islam. “Assimilation between religion and politics in Islam is a new phenomenon,” he says, and one which is “hazardous to Islam.” He cites the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt as one of the principal originators of this wrong turn. (Rabasa et al. 2007, p.98)
“Traditionalists” or Orthodox minded Muslims do have a role but so long as they are open to “modern reforms”. The RAND strategy has five pillars, the goal of which is to devoid the Muslim Ummah politically but keeping them united against “terrorism”(Benard, 2004):
- Support the Modernists first.
- Support the traditionalists enough to keep them viable against the fundamentalists.
- Oppose the fundamentalists energetically by using the Modernists and the “Traditionalists” to undermine “their version” of Islam.
- Support the secularists on a case-by-case basis. The overall goal is to normalize the idea that separation of the religion and state can strengthen the faith of Muslims.
- Develop secular civic and cultural institutions and programs which will promote Western Concepts and narratives.
And indeed, the common theme that you will notice among the Moderate Muslims who are promoted and backed by the westerners is that they have a tendency to be heterodox. (Brown and Saeed, 2012)
Sometimes they are subtle. Other times, not so much. From simply supporting the Secularization of Islam to advocating for a re-interpretation of the Divine Revelation, they often clash against “Tradionalist” scholars over these issues. (Zonneveld, 2017) (Jahangir, 2017)
These heterodox Muslims are often referred to as Liberal Muslims. Sometimes they call themselves Progressive Muslims. Despite the semantic difference, their epistemic premise is the same. Both advocate for a “reformation of Islam” in line with Western Ideas of State, Religion and Being. (Kurzman, 1998) (Safi, 2003) (Nurdin, 2005)(Aras, 2005) (Duderija, 2016)
In the eyes of think tanks like Prevent, and Propaganda outlets like PragerU, at this point in time Traditional and Orthodox Muslims are “sleeper cells” or enablers of Radicalism. They often refer to pious Muslims as extremists. They refer to hallmarks of the Shariah law as bad ideas. On more than one occasion they have stated that a Muslim being pious is a sign of radicalization. A sentiment unfortunately imported into Muslim Communities. (Brown and Saeed, 2012) (Shapiro, 2016) Aboubakr, 2017)
More recently they make use of the so called ex-Muslims to forward their narratives against Islam. (BIT, 2015)
Ayaan Hirsi Ali in her book, the Heretic(2016), puts forward the proposition of reforming Islam based on the Makkan phase of Muslims. She has, on record stated that Islam has to be defeated and only then it can be reformed. (Bakel, 2007)
Usama Hasan(2013) of Quilliam argues that as long as Fundamentalism and Islamism dominates the Muslim discourses the threat of Radicalism will remain.
The general idea is to create a Moderate Muslim identity that complies with the Western Paradigms for shaping the world and completely embraces alleged Western Values of Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Press, Women’s rights and LGBT rights. More recently in conservative circles, denouncing BDS and any kind of hostility against Zionism is also deemed to be a necessary quality for someone to be a Moderate Muslim. (Aboubakr, 2017)
Despite their pretensions of caring for the sanctity of human lives, these Westerners consistently fail to elucidate the fact that the current situation in the Middle East has been due to Western Interventions and these terrorist attacks are simply blow-back for the lives lost in the path to establishing “Freedom and Democracy”. They also ignore the fact that their governments consistently sponsor and back autocratic regimes. Nobody raises any questions about how America and Britain continues to sell arms and ammunition to Saudi Arabia who continue to impinge on the human rights they apparently value within their own borders and beyond. (Wilcken, 2018)
Beyond that Westerners are not also consistent in their commitment to democracy. They often supported coups against Islamic regimes and condemned Democratically elected Islamic regimes, which should make one question about their ethical commitment to the principles they espouse. (Ghannoushi, 2015) (Observer 2018)
Taking all these developments into account, it does seem like an active conspiracy to subvert Islam and the Muslim resistance to Western Neo-Imperialism, and it indeed is.
In the next section we will analyze how successful the Westerners have been in instituting their idea of the Radical/Moderate paradigm within the Muslim Discourses.
The Current Paradigm within the Muslim Communities:
In Muslim Communities a similar paradigms has existed since the 19th Century after the rise of the Wahabi movement. And it is more complex than it initially appears.
From an “Islamic” perspective many Muslims argue that Radical elements have existed since the time of Khawarij. Some Shia clerics argue that it even predates the Khawarij. In any case the concept of Khawarij is the equivalent for Radical in Islamic Discourses.
Muslim scholars like al-Azm(1993) and Hanafi (Marty and Appleby, 1993) inspired by Western academics have tried to link Fundamentalism and Radicalism. They generally tend to earmark the Salafis as fundamentalists. Often echoing the sentiments of the likes of Usama Hasan of Quilliam. (Al-Alawi, 2011) (Baker, 2011) (Stahlhut, 2017)
This has to do with how historically Wahabis who are often conflated with Salafis, have perpetrated violence against other theological schools of Islam, often justifying their violence by making takfir. (Najrn AI-‘Arniri, 2002)
However Salafism isn’t monolithic. (Qadhi, 2015)
Salafism has two distinct branches. One is referred to as Salafi Jihadism, the other is Madkhalism. Each refer to themselves as the ones on the way of the Salaf and label the other as deviants. (Dar, 2016)
In the Madhkali circles, the ones who resort to terror and violence are frequently referred to as the Khawarij or Extremists or more recently, Qutubists. This reference was usually made to the ones who rebelled against the ruler. Over time it has expanded to anyone who openly criticizes any ruler inciting fitnah. Madkhalism is defined by reverent loyalty the “wisdom of scholars” and obedience to the rulers to avoid “Fitnah”. (Abu Rumman, 2014)
In the Jihadi circles, the Madkhalis are referred to as aiders and abetters of kufr i.e. Western Regimes, echoing the practice of Wahabis in the preceding centuries. (Gohel, 2017)
The more extreme outfits, like AQ and ISIS, outright make takfeer of them labeling them as Mushriks and Taghoot worshippers. And their polemics are not just restricted to Madkhalis, it applies to anyone who disagrees with them. On more than one occasion they have called for the killings of the scholars they deem to be apostates. (Goodstein, 2016) (Dettmer, 2017) (Rachwani, 2017)
This what has solidified the idea of a Khawarij or an Extremist in the Orthodox Islamic circles. While the Salafi Jihadists make the news more, by and large the Muslim communities are dominated by the Ulema who rarely engage in any kind of politics. And more recently they refer to any kind of political activism that goes against the ruling family as Qutubism, stemming from the recent fracas between the Saudi Arab regime and the Ikhwan of Egypt. (Eikmeier, 2007) (Salafi Publications, 2001; 2018) (Al Jazeera, 2017) (Qandil, 2018)
The Moderate/Radical paradigm is similar in non-Salafi circles especially in the Tableegi Jamaat. Like the Madhkhalis they are apolitical and condemn any kind of agitation or violence against the regimes they operate under. (Sadowski, 1996) (Howenstein, 2006) (Taylor, 2009)
They tend to place the blame of the “Khariji mentality” on the Salafi leaning scholars. (Wiktorowicz, 2006) (Maher, 2016)
Wahabi is a term that is alluded to them in a very derogatory manner. Isolated lectures and blogs often had individuals engaging in extended polemics against Wahabism. (Emin, 2014) (Ghaffari, 2016)
And throughout the last decade Islamic Fundamentalism and Islamism was and is linked to Salafism or often Salafi-Wahabism and regarded as threat to Moderate Islam or Real Islam or more recently Progressive Islam. (Eltahawy, 2004) (Ignatius, 2015) (Taleb, 2015)
But in reality the Salafi circles outside of Saudi Arabia are also very apolitical in nature and often issue fatwa in support of the establishment. (Olidort, 2015) (Shakir, 2017)
The Response from the Scholars in the West:
Muslim Imams and Scholars in the past have simply condemned terrorist attacks and disavowed any association with terrorist attacks. It had become an informal competition of who can condemn the most and an expectation from the non-Muslims that Muslims must be at the forefront of condemning terror. Although there have been attempts at trying to change this trend. (Ghumkhor and Mohamud, 2017) (Morsi, 2017)
In response to the Counter-Terrorist Discourses from organizations like RAND scholars like Khaled Ebou Al Fadl, Yasir Qadhi, and Hamzah Yusuf have often peddled the rhetoric of reclaiming the Deen from the Extremists. They made bold proclamations of reclaiming the Jihad. Labeling the actions of ISIS, Taliban and Al Qaeda as Fitnah and Fasad, a false Jihad. That it is possible for someone to be unapologetic ally Muslim and a proud patriot. (Abou El Fadl, 2005) (Qadhi, 2011) (Abawi, 2014)(Qadhi, 2016)
When it comes to International Politics they usually discourage Muslims from advocating for any kind of Caliphate or supporting any violent overthrow of any regime, regardless of autocratic and repressive these regimes are. Khaled Ebou Al Fadl has often gone on record “urging Muslims to speak out against the Radical elements of Islam”. (Abou El Fadl, 2002)
And whenever they speak about establishing any Independent Polity that solely represent their interests, some of them advise Muslims that praying Fajr in the Masjid will suffice. (Khan, 2012)
They further teach Muslims that the principle of accounting rulers through the Democratic system is compatible with Islam and Muslims should focus never resort to violence and focus on perfecting themselves and doing good for the community around them. Yasir Qadhi(2015) argues that there are various aspects of the Seerah and Muslims should apply the aspect that is compatible with their situation to their community rather than simply working towards establishing a Caliphate. He argues that all the Muslims in the world cannot have a singular goal. He has even on record(2018) stated that Democracy is perfectly compatible with Shariah. Activists like Sarsour(2017) have echoed similar sentiments claiming that their jihad is against racism, misogyny and oppression.
To complement this narrative scholars like Khaled Ebou Al Fadl(2007) and Wael B. Hallaq(2012) argue that Islam simply presents a moral and ethical guidance and Muslims must work out a system of governance that can exist within the modern world. Basically a state that is established and sustained through a democratic process.
But in the democratic process it’s usually the politics of voting for the lesser of two evils. For instance when possibility of Trump being elected was becoming a reality, scholars like Omar Suleiman argued that voting to stop Trump is a religious responsibility. Many Muslims encouraged by scholars publicly endorsed Hillary Clinton stating that voting for her is the lesser of two evils. Basically overlooking her role in the destruction the Americans perpetrated in the Muslim lands. The very factor that has been laying down the foundations of “Radicalization”. (Graham, 2016) (Turk, 2016)
Western Islamophobes however have responded to this overtures as signs of stealth Islamism and a plot to subvert America without guns. (Pipes, 2004) (Spencer, 2008)
And the scholars again respond by reiterating how Islamic and Democratic values are compatible and they respect the will of the American people. It is not long before another terrorist attack happens and they are again trying to convince Westerners that “Islam means Peace” and Muslims are “good law-abiding” citizens. And thus the cycle continues. (Ghumkhor and Mohamaud, 2017)
Predictably scholars like Yasir Qadhi, El-Fadl and Yusuf tend to exclude Hizbut Tahrir from their discourses. Mostly because Hizbut Tahrir advocate for a Khilafah, an independent state or polity for the Muslims. Hizbut Tahrir argues that the Khilafah is an obligation for all Muslims. (Hamid, 2007)
Hamzah Yusuf(2013, 2014) and to an extent Yasir Qadhi argues that Khilafah is not an obligation and in the current times there is too much scope for fitnah, nowadays they refer to the failure of the Syrian Revolution. The former deems Political Islam as a recipe for disaster as it is a concept that was created after a failure of Communism. (Yusuf, 2012)
The problem with these responses from the scholars is this:
- They are either unwilling or simply unable to realize the fact that being in a democratic secular system forces Muslims to be more compliant with liberal ideals thus empowering the modernists. More recently they are unwittingly letting modernists influence their opinions and perspectives. (Qadhi, 2018)
- Despite their traditionalist leanings they are playing a key role in undermining groups like Hizbut Tahrir who advocate for an independent polity for Muslims.
In a nutshell scholars in the west are fulfilling the strategic objectives outlined by RAND. They are simply aligning themselves within the paradigms outlined by the Westerners. No systematic attempts have been made by these scholars or their followers to account their governments. Beyond backing certain candidates for the Democratic Elections, like for Obama in US, Trudeau in Canada and Corbyn in UK, even going as far as asking Muslims to vote for them in the Khutbahs, the Western Muslim Community has never actively lobbied for stopping the Western transgression in Muslim lands. Sure, Muslim mayors have been elected but ultimately, they only serve the interests of their Western patrons and sponsors rather than the collective interests of the Muslims. The Muslim Identity plays no role in their day to day Governance beyond ceremonial gestures. The Muslim Community in the West glorify what the West Glorifies. They condemn what the West Condemns.They condemn what the West Condemns. Unless of course, it’s the issue of the Palestine-Israel conflict. However in recent times there are Muslims who call for dialogue and understanding with the Zionists.
The irony lies in the fact that no Muslim scholar, beyond token condemnations, has ever really attempted to account Barrack Obama or his administration for their increasingly draconian and destructive policies. Fast forward to the present, these scholars are now calling for unity against Trump because he is an enemy of all Muslims. Is this supposed to be an indication of religious leaders whose wisdom of a long term vision for the Ummah we are supposed to trust? All it actually does is showcase how politically incompetent and desperate these scholars are.
To understand the political incompetence of the Scholars in the West, all one has to do is take a cursory glance at the ongoing case of Dr. Tariq Ramadan and Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. How muted and tame the response of the Muslims has been to the brutal treatment of both these individuals. If they can’t liberate two Muslims from the oppression of the Western governments through the legal means and systems they have so much faith in, then how can one expect them to do anything meaningful for the Muslim Community at large? In light of these facts, it should not surprise anyone that the Scholars in the West are playing into the hands of the Westerners. And the less said about the internal politics between these scholars, the better.
The discourses initiated by the Scholars in the West, despite what their rhetoric would seem to suggest, are reactive rather than proactive. Their primary concern is acceptance of the Muslims in the Western Communities rather than furthering the cause of Islam. The fact of the matter is that they can’t seem to accept that no matter how much they try, they can’t Islamicize the underpinnings of what it means to be Western. And by and large in their attempts to control the Discourse between the Radical/Moderate Paradigm, they have simply overlooked the root causes of this current dichotomy and divide that exists within the community and are instead adopting the Western way of Thinking and Being, even if they have no intention to.
In Part 2, if Allah wills it, we will analyze how the Radical/Moderate paradigm has panned out in the Muslim Communities beyond North America and Europe.
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