The Moderate Muslim Majority Myth

What exactly is the litmus test for “moderation”?

The head of Britain’s M-16 recently told a panel of intelligence officers that jihad terror “will certainly be with us for our professional lifetimes.” Which prompts a question. How can that be so when we are repeatedly assured that extremists are only a tiny minority and that the vast majority of Muslims are moderates? Why should it take a lifetime to defeat such a small number?

Perhaps it’s time to revisit the assumption that the vast majority of Muslims are moderate. It’s true, of course, that the vast majority of Muslims are not engaged in terrorist activities, but that doesn’t mean that they are necessarily moderate.

Not currently killing people is a poor gauge of moderation. A better gauge would be to determine the potential for turning to violence in a given population. The fact is, we do have such a gauge. It’s the belief system that one adheres to. If beliefs do have consequences, it’s legitimate to ask if there is something about the Islamic faith that predisposes to violence.

The evidence suggests that Islam does not encourage moderation. The Pew Global Survey of Muslim Attitudes show that the majority of Muslims in Muslim countries support practices we would consider to be extreme--amputation for theft, stoning of adulterers, and the execution of apostates.

All of the above are sanctioned in the Koran, the Hadith (the sayings of Muhammad), and the Islamic law books. The reason you get so much violence in the Muslim world is that Allah commands it. Ever since 9/11, we in the West have wondered, “why do they hate us?” Well, a recent issue of Dabiq, the official magazine of the Islamic State, provides the answer: “We hate you, first and foremost, because you are disbelievers; you reject the oneness of Allah.” That, contends the author, is their main grievance. We (non-Muslims) are infidels, and we have to be fought because that is what Allah wants. Read through the Koran and you will quickly see that Allah has nothing but disdain for unbelievers.

The other reason for Islamic terrorism is that the chief role model for Muslims is a man named Muhammad--a warlord who engaged in almost constant jihad against his neighbors. In Islam, he is considered the perfect man—the one whom Muslims are supposed to emulate. If role models are as important as Americans seem to believe, we shouldn’t be surprised at the consequences that follow when 1.6 billion people take Muhammad as their model.

Some readers might object that such talk is provocative--that if you say these things out loud, it will only serve to drive the moderate Muslims into the radical camp. But that argument is itself evidence that Islam is not a moderate faith. If the moderates can be so easily driven into the arms of the radicals, it must be a relatively short drive. We don’t worry that insults to Christianity or even to Jesus are going to turn moderate Christians into bomb-throwing radicals. Why do we worry that Muslims can be so easily radicalized? The difference is that Islam is not a peaceful religion and was never meant to be one.

The vast majority of Muslims can be considered moderate in the sense that they refrain from killing. But that does not mean that none of them have sympathy for terrorists. A Muslim may be personally averse to killing, but may, nevertheless, be willing to lend moral or financial support to those who do kill. Or he may simply look the other way.  A poll taken in the UK last year revealed that two-thirds of British Muslims would not report a terrorist to the police. An informal survey taken in Molenbeek shortly after thirty people were killed at the Brussels airport found that ninety percent of Muslim teens considered the terrorists to be heroes.

 In the West Bank and in Gaza, terrorists are also widely regarded as heroes and martyrs. City streets, squares and parks, are named in their honor, and children are encouraged to follow their example.  Much as Catholics honor saints for their devotion, Palestinians hold the martyrs in high esteem for their willingness to do what the majority are reluctant to do—namely, to sacrifice all for Allah.

 Given the potential that exists in the Muslim world for turning to violence, or for supporting those who do, we should not take much comfort in the fact that most Muslims, most of the time are simply going about their business. For many, that daily routine will include studying the Koran, and perhaps entertaining doubts about one’s own worthiness when compared to the martyrs and the mujahideen.

It’s not wise to get too comfortable with the notion that the vast majority of Muslims are moderate. A significant portion of that majority may simply be working up the courage to join the highly honored minority.