A few days ago the European blogger Michael van der Galien, with whom I had an exchange about "pure Islam" here last year, wrote a post at his PoliGazette entitled "The Spell of Islamophobia and Moderate Muslims."
In it, van der Galien takes up the familiar lament that there are huge numbers of moderate Muslims, but they aren't getting any attention. It centers on a Washington Post piece in which Eboo Patel complains of the same thing. Van der Galien writes:
Eboo Patel wrote a good article for On Faith of the Washington Post about Islamophobia. His main point is this: whenever he or other so-called moderate Muslims speak out about terrorism, condemn it, and preach a peaceful form of Islam (by pointing out that Islam has a peaceful tradition and a theology that encourages religious pluralism), non-Muslims have only two questions for them. “Why don’t Muslims condemn terrorism?” And, “Where are the moderate Muslim voices?”
And van der Galien agrees:
And, I think, he’s exactly right. I too notice that whenever Muslims condemn terrorism and preach a peaceful and tolerant version of Islam, they are - quite simply - ignored.
Ignored? Really? Isn't that an ironic overstatement when referring to a guy who is writing in the Washington Post? Maybe van der Galien is unaware that those who are tarred as "Islamophobes" don't get invited to write in the Washington Post, but the Eboo Patel types are quite thick on the ground there.
And his other exhibit of a poor, ignored moderate Muslim is just as questionable:
In the blogosphere we have Ali Eteraz. A ‘moderate Muslim’ who writes about Islam almost constantly. Yet, conservative bloggers constantly ask “where are the so-called moderates?”
Well, how about Ali?
How about Eboo?
Well, how about them? I think it is worthwhile, in the context of van der Galien's post, to explain why some people -- and not just van der Galien's caricatured baddies who believe the absurd premise that "all Muslims support terrorism" -- are suspicious, and quite justifiably so, of Muslim moderates like Eboo Patel and Ali Eteraz.
Patel, for his part, in his article touts the "Not in the Name of Islam" petition circulated by the Council on American Islamic Relations. Now, CAIR has been named an unindicted co-conspirator in a Hamas funding case. Several of its officials are in prison on various terror-related charges, and several other of its officials have made Islamic supremacist statements. So is it simply prejudice -- irrational, unthinking, racist, xenophobic "Islamophobia" -- that makes people suspicious of this petition and of the intentions of the people behind it?
I don't think so. I am not saying that Patel himself is not a moderate. I am sure that both he and Eteraz are as moderate as the day is long. But when all that Patel can come up with as demonstration of a moderate initiative is a CAIR petition, well, pardon me if I am underwhelmed.
And Eteraz? Well, he writes in The Guardian and all over the place, so I don't think it is quite accurate to say he is ignored either. I myself certainly haven't ignored him: he and I have had several exchanges in the past.
In them, Eteraz several times indulged in a disheartening disingenuousness. He claimed, for example, that the gate of ijtihad -- that is, the process of independent legal reasoning in Islam -- was not closed, and that I demonstrated my ignorance in saying otherwise. Never mind the fact that it is rather a commonplace for Islamic authorities of all stripes to affirm that the time for ijtihad is indeed long past, as I show here. Eteraz says that they are in fact open and should be (and I agree that they should be), but for Eteraz to charge someone with ignorance for repeating what some of the world's leading Islamic scholars acknowledge as a matter of course calls in question his good faith.
Similarly, Eteraz's whitewash of some uncomfortable aspects -- recorded in Islamic tradition -- of Muhammad's life does not inspire confidence. Reform in Islam will not come, if it will come at all, from bland denial of the existence of traditions and teachings that jihadists use to justify violence and supremacism, but from an honest acknowledgment of those traditions and an attempt to understand them in a way that will blunt their literal force.
Then there was Eteraz's bizarre and troubling assertion, here, that Muslim moderates should remain silent and passive in the face of Islamic violence and terror, rather than working against it. And finally there is his unfortunate taste for invective, which has led him to depart from the truth on several occasions -- as here, when he claimed that National Review wouldn't link to Jihad Watch. (Hey Ali, here's my most recent NR article, from a couple of weeks ago.) This is not a personal matter -- Ali Eteraz can say whatever he wants about me, but I am working in good faith, and when he stoops to this kind of thing, I don't think anyone can reasonably expect me to take his other writings without a grain of salt.
So what's the point? Is Ali Eteraz not himself a moderate? No, I am sure he is the soul of moderation. But I don't think it's unreasonable for people to ask for more from moderate Muslim spokesmen than a petition floated by a group like CAIR and a disingenuous whitewashing of uncomfortable elements of Islamic tradition.
Eboo Patel and Ali Eteraz are by no means ignored. And I believe that those who are not ignoring them have every right to ask them for more forthright and genuine action against the Islamic jihadists they oppose.