Does Moderate Islam Exist?
He believes Mr. Pipes’ Moderate Islam is only an aspiration – not a reality. Auster: “Pipes's meaning is undeniable: moderate Islam does not now exist. It must be created. Moreover, it can only be created by means of renouncing that which Islam has always been. But, on those terms, can the result still be Islam?” For Auster the problem is: “The fundamental point is that Islam cannot reform itself in any lasting way, because Islam has no source of authority apart from the Koran. In any debate between hard-liners and putative moderates, the hard-liners will have the Koran on their side and will ultimately win the debate.”
Much of the argument for the existence or creation of Moderate Islam is motivated by the fear of an imagined apocalyptic scenario between civilization and Islamic societies. This is putting activism before truth. Facing the truth is the first order of business. The fear of a painful solution cannot legitimately be an excuse to engage in fantasy. Facts must be faced; solutions to the problem are a separate matter. Here Auster wisely reaches for the wisdom of Bat Ye’or:
Bat Ye'or, author of The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam and the soon-to-be published Eurabia, has said that our aim as Westerners should not be to save the soul of Islam but to save ourselves, our values, and our civilization. The approach she urges is primarily intellectual: we must stop closing our eyes to the reality of jihad, stop blaming ourselves for Muslim terrorism, and stop imposing crippling taboos on our own speech. Instead, we must openly discuss the Muslims' jihadist beliefs, both among ourselves and with the Muslims. This would force them to face the truth about themselves, which in turn might bring about a positive alteration in their outlook and demands. An unstated premise of Bat Ye'or's argument is that Muslims cannot change themselves. We must help them do it—or rather, we must put them in a position where they will have no choice but to moderate their own attitudes and behavior toward us. Bullies respect strength.Auster ends his series of articles with his recommendations for action which are beyond the scope of this article.
Dr. Pipes responds here: “Islam can be whatever Muslims wish to make of it. … The religion has changed momentously in the past and surely will continue to do so. … Muslim views [of the Koran] have changed in the past and continue to do so.” Pipes is more concern with the demographic group Muslims than the religious philosophy of Islam: “I reply that my study is not of Islam the faith but of Muslims in history.” Auster’s policy recommendations, Pipes notes, “differ surprisingly little from my own.”
I replied that Pipes’ view (Islam is whatever Muslims want it to be) is pure nominalism. “But this is to obliterate the religion's identity. … [it] is nominalism and it undermines all conceptual knowledge. … For the religion to have an identity there has to be an essence – some enduring core of beliefs and practices.” I conclude: “However, you are right, there are moderate Muslims (yes, most are). But they don't become moderate by practicing something call "moderate Islam." They become moderate by being lax or lapsed for one reason or another. If we sometimes use the word "Muslim" in a demographic sense (my almanac says 99.8% of Turks are Muslim) we should not confuse that with a practitioner of Islam – one who takes seriously his duty to wage jihad on the Infidel. The demographic sense is a virtually meaningless secondary sense that is derivative in nature. Islam, the ideology and associated practice, transcends the failure of Muslims to practice their religion.”
Auster agrees and quotes my rather harsh comments on Front Page Magazine: “'Pipes is correct that Auster thinks in essentials (it's called conceptual reasoning, Dan). Pipes is obviously a nominalist: words can mean anything we want them to.'" I currently believe that Pipes is taking an anthropological-type approach that is descriptive of the demographic group we call Muslims and their history. I agree that Muslims went through periods of being moderate or at least they abandoned active engagement in jihad. However, this is not due to the practice of another version of Islam – Moderate Islam – but merely the failure to practice the religion in a vital manner. I even suggest this is the optimal outcome, i.e. stop practicing Islam.
Why isn’t this Moderate Islam? There is a vast difference between the failure to practice one’s religion and practicing a new transformed version of an old religion. Being lax is being in default of one religion’s demands. It means failing to confront the religion’s odious elements and solidifying a new belief system. It leaves open the possibility of the religion’s revival and leaves one impotent to intellectually fight the retrogression into barbarity.
For a new version of a religion, a major change is generally achieved or solidified by extensive doctrinal exposition by a least one major theologian who presents a new vision, synthesis, or weighting of the original elements. If a significant portion of the original religion needs to be marginalized, motivation must be presented. We see major changes in Christianity by Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley. Jesus was a major reformer of the Jewish religion and Paul’s writings helped to solidify these changes into the new religion of Christianity.
Where are the major texts and writers of Moderate Islam? What were the changes and how does one condemn Mohammad’s martial legacy? Who refutes the militants and on what grounds? What new general principle replaces Islamic supremacy with a universalist ethical orientation - one that puts every human being on an equal basis?
Aspirations for Moderate Islam generally assume that Islam can embrace reason in human affairs just as Christians generally have. We will consider that possibility in a future article. Moderate Islam does not now exist and we must first deal with today’s reality.
PS (12:45pm edit) Robert Spencer has an interesting link on this topic. Also, both Auster and I hold Mr. Pipes in the highest of esteem for his seminal work of militant Islam. Daniel Pipes and Lawrence Auster maintain their own websites. In today’s