Islamic Moderates and Extremists

Eugene Volokh has an important post on Islamic extremists and moderates. One of his basic points is that there are many millions of Islamic extremists in the world today—people who believe in the death penalty for apostasy and for people who leave the Muslim religion. Such people, whom he numbers in the tens or perhaps hundreds of millions, are “a deadly enemy to Western democracies and to our most fundamental values.”

At the same time, Eugene also notes that there are Islamic moderates, who presumably are a large group as well. These moderates are the allies of the West, both because they provide intelligence and other support to the West in its fight against the extremists and because moderate Muslims are the primary competitors with Islamic extremists for adherents.

These facts, which seem obvious once one states them, have two important implications. First, it is both false and unwise for the West to make negative statements about Islam generally, such as Islam is a religion of war and violence. This is not true of large portions of Islam and it will only weaken and alienate the Islamic moderates who are our allies.

By the same token, however, it is both false and unwise for the West to attempt to suggest that all of Islam is benign, as with statements that Islam is the religion of peace. Such statements are clearly wrong about the Islamic extremists. And they suggest that the West does not recognize that a portion of Islam represents our enemy.

One interesting matter involves people who demand that moderate Muslims condemn (and in some cases combat) the extremists. It is certainly understandable that non-Muslims might feel uncomfortable about Muslims who do not condemn attacks made in the name of Muslims. But such demands are problematic both because they risk alienating the moderate Muslims and because of the risks involved for moderate Muslims in openly and directly confronting the extremists—risks that many in the West, who have far less to worry about, are unwilling to incur.