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More on Extremist and Moderate Muslims

The comments on my prior post on extremist and moderate Muslims led me to believe that more could usefully be said about the subject.  One significant question is whether moderate Muslims have an obligation to condemn extremist Muslims.

Clearly, it would be useful to the cause if moderate Muslims were to condemn their extremist brethren.  But do they have an obligation to do so?  I can imagine arguments on both sides.

But that is not my main concern.  It is instead whether the defenders of freedom should be insisting that moderate Muslims condemn extremist Muslims, whether or not such moderates have an obligation to do so?  And my point is that such insistence is not strategically advisable. 

One can imagine relatively benign reasons why moderate Muslims might not criticize the extremists.  The moderate muslims might be sympathetic to western values, might privately condemn the extremists, and feel victimized by their actions (since it makes all Muslims look bad).  But they still might not speak out due to fear of violence or other negative acts.

One can also imagine less happy reasons for their silence. Perhaps the moderate Muslims feel a bit conflicted – they oppose violence of this sort, but are troubled by Western culture and ideas, and have some sympathy for some of the goals of the terrorists, if not their methods.

In the latter case, I would not want to be seen as defending the moderate Muslims.  To be clear, if people are opposed to freedom, then they are seriously problematic. But that still does not mean that we should be insisting that they condemn the extremists.  As I noted in my prior post, the moderate muslims can be our allies in the fight with extremist muslims and criticizing them does not help in that task.  Moreover, our criticism of these people would drive them closer to the extremist muslims, whereas our objective should be to split them away from the extremists.  Thus, even if they are open to criticism, that does not mean we are better off doing so.

One analogy here (and it is only an analogy) is with Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.  While I oppose much of what I understand to be the positions of the PA, it still makes sense for Israel to treat them differently than Hamas.  Keeping Hamas and the PA opposed to one another is in Israel’s interests.

None of this suggests that we should refrain from advocating our values.  We should defend Western notions of freedom, even if many moderate Muslims disagree with those values (assuming for the sake of argument that many moderates do disagree with them).  But defending Western values is different than alienating people who we need as allies.

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