Like the world of Christianity, the world of Islam is more culturally diverse than many observers give it credit for.
There are countries with an Islamic majority that are in many ways ‘European’, or at least insofar as their architecture, language and colonial history are concerned. Such countries include Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
Other Islamic countries – by contrast – are identifiably foreign and third-world. The nightmare-states of Pakistan and Afghanistan for example, are totally devoid of Western influence, and look today, with the odd exception of a ceiling fan or satellite dish, much as they looked one hundred years ago. Women there are afforded no liberty whatsoever. Murder is considered morally equal, if not superior to adultery. Rape is not always punished, and is even deployed as a punishment (including mind-bendingly enough, as a punishment for rape, should the victim be judged to have encouraged the assailant).
And then there are countries, like Iran or Uzbekistan, which fall somewhere in-between.
Responding to such realities, a few optimistic observers suggest that we create a distinction between a category of ‘moderate’ Islamic countries, and a separate category of ‘hardline’ ones.
This distinction will achieve, they say, two things –
Firstly, it will serve to isolate the more problematic countries the West must deal with most urgently. And secondly, it will spare the reputation of those countries (and peoples) judged to be more moderate.
I’m sure this is a perfectly well-intentioned enterprise but for me at least, it has too many flaws to be taken seriously.
For a start, what exactly are we to mean by the word ‘moderate’? Are we suggesting that the Muslims of such places do not take the threat of hellfire or the promise of paradise as seriously as in others? Surely not.
I think what people really intend by this phrase, is ‘more like us’.
By ‘moderate’ they mean countries in which there are as many cafes as there are mosques, and where European languages are spoken by the natives.
But surely the error in all this is clear.
No adaptation to Western secular culture makes for ‘moderation’ in religious culture. Secular culture (cafes, television, newspapers), fills spaces religion doesn’t fill. But the spaces religion does fill remain filled by the same religion as existed in the 7th century.
Think of it this way – There are millions of Muslims living with us right now in the West, many of whom speak fluently the languages of their adopted lands, and who spend hours each week not only in cafes, but in Tesco, ASDA and other places we might recognise too. They are, in this respect ‘like us’. They may even live next door to us… But as the 7/7 bombers showed, this is no guarantee against the most radical religious fervour and extreme behaviour developing in those internal spaces still occupied by their religion.
Since the 7/7 bombers were born and raised in a Western environment, and still emerged as terrorists, why should the presence of a few Western characteristics in North Africa or Anatolia reassure us that such places are themselves peopled by moderate Muslims?
Islam of the most extreme variety can co-exist (or co-develop) quite smoothly with some aspects of modernity, but only up to a point. At such a point radical Islam feels compelled to demonstrate a moral supremacy over it. The perceived moral laxity of the modern world acts as fuel to the Islamist fire. Our freedom is a provocation.
Just the other week, one of the countries most often suggested as a beacon of moderation, Tunisia, saw an outbreak of Islamist violence as well as the assassination of an elected official. Another commonly suggested ‘moderate’ state, Turkey, has an Islamist government apparently determined to roll the clock back a century at a time. I seem to remember even Egypt being suggested as an example of Muslim modernity, just a few months before the ‘spring’ which set in motion the Muslim Brotherhood’s seizure of power.
Even if you call a spade a rake, it remains a spade. So let’s dispense with the lies.
There are no moderate Muslims, and as importantly, there are no moderate Muslim countries either.