Skeptics and cynics alike have said that the quest for the moderate Muslim in the 21st century is akin to the search for the Holy Grail. It’s not hard to understand why. Terrorist attacks, suicide bombings and the jihadist call for Muslims “to rise up against the oppression of the West” are widespread.
The radical fringe carrying out such actions has sought to dominate the discourse between Islam and the West. In order to do so, they’ve set out to foment anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism. They’ve also advocated indiscriminate violence as a political strategy. To cap their victory, this abysmal lot uses the cataclysm of 9/11 as a lesson for the so-called enemies of Islam.
These dastardly acts have not only been tragedies of untold proportions for those who have suffered or perished. They have also delivered a calamitous blow to followers of the Muslim faith.
These are the Muslims who go about their lives like ordinary people—earning their livings, raising their families, celebrating reunions and praying for security and peace. These are the Muslims who have never carried a pocketknife, let alone explosives intended to destroy buildings. These Muslims are there for us to see, if only we can lift the veil cast on them by the shadowy figures in bomb-laden jackets hell-bent on destruction.
These are mainstream Muslims—no different from the moderate Christians, Jews and those of other faiths—whose identities have been drowned by events beyond their control. The upshot is a composite picture of Muslims as inherently intolerant, antidemocratic, inward-looking and simply unable to coexist with other communities in the modern world. Some say there is only one solution: Discard your beliefs and your tradition, and embrace pluralism and modernity.
The Ottoman-era Sultan Ahmed or Blue Mosque in Istanbul.
This prescription is deeply flawed. The vast majority of Muslims already see themselves as part of a civilization that is heir to a noble tradition of science, philosophy and spirituality that places paramount importance on the sanctity of human life. Holding fast to the principles of democracy, freedom and human rights, these hundreds of millions of Muslims fervently reject fanaticism in all its varied guises.
Yet Muslims must do more than just talk about their great intellectual and cultural heritage. We must be at the forefront of those who reject violence and terrorism. And our activism must not end there. The tyrants and oppressive regimes that have been the real impediment to peace and progress in the Muslim world must hear our unanimous condemnation. The ball is in our court.