Is “Moderate Muslim” an Oxymoron?
Dr. Richard L. Benkin (July 2012)
“Moderate Muslim” an Oxymoron? As applied to individuals, absolutely
not. Those of us who know individual Muslims will testify to that
all day long. Our Muslim friends and colleagues are no different
than our other associates, and we find it difficult to hear blanket
statements categorizing all Muslims as open or closet jihadis. Condemn
all Muslims that way, and you do more to condemn yourself. And that’s
one of the reasons for all the distortions we encounter: our values make
us uncomfortable condemning any religion or large group of people
because of their adherence to it. But our existential struggle is not
disingenuous and politically-motivated use of the phrase “moderate
Muslim” without regard to reality leads us to make deadly decisions;
deadly not just for jihad’s immediate victims but ultimately for us as well. Case in point: Bangladesh.
you start talking about Bangladesh, people start looking at their
watches; but Bangladesh is the only nation that ranks among the world’s
ten most populous and ten most densely populated countries—like cramming
every second American into the State of New York. It also has the
world’s fourth largest Muslim population—more than Egypt, Iraq, and
Saudi Arabia combined. It is a country poor in significant resources except
one: an excess of people who are learning to live with radical
Islam. Bangladeshi jihadis have surfaced in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, and elsewhere. In 2007, I spent a day in the Bangladeshi capital with another: a former Mujhadeen commander
who fought in Afghanistan. The nation’s current
left-center government, the Awami League, which took power from a
military-backed caretaker at the end of 2008, defines itself with words
like moderate and secular, pretending to stand apart from people like
him; and few people bother to check reality.
UN formally recognized Bangladesh as a “moderate Muslim democracy”; and
a recent CNN report began: “Muslim and moderate. Two words
that describe Bangladesh.” Bangladeshis play the moderate card every
chance they get and trumpet their nation as “a model of religious
harmony and tolerance” on their US web site. More to the point,
a recent Congressional Research Paper said that Bangladesh is the “partner of choice for the United States in many of
the foreign policy priorities of President Obama.” But do those words reflect reality?
Who is this country that the Obama Administration has made a “partner
2009, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told visiting French
naval commander Gerard Valin that her government would repeal the
nation’s anti-minority laws—a rather curious thing to say as she was
admitting that this supposedly moderate Muslim-majority country indeed
has anti-minority laws. That was three years ago, and the
anti-minority laws remain in force. One of them, the Vested
Property Act, allows the government to declare Hindu property “vested”
on the flimsiest of pretexts and distribute it to the crones of its
choice—about 2.5 million acres so far or about 75 percent of all
Hindu-owned land. Is that indicative of a moderate Muslim country?
same Awami League, whose moderate reputation is an article of faith
among diplomats and other elites, passed on an opportunity to repeal
that law with no fanfare or repercussions immediately on taking power;
just as it did when challenged by the Supreme Court in 2011 to
re-write several constitutional provisions, including the notorious
Eighth Amendment that declares Islam to be the official state religion
and provides for its favored treatment. Does that sound like the
actions of a moderate Muslim country?
on the ground in South Asia have told me that the Awami League has
recently made common cause with the nation’s Islamists, agreeing to
allow the latter to implement elements of their radical agenda in return
for support in the 2014 election, much as it did in advance of the
aborted 2007 elections. Since elements in the party recently
approached me as well with their concerns about the next election, the
cynical deal with Islamists rings true. But press reports about
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent visit there were effusive
with her positive comments and pledges of more aid and cooperation. It
seems she had no time to address this disturbing move by her
hosts. And if my sources could uncover it, is there much doubt that
her sources did, too?
Less than a month after Clinton's departure, a Bangladeshi court issued an arrest warrant against author Salam Azad charging him with blasphemy for
a book he published in 2003. All it took was a general allegation,
according to the petitioner’s attorney. “We told the court that the book
contained slanderous remarks against the Prophet Mohammed and Islam.
The judge accepted the petition and issued a warrant of
arrest.” According to the author, a senior official of that
supposedly moderate party was behind it. I became "his target
once I protested his getting of Hindu property via the Vested Property
Act,” he said. Azad told me that while he is out on bail, he
receives regular death threats over the phone and a faces a public campaign by
Islamists calling for him to be hanged. The government has not
tried to stop any of that or provide the author with protection.
Nor is Azad the first Bangladeshi writer to face that charge. In the
same year Azad published his book, Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin
Shoaib Choudhury was arrested for writing about the rise of radical
Islam in the country and urging relations with Israel. After an
intense 17 month long effort, we won his freedom, but it took the
intervention of then Congressman (now Senator) Mark Kirk (R-IL); and
though Choudhury remains free, the blasphemy charge remains, too.
Does arresting writers for blasphemy sound like something that happens
in a moderate Muslim country?
deadliest ramification of the moderate label, however, is our continued tolerance
for the ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Bangladesh. Hindus used to
comprise almost a third of the population, according to East Pakistan’s
1951 census. When East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971, they
were under a fifth; 30 years later less than a tenth; and according to
reliable estimates, less than eight percent today. Throughout that
time, reports of anti-Hindu atrocities have poured out of Bangladesh;
atrocities including murder, rape, religious desecration, land grabs,
property destruction, beatings, child abduction, and forced conversion
to Islam. (While forced conversion to Islam is not a crime there, Bangladeshis who have converted from Islam
have been killed with impunity.) In the first quarter of 2012 alone, there were at
least 15 anti-Hindu atrocities. Perpetrators are rarely brought to justice. Refugees from Islamist terror in Bangladesh continue to pour
across the border into India; so does jihad, which has now taken hold in that giant’s Northeast.
the Obama administration continues to make us complicit by propping up
the fiction of Bangladesh as a moderate Muslim country. This is in line
with Obama’s 2009 search for “moderate Taliban,” and his current
insistence on the wonders of partnering with “moderates” in Egypt’s
Muslim brotherhood. There is a clear pattern here the end of which is
not good for any civilized individual.
yes, when applied to nations, moderate Muslim is an oxymoron; and we
better hope that our political leaders catch on to that soon.
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