Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah, which dominates the government in Lebanon, have not moderated despite predictions to the contrary, and the wave of Islamism in the region makes such a change even more unlikely. Muammar Qadhafi of Libya never moderated, either. He just became more cautious after he was scared the United States might overthrow him in 2003 after the invasion of Iraq.
Then there’s Iran. The Islamist regime has been in power there now for almost one-third of a century without any clear sign of moderation. When the revolution took place in 1979, many Western experts predicted that the regime was already or would quickly become moderate. This was given as a reason for supporting or at least accommodating that government. Instead, its repression at home and efforts to spread revolution abroad led to war, suffering, and instability on a massive scale.
There is, however, one apparent exception to this list of cases in which the moderation thesis failed. Twenty-five years after the 1952 coup in Egypt, President Anwar al-Sadat changed course. Sadat had concluded that his regime was finished unless he did something drastic: a conciliation process with the United States and Israel to get back the Sinai oilfields and to reopen the Suez Canal, along with an easing of repression at home.
Of course, there are some ironies here as well. Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat was assassinated for his moderation, and his regime is the one against which the 2011 revolution was conducted and which has led to the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise in Egypt. Thus, the Sadat shift may be used as the best evidence for the moderation thesis, but it is hardly overwhelming proof. Then, too, while one can cite national interest motives, it was a shift brought about by one man and not by deeper social change, as we see today when it is apparently being reversed.
In contemporary Egypt, if greater moderation prevails it would be because the armed forces tamped down on the Islamists. Yet that pressure is opposed by the moderation thesis advocates who argue that the Brotherhood will produce a more moderate regime on its own.
It is far easier to challenge than to prove the moderation thesis. At the very least it should be advocated only with great hesitation and questioned vigorously whenever it springs up.
Why has this not happened?
Instead, and we’ve seen this in hundreds of examples in the “Arab Spring” case, evidence of radicalism — deeds, writings, speeches — is systematically suppressed in the Western debate. Examples of alleged moderation, most often coming from public relations’ gestures or interviews with Westerners deliberately designed to mislead them, are highlighted by Western journalists and academics.