Moderation Happens To Islam, Not In Islam
“If you want meaningful moderation in Islam, then turn for more lessons to the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, Indonesia.” I imagine my colleague Irshad Manji is having second thoughts about that line (brought to my attention by Andrew Bostom).
The assertion is found at page 179 of her latest book, Allah, Liberty and Love. It was in attempting to promote the book that Ms. Manji was virtually run out of Indonesia last week. A number of her scheduled appearances had to be cancelled due to protests by Muslim supremacist groups. At one Jakarta venue, things got particularly ugly: jihadists yelling “Where is Manji? Where is Manji?” reportedly stormed the hall, tore the place apart, ripped copies of the book to shreds, and assaulted the participants, some of whom had to be hospitalized – although Irshad was not seriously hurt (her assistant’s arm was badly bruised by a man wielding an iron bar).
I use the term "jihadists" quite intentionally. The purpose of jihad, whether carried out with bombs, hijacked planes, iron bars, or stealthier “dawa” tactics, is to implement sharia, Islam’s totalitarian framework. Irshad’s books, like the rest of her work, advocate a “reformist” Islam that mainstream Muslim jurists consider heretical. Silencing Muslims who do not abide by scholarly consensus – including killing them for apostasy, a capital offense – is the enforcement of a sharia norm. Having effectively shut Irshad down, the supremacist groups are now turning their attention to Lady Gaga, whose on-stage vamping (to put it mildly) is not, shall we say, sharia-compliant. Almost certainly, her scheduled June 3 concert will be cancelled due the very real threat of rioting.
In an interview after her troubles, Irshad observed that Indonesia had changed for the worse since she last visited in 2008. That is probably true: jihadists have made great strides there in recent years. In Aceh province, where sharia governs, stricter enforcement has become routine. The minority Ahmadi sect (like Ms. Manji, considered heretical) is brutally persecuted.
Nevertheless, there has always been less to Indonesian “moderation” than its claimants insist. A year before Irshad’s more pleasant 2008 visit, polling by World Public Opinion and the University of Maryland indicated that half of Indonesians endorsed the enforcement of sharia law, as well as the unity of all the world’s Muslims under a global caliphate. To be sure, this was markedly less than in the Middle East, where these propositions were approved by substantial majorities. But fifty percent was still a very high figure for a putative bastion of moderation.
I admire Irshad’s forthrightness in referring to herself as a “reformer” rather than a “moderate.” A reformer concedes the need for substantive change, while a moderate pretends that everything is fine as is – that any problems are the result of misinterpretation (as if, as Robert Spencer is wont to say, influential scholars and millions of Muslims are somehow “misunderstanders” of Islam). Irshad was mistaken, however, when she wrote about “moderation in Islam.” What you had in Indonesia was the moderation of Islam.
A few days ago, examining the advance of sharia in the West (specifically, in Australia), I made the point that Islam is not innately moderate; it can be moderated by extraneous forces – the example I offered was “a culture that is self-confident and self-assertive.” But moderation is something that happens to Islam; it can cabin Islam, douse its inflammatory propensities, but, as any mainstream cleric will tell you, it does not change the doctrine – not materially.
Historically, the practice of Islam has been more moderate in Indonesia than in the creed’s native Arabia. That is because, as noted by George Cardinal Pell, the Catholic archbishop of Sydney, it was “tempered” in the process of making accommodations to indigenous animism and earlier arrivals – Hinduism and Buddhism. Quoting Cardinal Pell in The Grand Jihad, I said, "The resulting brand is unique: ‘syncretistic, moderate and with a strong mystical leaning.'"
But my use of "brand," like Irshad’s use of "in," conflates the practice of the doctrine with the doctrine itself. Outside pressures and influences can moderate the manner in which Muslims adhere to Islam. They do not, however, change Islam. And when those pressures and influences let up or otherwise accommodate Islam, Islam’s response is to revert to form and demand ever more accommodation.