A Moderate Muslim Revolution

In Pakistan, the liberal Pakistan People’s Party came in first in the February 18, 2008, parliamentary elections, ahead of the Pakistan Muslim League led by Nawaz Sharif, who has called for establishing a “truly Islamic system” in the past. The extremists even lost in Northwest Frontier Province, their stronghold. Although the PPP had to craft an alliance with Sharif’s group to form the government, the election results showed the Pakistani population was more moderate than many had thought.

There are other positive signs coming from Pakistan. Eight celebrities wrote a hit song called “This Is Not Us,” decrying the extremists and terrorists who are acting in the name of Islam. They helped promote a petition, now signed by 62.8 million Pakistanis, including especially large numbers in the Northwest Frontier Province, saying that true Muslims do not support terrorism. Some moderate clerics have openly sided with the military during the offensive into the Swat Valley, with one even offering to send volunteers to help. The actions of the Taliban have caused a popular backlash, with protests erupting against them.

In Bangladesh, the moderate coalition won a landslide victory in the December 29, 2008, general election over the Islamist parties including Jamaat-e-Islami, winning 263 of 300 seats. In Afghanistan, only four percent of the population favors a return to Taliban rule. In Indonesia, the president’s secular party won the May elections with 21 percent of the vote, a threefold increase, and support for the Islamist parties has dropped 15 percent over five years. And in India, over 6,000 Muslim clerics denounced terrorism after the attacks on Mumbai. The authorities had trouble burying the terrorists who died in the attack because local cemeteries didn’t consider them Muslims for what they had done.

Moderate Muslims are also taking a strong stand in the West.

In Europe, the one-year-old country of Kosovo is an outpost for moderate Muslims. In the United Kingdom, former members of the radical Hizb ut-Tahrir group have founded the Quilliam Foundation, which they describe as a “counter-extremism think tank.” They are committed to democratic principles, even disagreeing with the United Kingdom’s refusal to allow Geert Wilders, the anti-Islam Dutch politician, to enter the country, challenging him to a debate instead.

A Muslim cleric named Dr. Taj Hargery is receiving intense pressure for his criticism of Wahhabism as well. He has described multiculturalism as “the biggest disaster to happen to Britain since World War II,” saying that “it has given the extremist mullahs the green light for radicalism and losing our faith.” He argues that Muslims must assimilate to British society and that “we can do so without losing our faith.”

In London, moderates confronted extremists who had protested a parade held for British soldiers returning from Iraq. Police had to intervene to keep the crowds apart. When asked about the clash, one of the moderate participants said, “We have been fighting these Muslim extremists for you. … The community decided to move them on because the police won’t.”

In Ireland, Imam Shaheed Satardien left his mosque, repulsed by their following of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a top Muslim Brotherhood theologian. He has started his own mosque, where he preaches against Wahhabism and extremism and teaches moderate Islamic beliefs, such as the belief that women should be seen and heard freely. He’s received numerous death threats as a result.

The United States is seeing moderate Muslim organizations rise up to compete with Muslim Brotherhood fronts like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has seen a dramatic decrease in support from the Muslim American community. The American Islamic Forum for Democracy, American Islamic Congress, Free Muslims Coalition, Islamic Supreme Council of America, and various groups and individuals dedicated to supporting democracy and human rights in overseas Islamic lands are becoming a force to be reckoned with for extremists. Even without the foreign funding enjoyed by more prominent Muslim organizations, these groups are making tremendous inroads.

Skeptics of this argument will point to Egypt and the Gaza Strip, where extremists have made gains due to elections. It must be noted that they did not win because of democracy, as the freedoms that enable moderates to have their voice heard and win a following were denied. In such a situation, the extremists offer the only alternative to the government.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the war on terror is over. Somalia is falling to al-Qaeda affiliates and a terrorist offensive sponsored by Syria and Iran or a regional war could reverse many of these gains. The battle between moderates and extremists rages on in the West as well, as frightening percentages still express support for different elements of radical Islam. This is all true, but these victories are showing an unmistakable trend in favor of the moderates. I am in agreement with my friend John Loftus, who writes that “we may be witnessing the death throes of the fundamentalist terror states, and the birth of a renaissance of modernity in the Middle East.”