Promoting Moderate Islam: An Interview with Holland Taylor

BLUM: You are saying that the Muslim extremists have learned and adapted the language of the West for their purposes…

TAYLOR: Yes, the victimology language. And in order to counter it, there needs to be a profound understanding on the part of Western society as to the nature of Islam and the spectrum of views that exist within it -- to distinguish between those Muslims who are politicizing Islam to achieve worldly objectives, and the vast majority of other Muslims who either have no axe to grind, or who have a pluralistic, tolerant, or spiritual understanding of Islam.

When any religion is politicized, it becomes an institution for power; and an institution for power is inherently corrupted by human beings. This phenomenon existed in Europe within Christianity; it existed within Islam since its very early stages; and we still see it coursing through the body of Islam today. But there are Muslim leaders who oppose this. Western governments, institutions, the media, and society at large need to ally ourselves with them and with all Muslims who share our humane universal values.

BLUM: You're saying that the Muslims most visible to the West are those who have politicized Islam to achieve power. How, then, can you expect politicians, bureaucrats, reporters, and the general public to make a distinction between Islam and the actions of radical Islamists? After all, it is the Muslim Brotherhood that has people writing op-eds in the press, heading NGOs, and funding mosques all over the place.

TAYLOR: It's not difficult to become educated in Islam as a religion and in the history of Islamic movements, past and present. But it requires seriousness. And part of the problem is that people who occupy positions of influence or responsibility in the West often do not take their responsibilities seriously. In addition, the people in the U.S. and most European countries who are tasked with addressing the ideology that underlies and animates terrorism come from non-specialist backgrounds, then occupy positions of responsibility for two or three years. They know nothing when they enter their positions. And even if they learn something while on the job, they're out of it in a short period of time. This means that they have no opportunity to develop any real expertise. Even more problematic is the fact that, even when such people do gain expertise during their tenure, there's no methodology for institutionalizing that expertise.

This is not the case among counter-terrorism experts in the West, who tend to stay in their positions. As such, they study what motivates terrorists, and it doesn't take long for them to ascertain that Islamic terrorism has a strong ideological component. But counter-terrorism professionals are not tasked with delving into the ideology; they're only tasked with preventing acts of terrorism and capturing terrorists. And so we have in the West is an institutional disconnect, where the people tasked with the ideology don't understand it, and the people who understand it are tasked only with its violent manifestation.

BLUM: What can be done about that?

TAYLOR: In order to effectively overcome the coherent, systematic, long-term efforts of the Islamists, we have to adopt certain principles. The first of these -- like in medicine -- is to do no harm. This is better than acting in ignorance. Because if you have a counter-radicalization effort and don't know what you're doing, the effort itself is going to be the target of infiltration and control by the very people you're seeking to discredit. This is what has happened in the West. Run by people who don't know what they're doing, counter-radicalization efforts have become the target of the Wahabbi-Muslim Brotherhood lobby, which is pursuing a long-term, multi-generational strategy and has the financing and the operatives to embed itself in Western society.

The second principle is, understand. It is absolutely critical that we develop an understanding of the spectrum of views that exist within Islam, and that we understand who our enemies -- and allies -- are. Once we understand the dynamics of the Muslim world, Islam, and Muslim theology, we have to institutionalize that understanding. When we have the systems in place to institutionalize that understanding, we have to develop systematic strategies to counter and defeat the extremists, our enemies. As we develop these strategies, we have to implement, adjust, fine-tune, expand, and further refine them, based on our experience in the field. It is a simple program, but it requires coherence.

And herein lies another problem. No prescription can be implemented without a societal consensus on the need for such a prescription. So it's necessary to begin an educational process in all sectors of Western society. Because, in the absence of a societal consensus, it will never be possible for us to counter the influence of the Wahabbis and the Muslim Brotherhood in the West who are seeking to prevent it from occurring.

BLUM: How can such a consensus be developed, when there are sectors in the West (i.e., academics, artists, writers and politicians) which hold a dimmer view of the United States than of Islamism? Some groups even blame U.S. behavior for the 9/11 attacks in particular and for the radicalization of Muslims in general.

TAYLOR: This is a hard-Left narrative, and I don't believe that the hard-Left is part of the solution any more than the hard-Right is. The solution lies in the center of both sides of the political spectrum. There are people on the Left with humanitarian concerns, who can be enticed to whitewash Islam, and say that the actions of the terrorists have nothing to do with Islam, because Islam is a religion of peace. Likewise, there are people on the Right with national-security concerns, who can be drawn into the orbit of Islamophobes. There is a battle going on, both on the Left and on the Right. The hard Left is seeking to influence people on the Left who are simply humanitarians; the hard-Right is seeking to influence people on the Right who are simply security-minded. To disable the efforts of the far-Left and the far-Right, it is necessary to build a broad-based coalition, from the center-Left to the center-Right, bringing together humanitarians and security-oriented people. Such a coalition would recognize that both the far-Left and the far-Right thrive on politicizing the issue of Islam and religion. The dangerous situation in the West today is that there are non-Muslims who are politicizing Islam as much as the Islamists are doing so. And while this is going on, the Wahabbi-Muslim Brotherhood lobby is laughing all the way to the bank, because they are turning their enemies against one another.

BLUM: Which brings us back to the question of whether there isn't too much silence on the part of the non-radical Muslims.

TAYLOR: It is common in the West to hear this claim that Muslims are not speaking up. But Westerners have very little idea about what is being said in the Muslim world. All sorts of Muslims are speaking up -- in Indonesia, for example -- but they're not being heard in New York, where no one can hear or understand them.

BLUM: But this is the age of the Internet. How is it possible that the Arab world is conducting what it claims are Facebook revolutions, while Indonesian Muslims are supposedly speaking up, yet no one in the West can hear them?

TAYLOR: Most of what emerges from Indonesia is in Indonesian. This is why the LibForAll Foundation decided to translate a book we published in Indonesia in 2009 into English. The book, The Illusion of an Islamic State, became a national phenomenon, setting Indonesia ablaze against the Muslim Brotherhood and Wahabbism. Written by the most prominent Muslim spiritual leaders in the country, it exposed the theology of radical Islam, its systematic infiltration into all segments of Indonesian society, and its intention to convert that society -- which has been historically pluralistic, tolerant, and a non-religious state -- to an Islamic state, it had a decisive influence on the outcome of the 2009 elections.

BLUM: Speaking of elections in the Muslim world, Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was recently lynched by a mob of Islamists and killed. This, like the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, was celebrated by U.S. President Barack Obama and many others in the West. But aren't these signs that the moderate Muslims are being abandoned, rather than encouraged?

TAYLOR: A real cause for celebration is when you have a transition to a pluralistic and tolerant state, whose citizens enjoy civil, economic, and religious liberty. Right now, what you have in the Arab world is merely a transition. It's certainly premature to celebrate.