Silence is not moderation
By Sam Harris
Editor: In a recent Wall Street Journal article, terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann said that anti-Muslim rhetoric in America is bad news for anti-terrorism efforts: “We are handing al Qaeda a propaganda coup, an absolute propaganda coup.”
By many accounts, the man who could blunt the power of that coup is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the religious leader behind the planned Islamic Center near Ground Zero. The imam has been surprisingly mum on the issue while he travels in the Middle East. What message of faith could he offer to Muslims and non-Muslims alike that could turn this moment of division into a time of healing?
As many have pointed out, the controversy over the “ground zero mosque” is a false one. The project is legal to build, and it should remain legal. That does not mean, however, that any concern about building a mosque so close to ground zero is synonymous with bigotry. The true scandal here is that Muslim moderates have been so abysmally lacking in candor about the nature of their faith and so slow to disavow its genuine (and growing) pathologies—leading perfectly sane and tolerant people to worry whether Muslim moderation even exists.
Despite his past equivocations on this issue, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf could dispel these fears in a single paragraph:
“Like all decent people, I am horrified by much that goes on in the name of ‘Islam,’ and I consider it a duty of all moderate Muslims to recognize that many of the doctrines espoused in the Qur’an and hadith present some unique liabilities at this moment in history. Our traditional ideas about martyrdom, jihad, blasphemy, apostasy, and the status of women must be abandoned, as they are proving disastrous in the 21st century. Many of Islam’s critics have fully justified concerns about the state of discourse in parts of the Muslim world—where it is a tissue of conspiracy theories, genocidal ravings regarding the Jews, and the most abject, triumphalist fantasies about conquering the world for the glory of Allah. While the scriptures of Judaism and Christianity also contain terrible passages, it has been many centuries since they truly informed the mainstream faith. Hence, we do not tend to see vast numbers of Jews and Christians calling for the murder of apostates today. This is not true of Islam, and there is simply no honest way of denying this shocking disparity. We are members of a faith community that appears more concerned about harmless cartoons than about the daily atrocities committed in its name—and no one suffers from this stupidity and barbarism more than our fellow Muslims. Islam must grow up. And Muslim moderates like ourselves must be the first to defend the rights of novelists, cartoonists, and public intellectuals to criticize all religious faiths, including our own.”
These are the sorts of sentiments that should be the litmus test for Muslim moderation. Find an imam who will speak this way, and gather followers who think this way, and I’ll volunteer to cut the ribbon on his mosque in lower Manhattan.