Skip to comments.Road Map for Moderate Network Building in the Muslim World (long read)
Posted on 04/16/2007 4:09:23 PM PDT by Valin
Identifying Key Partners and Audiences
A critical part of U.S. network-building efforts, as well as in its broader public diplomacy and strategic communications policy, is identifying key partners and audiences. Difficulties in distinguishing potential allies from adversaries present a major problem to Western governments and organizations attempting to organize support for moderate Muslims. Work done by the RAND Corporationin Cheryl Benards Civil Democratic Islam and Angel Rabasa et al., The Muslim World After 9/11has begun to lay the framework for identifying ideological tendencies in the Muslim world,1 which is necessary in order to identify the sectors with which the United States and its allies can be most e.ective in promoting democracy and stability to counter the in.uence of extremist and violent groups.
Around the world Muslims differ substantially not only in their religious views, but also in their political and social orientation, including their conceptions of government; their views on the primacy of sharia (Islamic law) versus other sources of law; their views on human rights, especially the rights of women and religious minorities; and whether they support, justify, or tolerate violence perpetrated in advancement of a political or religious agenda. We refer to these as marker issues, and the position of groups or individuals on them allows for a more precise classifcation of these groups in terms of their a.nity for democracy and pluralism.
Characteristics of Moderate Muslims
For purposes of this study, moderate Muslims are those who share the key dimensions of democratic culture. These include support for democracy and internationally recognized human rights (including gender equality and freedom of worship), respect for diversity, acceptance of nonsectarian sources of law, and opposition to terrorism and other illegitimate forms of violence.
A commitment to democracy as understood in the liberal Western tradition and agreement that political legitimacy derives from the will of the people expressed through free and democratic elections is a key marker issue in identifying moderate Muslims. Some Muslims take the view common in the West that democratic values are universal and not contingent on particular cultural and religious contexts. Other moderate Muslims, however, take the view that democracy in the Muslim world has to be based on Islamic traditions and texts. They seek to contextualize these texts in ways that support democratic values and to .nd scriptural sources of democracy, as in the Quranic command that Muslims should order their collective affairs through consultation (shura). In either case, what matters is the results. Whether a political philosophy derives from Western or Quranic sources, to be considered democratic it must unequivocally support pluralism and internationally recognized human rights.
Support for democracy implies opposition to concepts of the Islamic stateparticularly those that imply the exercise of political power by a self-appointed clerical elite, as in the case of Iran. Muslim moderates hold the view that no one can speak for God. Rather, it is the consensus of the community (ijma), as reflected in freely expressed public opinion, that determines what Gods will is in any particular case. Within Twelver Shiite Islam there is a long tradition of quietism, a Shiite religious tradition that is wary of political authority, seeing it as lacking in divine sanction in the absence of the Imam. This tradition has been subverted by theocratic Khomeinist notions in Iran and in other places where the Iranian regime exercises in.uence; nevertheless, it persists in Iraq and elsewhere as a potential substratum for democratic development.2
Acceptance of Nonsectarian Sources of Law
The dividing line between moderate Muslims and radical Islamists in countries with legal systems based on those of the West (the majority of states in the Muslim world) is whether sharia should apply. Conservative interpretations of sharia are incompatible with democracy and internationally recognized human rights because, as noted liberal Sudanese intellectual Abdullahi An-Naim points out, men and women and believers and unbelievers do not have equal rights under sharia. In addition, due to the diversities of opinion in Islamic law, any enactment of sharia principles as law would mean enforcing the political will of those in power, selecting some opinions over others, and thereby denying believers and others freedom of choice.3
Respect for the Rights of Women and Religious Minorities
Moderates are hospitable to Muslim feminists and open to religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue. Moderates argue, for instance, that discriminatory injunctions in the Quran and the sunna relating to womens position within the society and the family (for example, that a daughters inheritance should be half that of a sons) should be reinterpreted on the grounds that conditions today are not the same as those that prevailed in the Prophet Muhammads day. Moderates also defend womens right of access to education and health services and right to full participation in the political process, including the right to hold political o.ces. Similarly, moderates advocate equal citizenship and legal rights for non-Muslims.
Opposition to Terrorism and Illegitimate Violence
Moderate Muslims, just like adherents of other religious traditions, have a concept of the just war. According to Mansur Escudero, leader of the Federación Española de Entidades Religiosas Islámicas [Spanish Federation of Islamic Religious Entities] (FEERI), it would be false to say that Islam does not contemplate violence. The important thing is to de.ne the ethical principles that regulate violence: what kinds of violence are legitimate and what kinds are not? How and in what form is violence employed is of outmost importance in determining its legitimacy. Violence against civilians and suicide operations, that is to say, terrorism, is not legitimate.4
It is, however, legitimate to use violence defensively to protect Muslims against aggressors. Legitimate violence must respect normative limits, such as using the minimum force required, respecting the lives of noncombatants, and avoiding ambushes and assassinations.5
Application of Criteria
It follows from the above that for a group to declare itself democratic in the sense of favoring elections as the vehicle for establishing govern- mentas in the case of the present Egyptian Muslim Brotherhoodis not enough. Just as important is respect for freedom of expression, association, and religion (and the freedom not to be religious as well): what we called in The Muslim World After 9/11 the infrastructure of democratic political processes.6 Therefore, in determining whether a group or movement meets this characterization of moderation, a reasonably complete picture of its worldview is needed. This picture can emerge from the answers given to the following questions:
Does the group (or individual) support or condone violence?
If it does not support or condone violence now, has it supported or condoned it in the past?
Does it support democracy? And if so, does it define democracy broadly in terms of individual rights?
Does it support internationally recognized human rights?
Does it make any exceptions (e.g., regarding freedom of religion)?
Does it believe that changing religions is an individual right?
Does it believe the state should enforce the criminal-law component of sharia?
Does it believe the state should enforce the civil-law component of sharia? Or does it believe there should be non-sharia options for those who prefer civil-law matters to be adjudicated under a secular legal system?
Does it believe that members of religious minorities should be entitled to the same rights as Muslims?
Does it believe that a member of a religious minority could hold high political office in a Muslim majority country?
Does it believe that members of religious minorities are entitled to build and run institutions of their faith (churches and synagogues) in Muslim majority countries?
Does it accept a legal system based on nonsectarian legal principles?
Beyond ideology, it is also necessary to ask questions about the relationships of these groups to other political actors and the consequences and e.ects of these relationships. For instance, are they aligned in political fronts with radical groups? Do they receive funding or support radical foundations?
In general, there appears to be three broad sectors within the spectrum of ideological tendencies in the Muslim world where the United States and the West can .nd partners in the e.ort to combat Islamist extremism: secularists; liberal Muslims; and moderate traditionalists, including Sufis.
Secularism in its various guises was the dominant conceptualization of the states relationship with religion among political elites during the formative years of most modern Muslim states. However, in recent years secularism has steadily lost ground, partly because of the Islamic resurgence of the last three decades throughout large parts of the Muslim world, and partly becauseespecially in the Arab worldsecularism has become associated not with Western models of liberal democracy, but with failed authoritarian political systems. Therefore, in promoting secular alternatives to Islamism, it is important to make some distinctions. Secularists in the Muslim world fall into three categories: liberal secularists, anti-clericalists, and authoritarian secularists. Liberal secularists support secular law and institutions within the context of a democratic society.
They hold liberal or social-democraticvalues that form
the core of a Western-style civil religion.
They believe in the separation of the political and religious spheres, but are not hostile to religion per se or to public manifestations of religion. The values of liberal secularists are closest in orientation to Western political values, but this group is a minority in the Muslim world. Nevertheless, our study of Muslim secularists has shown that, contrary to what is generally assumed, they are not a new or negligible phenomenon in the Muslim world (see Chapter Nine).
There is another school of secularism that is closer to the Ataturkist viewpoint and to the French tradition of laiceté. For lack of a better term, we refer to this category as anti-clericalists (although Sunni Islam does not have a clergy). In this traditionwhich, although weakening, is still dominant in Turkeythe state is aggressively secular and open displays of religious identity are prohibited in schools or other o.cial spaces.
The battles over the wearing of jihab état laique and assertive manifestations of religiosity.
A third category of secularism is made up of authoritarian secularists; it includes Baathists, Nasserites, neo-Communists, and adherents of various other strains of authoritarianism. Although theoretically hostile to Islamism, authoritarian secularist leaders sometimes attempt to manipulate Islamic symbols and themes when politically expedient, as in the case of Saddam Hussein in his last years in power, and have been known to collaborate with Islamists against democratic reformers. Obviously, individuals and groups in this category would not be appropriate partners for the United States and Western democrats.
Liberal Muslims differ from secularists in that their political ideology has a religious substratumanalogous to the European Christian Democratsbut they advocate an agenda that is compatible with Western notions of democracy and pluralism. Liberal Muslims may come from different Muslim traditions. They may be modernists, seeking to bring the core values of Islam into harmony with the modern world or, as in the case of the Indonesian liberal Muslim activist Ulil Abshar Abdallah and his Liberal Muslim Network, they might come from a traditionalist background.
What liberal Muslims have in common is a belief that Islamic values are consistent with democracy, pluralism, human rights, and individual freedoms, as indicated in this self-definition of liberal Islam:
The name of Liberal Islam illustrate[s] our fundamental principles; Islam which emphasizes on private liberties (according to Mutazilahs doctrine regarding human liberties), and liberation of socio-political structure from the unhealthy and oppressing domination. The liberal adjective has two meanings: liberty (being liberal) and liberating.
Please note that we do not believe in Islam as suchIslam without any adjective as some people argued. Islam is impossible without adjective, in fact Islam [has] been interpreted in so many di.erent ways in accordance to the interpreters need. We choose a genre of interpretation, and by this way, we selected an adjective for Islam, it is liberal.7 Liberal Muslims are hostile to the concept of the Islamic state. As noted Indonesian modernist and former Muhammadiyah chairman Ahmad Syafi Maarif points out, there is not a single verse in the Quran on the organization of the state.8
Liberal Muslims discern the roots of Muslim democracy in the Quranic concept of shura, which leads to their belief in an egalitarian political system. In this view, an Islamic government must be democratic. It cannot be dynastic, which would be a grave deviation from Islamic teachings, according to Syafi Maarif. In this sense, the Saudi government is not Islamic, even if its constitution is the Quran.9
A consistent view in liberal modernist Muslim thinking is that sharia is a product of the historical circumstances of the time of its creation and that elements of itfor instance, corporal punishments are no longer contextual and therefore need to be modernized. In Islam and Liberty: The Historical Misunderstanding, the noted Tunisian modernist thinker Mohammed Char. argues that under Ummayad and Abbasid rule Islamic law evolved in the context of an alliance between theologians and politicians.10
Although the law was dressed up as religion, it was written to suit the political needs of the rulers. At the time, the theory of the state was founded on authoritarianism, women were not equal under the law, and the legal system incorporated corporal punishments. These conditions existed everywhere else, Char. argues, but others evolved and we didnt.11
Moderate Traditionalists and Sufis
Traditionalists and Sufis probably constitute the large majority of Muslims. They are often, but not always, conservative Muslims who uphold beliefs and traditions passed down through the centuries1,400 years of Islamic traditions and spirituality that are inimical to fundamentalist ideology, as stated by Abdurrahman Wahid.12 These traditions incorporate the veneration of saints (and the offering of prayers at their tombs) and other practices that are anathema to the Wahhabis.
They interpret the Islamic scriptures on the basis of the teachings of the schools of jurisprudence (mazhab) that were established in the early centuries of Islam; they do not engage in unmediated interpretation of the Quran and the hadith (the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad), as Salafists and modernists do. Many traditionalists incorporate elements of Sufismthe tradition of Islamic mysticism that stresses emotive and personal experiences of the divineinto their practice of Islam.
Immediately relevant to this study is the fact that Salafis and Wahhabis are relentless enemies of traditionalists and Sufis. Whenever radical Islamist movements have gained power they have sought to suppress the practice of traditionalist and Sufi Islam, as in the well-known destruction of early Islamic monuments in Saudi Arabia.
Because of their victimization by Salfi.s and Wahhabis, traditionalists and Sufis are natural allies of the West to the extent that common ground can be found with them.
As we explore the possibility of partnerships with traditionalists and Sufis it is important to keep in mind the wide diversity of this sector. In countries like Bosnia, Syria, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Indonesia, the Islam commonly practiced throughout local society is Sufis or Sufi-influenced but is a diffused phenomenon. In other countries, such as the Albanian lands, Morocco, Turkey, India, and Malaysia, Sufism exists in a disciplined, organized form.13
Although in some cases Sufis have manifested radical tendencies and supported militant groups,14 by and large Sufi groups fall on the moderate side of the divide. Some Sufi movements are militantly moderate; for instance, the Jam iyyat al- Mashari al-Khayriyya al-Islamiyya Ahbash [Society of Islamic Philanthropic Projects] of Lebanon emphasizes moderation and tolerance and opposes political activism and the use of violence.
The Turkish religious leader Fethullah Gulen promotes a form of moderate modern Sufi Islam. Gulen opposes the states enforcement of Islamic law, pointing out that most Islamic regulations concern peoples private lives and only a few bear on matters of governance. The state, he believes, should not enforce Islamic law:
Because religion is a private matter, the requirements of any particular faith should not be imposed on an entire population. Gulen extends his ideas about tolerance and dialogue to Christians and Jews; he has twice met with Patriarch Bartholomeos, head of the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, visited the Pope in Rome in 1998, and received a visiting chief rabbi from Israel.
Gulen asserts the compatibility of Islam and democracy and accepts the argument that the idea of republicanism is very much in accord with early Islamic concepts of shura. Gulen opposes any authoritarian regime that would impose strict controls on ideas and is very critical of the regimes in Iran and Saudi Arabia. He holds that the Turkish interpretation and experience of Islam are di.erent from those of others, especially the Arabs. He writes of an Anatolian Islam that is based on tolerance and that excludes harsh restrictions or fanaticism.15
Should Islamists Be Engaged?
Within the academic and policy communities in the United States and Europe there is a major debate surrounding the question of whether or not Islamists should be engaged as partners. Before outlining the two sides of the argument, we first need to define the term Islamists. One definition is that they are simply Muslims with political agendas.16
This definition is too broad to be useful, since it encompasses anyone involved in politics in the Muslim world. A narrower, more useful defi.- nition identifies Islamists as those who reject the separation of religious authority from the power of the state. Islamists seek to establish some version of an Islamic state, or at least the recognition of sharia as the basis of law.17
The argument in favor of engaging Islamists has three attributes: first, that Islamists represent the only real mass-based alternative to authoritarian regimes in the Muslim world (and especially in the Arab world); second, that Islamist groups such as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood have evolved to support pluralistic democracy, womens rights, etc.;18 and third, that Islamists are more likely to be successful in dissuading potential terrorists from committing violence than are mainstream clerics.19
According to Amr Hamzawy, in countries like Egypt there has been a convergence of left-leaning liberals and moderate Islamists on the rules of democracy, good governance, and anti-corruption.
Hamzawy states that since the 1990s, the Muslim Brothers in Egypt have revisited their conception of politics and society. Their evolution includes a retreat from the goal of an Islamic state and a shift from conservative to less-conservative perceptions of society: for instance, a more modern view of womens rights.
Hamzawy concedes that less-progressive zones do still exist within the Muslim Brotherhood. Moderate Islamists are not liberals. They harbor conservative views. Nevertheless, he believes that there is a window of opportunity for the United States to reach out to moderate Islamists, and that by engaging them the United States will be able to in.uence them.20
The U.S.-funded, Washington-based CSID subscribes to this approach. CSID aims to bring together scholars and activists to promote democracy in the Muslim world. The centers partners are secularists and moderate Islamists who believe in democracy and reject violence; the center engages these groups in discussions on conceptions of democracy, ways to implement it in their countries, areas of agreement and disagreement, and whether they can work together on the issues on which they agree.21
Some European governments are willing to recognize and promote Islamists, although in some cases this seems to stem more from an inability to distinguish Islamists from liberal Muslims than from a conscious policy. For instance, in the United Kingdom, the Muslim Council of Great Britain (the main government-recognized Muslim organization), is led by Islamists. In Spain, leaders of the Unión de Comunidades Islámicas de España [Union of Islamic Communities of Spain] (UCIDE)one of the two federations that compose the government- recognized Islamic Commission of Spainhave close ties with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.
In France, radicals took control of a new government-sponsored organization, the French Council for the Muslim Religion, following elections held in April 2003 in radicalcontrolled mosques.
Like the argument for engaging Islamists, the argument against engaging them has three parts.
First, we do not know whether the Islamists pro-democracy rhetoric and relatively more moderate discourse represent a strategic or a tactical shift. Have they ceased to be true Islamists, in the sense that they have accepted the separation of religion and the state?
Or are they simply lowering the profile of one goal (the establishment of an Islamic state) and emphasizing a more appealing and less controversial agenda? Without a fundamental and demonstrable change in their outlook, what guarantees are there that if Islamists came to power they would not revert to a more radical agenda? Iran provides a cautionary example.
The second argument is that even if Islamists might be more effective in the short term in dissuading potential jihadists from committing acts of terrorism (a questionable proposition to begin with), offcial recognition and support would enhance their credibility and enable them to proselytize more e.ectively in the community. Over the long term, the social costs of the spread of the Sala. movement to the masses would be very high.
Third, even if one concedes that in many parts of the Muslim world moderate and liberal groups are organizationally weak and have been as yet unable to develop substantial constituencies, for the West to bypass these groups in favor of Islamist interlocutors would simply perpetuate these weaknesses. One presumption of this study is that the primary weakness of these groups is organizational and that linking them together in robust networks would amplify their message, broaden their appeal, and enable them to compete more e.ectively with Islamist groups in the political marketplace.
This is not to say that the United States and its partners should not enter into a dialogue with moderate Islamists; such a dialogue could be constructive in clarifying the positions of both sides. However, capac- ity-building programs and resources are better directed at moderate and liberal Muslim organizations.22
Delivering Support to Moderates
Concerns quickly arise whenever the topic of assisting Muslim moderates comes up, such as the question of whether Western backing will discredit them. These questions reflect a somewhat unrealistic notion of political conflict. In conflict, no weapon or strategy is perfect. This is precisely what makes it a conflictthe enemies confront each other, with both sides trying to discover and exploit the limits and failings of the weapons and strategies of the other.
Extremists face risks and operate in the face of significant obstacles. The same is true of moderates. Will attempts be made to discredit them as Western tools? Of course, just as the extremists are tarnished in the view of many mainstream Muslims by their use of terrorist tactics and their radical and exclusionary interpretations of Islam.
There are also indications that the problem may be overstated. Several prominent moderates have gone on record as welcoming U.S. support. For example, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the jailed Egyptian activist who was eventually freed through U.S. intervention, observes that he appreciated every bit of support I received. Similarly, the prominent writer Naguib Mahfouz rhetorically asked, Whats wrong if the Americans want us to have democracy? Sometimes our interests can coincide.23
These questions are easier to resolve when placed in a broader historical context. Recalling the Cold War example, dissidents were indeed jailed, persecuted, and sometimes killed. Staunch leftists and Com- munists saw the dissidents as puppetsor, in the language of the day, as the lackeys and stooges of the imperialists. This is the nature of an ideological conflict. For many Communists, their ideology was not something imposed from above, but an authentically held belief system that contained such notions as justice, equality, and brotherhood.
The distance from scientific socialism to religion is not so great.
The key question, of course, is not whether, but how to channel our assistance and engage prospective partners effectively. Outside support of Muslim moderates is an exceedingly sensitive matter in Islamic countries. Assistance from international sources must be channeled in ways that are appropriate to local circumstances and, to the extent possible, must rely on NGOs that have existing relationships in the recipient countries.
The Asia Foundation, which has worked successfully with partners in several Southeast Asian countries, is careful to support indigenous initiatives and is selective about the organizations with which it works. The key success is to engage credible partners while keeping the foreign dimensions of the support e.ort very much in the background.24
This effort could be prioritized in three ways: in terms of partners, programs, and regional focus.
In the context of todays Muslim world, the potential target groups fall into a number of categories:
Liberal and Secular Muslim Academics.
Liberals tend to gravitate toward universities and academic and research centers, from where they can in.uence opinion. As there are existing networks of liberal and moderate intellectuals throughout the Muslim world, this sector is the primary building bloc for an international moderate Muslim network.
Young Moderate Clerics.
One of the reasons for the radicals success in propagating their ideas is that they use mosques as their vehicles for proselytizing and recruiting. Liberal academics, on the other hand, are not comfortable engaging people at the mosques. They find it dif- cult to translate the language of scholarship to which they are accustomed to the language of the average person on the street. Therefore, a liberal or moderate Muslim movement with a mass base will depend on enlisting the active participation of moderate clerics, particularly of young clerics, who will become the religious leadership of the future.
The muscle of this initiative, community activists propagate the ideas developed by liberal and moderate intellectuals. They take real personal risks by confronting often-violent extremists in the battle of ideas, and are the victims of fatwas and violent attacks. These groups, therefore, are most in need of the protection and support that an international network can provide. For example, activists in Indonesias Liberal Muslim Network have taken a highpro .le stand against Islamist extremism and have been subjected to a campaign of harassment and intimidation.
Women and religious minorities have the most to lose from the spread of fundamentalist Islam and rigid interpretations of sharia. In some countries women are beginning to organize to protect their rights from the rising tide of fundamentalism and are becoming an increasingly important constituency of reformist movements in Muslim countries. Groups and organizations have emerged to advance womens rights and opportunities in the areas of legal rights, health, education, and employment.25 This upsurge in womens civil-society groups in turn provides opportunities for moderate network-building.
Journalists, Writers, and Communicators.
Through the use of the Internet and other new media outside of governments control, radical messages have penetrated deeply into Muslim communities around the world. U.S. funded broadcasting e.orts, such as Radio Sawa and Al Hurra television, lack the agility to address local concerns and issues and, in any event, are not working to foster the development of moderate local media outlets. To reverse radical trends in the Muslim media, therefore, it will be critical to support local moderate radio and television programming, as well as Web sites and other nontraditional media.
The programs directed at the above audiences should have the following foci: democratic education, media, gender equality, and policy advocacy.
The narrowly sectarian and regressive instruction on religion and politics dispensed at radical and conservative madrasas26 needs to be countered by a curriculum that promotes democratic and pluralistic values. As in many other areas where religion and society intersect, Indonesia is a leader in democratic religious education. The State Islamic University and Muhammadiyah educational systems have developed textbooks to teach civil education in an Islamic context. The courses are mandatory for all students attending these universities.
Some Muslim teachers, although of a moderate disposition, lack the ability to link Islamic teachings explicitly with democratic values. In response, the Asia Foundation has developed a program to assist the efforts of moderate ulama to mine Islamic texts and traditions for authoritative teachings that support democratic values. The result is a corpus of writings on fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) that support democracy, pluralism, and gender equality. These texts are on the cutting edge of progressive Muslim thinking and are in great demand internationally.
Institutions like the Nahdlatul Ulamabased Institute for Islamic and Social Studies (LKiS) hold that instead of creating speci.cally Islamic schools, Muslims should ensure that all institutions are infused with values of social justice and tolerance. The i in LKiS (which stands for Islam) is deliberately written in lower case to underscore that LKiS is against the type of Islamism that emphasizes Islams superiority over other religions. LKiS is currently involved in human-rights training in pesantren, the Indonesian Islamic boarding schools.27 The outcome of this work is the emergence in Indonesia of a coherent Muslim democracy movement with some unique features:
(1) male ulama who campaign for gender equality; and
(2) roots in mass-based organizations, giving the movement the capacity to reach a wide section of the populace at the grass-roots level in a way that urban-based secular groups cannot.
The dissemination of information throughout most of the Muslim world is dominated by anti-democratic radical and conservative elements. In fact, there is no moderate media in some countries. A moderate alternative to the radical media is a critical tool in the war of ideas. Again, Indonesia provides a model, with numerous examples of moderate media:
The Liberal Muslim Networks weekly radio program, Religion and Tolerance, reaches approximately 5 million listeners through 40 radio stations nationwide.
The Institute for Citizens Advocacy and Education produces a weekly radio talk show that reaches one million listeners through .ve radio stations in the province of South Sulawesi.
The national television station, TPI, features a weekly call-in show on gender equality and Islam that reaches 250,000 viewers in the greater Jakarta area.
A monthly television talk show on Islam and pluralism reaches 400,000 viewers in Yogyakarta.28
These moderate media have had an impact in changing the tenor of Islamic discourse in Indonesia. The Islamist media have been forced to address issues that have been raised by the moderate media, such as the status of womens rights .
The issue of womens rights is a major battleground in the war of ideas currently underway in the Muslim world. As a 2005 Freedom House report stated, the Middle East is the region where the gap between the rights of men and those of women is the most visible and signi.cant and where resistance to womens equality has been most challenging.29 Some have argued that the subordination of women is central to the whole structure of radical and conservative Islam.
Promotion of gender equality is a critical component of any project to empower moderate Muslims. Anat Lapidot-Firilla, academic director of the Democratization and Women Equity project at Hebrew University, states that there is an apparent correlation between the status and participation of women and the degree of democracy and political stability in a society.
Today, he says, not only are women seen as principal agents of democratization and cultural change but also, in the absence of other social movements, womens groups provide the main impetus for expanding citizenship rights, building civil society, and implementing progressive reforms.30
The trends in womens empowerment in the Muslim world are mixed, however. In some Southeast Asian countries, women have made important strides in advancing an agenda of gender equality. Ibu Nuriyah, wife of former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, has published exegetical studies aimed at combating polygamy through the reinterpretation of Quranic concepts and injunctions. She concludes that the Quranic ideal is monogamy and that a womans right to freely choose a spouse should not be restricted.
Some Nahdlatul Ulama affliated pesantren have established crisis centers for victims of domestic violence. Four members of the fatwa committee of the Majlis Ulama Indonesia [Council of Indonesian Ulama] are women, including the noted Quran reciter Maria Ulfa, who has published a treatise on womens issues in fiqh. Women in Indonesia also serve as sharia judges and have been accepted as members of the Central Board of the modernist mass organization Muhammadiyah.31
There are a growing number of NGOs that promote gender equity in the Muslim world, such as Rahima and Fahmina in Indonesia and Sisters in Islam in Malaysia. In other parts of the Muslim world, the growing strength of fundamentalism especially the codification of sharia in local and national legislationthreatens a retrogression in the position of women in society. In many Muslim countries there is no civil law with regard to personal status (marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, etc.) and women are subject to discriminatory treatment under sharia.
Regimes that suppress democratic reform also suppress the efforts of womensrights activists to organize and network. Nabila Espanioly, a clinical psychologist and director of a womens center in Nazareth, says that women can make a change, but only when they understand how to network and to act against the hierarchy of suffering, which today is one of the major obstacles before womens solidarity and networking.32
Islamists use dawa (Islamic proselytizingliterally, the call) as policy advocacy: In addition to transforming the individual, the goal is to attain social and political objectives, which in the Islamists view are undistinguishable from religious objectives. Islamists almost always advocate the application of sharia, including, in some cases, its criminal-law component and associated corporal punishments (hudud).
Moderate, liberal, and secular Muslims need to engage in policy advocacy as well. Where Islamists are campaigning for the codi.cation of their particular interpretation of Islam, moderate Muslims need to campaign against legislative discrimination and intolerance. Publicinterest advocates and advocacy groups (human-rights activists, corruption watchdogs, think tanks, etc.) have, in fact, multiplied throughout the Muslim world in recent years. These groups can help to shape a political and legal environment that, in turn, can accelerate the development of democratic civil-society institutions.
This study is focused on network-building opportunities in the Muslim diaspora communities in Europe, Muslims in Southeast Asia, and some of the relatively more open societies in the Middle East. Our focus on these regions is dictated by the existence of a critical mass of moderate Muslim institutions and ideas in these regions.
Although many Western initiatives to engage Muslims have a Middle East focus, in our view the Middle East, and particularly the Arab world, offers less fertile ground for moderate network and institution building than other regions of the Muslim world. As noted in other RAND research, while Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe, and even parts of sub-Saharan Africa experienced a strong democratic trend in the 1980s and 1990s, most Arab countries remained mired in dictatorship and in the politics of violence and exclusion.33 It is not a coincidence that the most radical ideologies have emanated from the Arab world and radiated outward toward other regions of the Muslim world.
That said, the Arab world is by no means monolithic, and there are democratizing trends at work in the region that o.er the prospect of transformation. In some countriesMorocco, Jordan, some of the Gulf statessome democratic elements have been introduced and tolerant interpretations of Islam prevail. Therefore, despite the generally unpromising prospects, there should be a component of this project to link the small secular and liberal Muslim groups in the Arab world with each other and with compatible groups outside the region. Despite the continuing violence and a strong Islamist trend within both the Shiite and Sunni communities there, Iraq should not be neglected in this effort.
The thrust of our approach is twofold. The first is to work with Muslim moderates in countries where conditions are more favorable to the development of robust moderate Muslim networks and institutions in order to strengthen these societies against the flow of extreme Salafist interpretations of Islam emanating from the Middle East.
The second is to create channels of communications that will encourage the dissemination of modern and mainstream interpretations of Islam back into the Middle East from moderate Muslims elsewhere. Success in these two areas would hopefully lead to a more balanced equation in which the outflow of radical ideas from the Middle East is counterbalanced by the in.ow of more moderate ideas from more enlightened regions of the Muslim world.
As stated above, the Muslim diaspora communities in Europe are an obvious choice as the focus of this effort. Although Muslims in Europe have suffered a variety of ills, including inconsistent approaches to integration by European states, alienation from their national societies, and growing radicalism among second- and third-generation European Muslims, diaspora Muslims are key partners in the effort to build bridges to other parts of the Muslim world for a number of reasons:
their familiarity with Western societies, their exposure to liberal democratic values, and their success in maintaining a Muslim identity in a pluralistic society. The noted Malaysian intellectual Chandra Muzaffar captured this when he identified Muslim communities in the West as agents of change within Islam:
"Why in the West? Because in the West, youre challenged intellectually. You have to de.ne your position. You have to try to understand some of your own precepts and principles. And that sort of intellectual challenge is very, very important. Its something that is not happening in the Muslim majority societies where you have this very sort of complacent attitude, where thought has stulti- .ed. You .nd that creativity is no longer there. Its all ossi.ed. But in the West, its di.erent. Theyre challenged; theyll have to respond to it".34
Southeast Asian Muslims also offer an obvious area of focus. Although the region is often overlooked in discourse about Islam, Southeast Asia is home to one of the largest concentrations of Muslims in the world. Indonesia, the regions largest country, is the worlds most populous Muslim-majority country. Moreover, the cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity of the region (in particular the presence of substantial non-Muslim communities) underlies the famously tolerant character of the Southeast Asian practice of Islam.
Southeast Asian Muslims are accustomed to coexisting with other cultural and religious traditions. Even more relevant to this project is Southeast Asias dense structure of moderate Muslim institutions, probably unparalleled in the Muslim world. On the other hand, cultural di.erences may hinder the ability of Southeast Asian networks to have an impact on Islam in the Arab Middle East.
Obstacles to a Regional Approach
Reversing the flow of radical ideas from the Arab world to the non-Arab regions of the Muslim world will be a formidable challenge because of the lack of Arab civil-society institutions that could act as disseminators of moderate ideas and because of cultural resistance within the Arab world to interpretations of Islam that originated outside the Middle East.
Although the most innovative thinking about Islam is taking place outside the Arab world, Arab institutions hold pride of place in Islamic scholarship. Even within Southeast Asia, the reference points for theologians and educators are al-Azhar and other Middle Eastern universities. For instance, there are more Indonesian students at al- Azhar than at Malaysias International Islamic University, and few Filipino Muslims are aware that Indonesia is a center of Islamic theological study.
Europe lacks institutes for the training of imams, and European Muslim communities are consequently dependent on imams trained in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Not only do these individuals in many cases lack an understanding of the social conditions in European Muslim communities, but the Islamist viewpoint of some Islamic leaders in Europe actually retards the development of a European Islam consonant with modern values.
Some question whether, in fact, the Islam as practiced in non- Arab regions is transferable to the Arab world. They argue that mass- based Muslim organizations in non-Arab countries, (e.g., in Indonesia or Turkey) do not have counterparts in the Middle East. In fact, Muslim civil-society institutions prominently present in Southeast Asia are the essential moderating elements missing from society in the Middle East. On the other hand, as we will discuss in Chapter Eight, there are emerging elements of civil society in the Middle East that could be linked to networks focused on democratization and the promotion of moderate and liberal Islam.
In disseminating moderate ideas, it is important to introduce Western and Southeast Asian Muslim intellectuals to other regions of the Muslim world and to translate their works into English and Arabic. Indonesians believe that Arab prejudice can be overcome if their ideas are presented in Arabic. At present, there is little systematic translation from Bahasa Indonesia into English and Arabic. The North Carolinabased Libforall Foundation is helping to translate books and articles by progressive Indonesian Muslims into Arabic and English and publishes them on the Internet, as well as in traditional book form.35 Nevertheless, important works, such as former Muhammadiyah chairman Ahmad Syafii Maarifs recent book Mencari Autentisitas [Searching for Authenticity],36 and many of the publications of the think tanks associated with Indonesias mainstream Muslim organizations, such as Muhammadiyahs Center for the Study of Religion and Civilization, remain unavailable to those who do not speak Bahasa. Another practical difficulty is that in many cases moderate Islam is rooted in local culture, which is very different from the deracinated and globalized Islam of the Salafis. For instance, the Turkish mass-based Gulen movement advocates a Sufi influenced Turkish Islam that may be dificult to propagate outside of the Turkish cultural zone.
The Role of American Muslims
This project focuses on building international networks and does not cover the U.S. Muslim community. Nevertheless, just as U.S. institutions and personalities played an important role in the networkbuilding effort during the Cold War, so do American Muslims have a potentially important role to play in building moderate Muslim networks and institutions. The United States has been more successful in integrating its Muslim population than European nationsthe United States is historically a country where successive waves of immigrants have reinvented themselves as Americans.
Moreover, American Muslims are well educateda majority are college graduatesand have annual incomes greater than the average American income.37 Of course, the American Muslim community is not immune to the global conflict of ideas within Islam. Like other minority Muslim communities, it is subject to radical influences from abroad. For example, a 2005 Freedom House study documented the continued propagation of intolerant Wahhabi ideology in a dozen American mosques and Islamic study centers.38
Nevertheless, the vast majority of American Muslims hold values that re.ect the democratic and pluralistic political culture of the United States. Therefore, American Muslims, with their cultural knowledge and family and social links to their home countries, could be a critical vector in the war of ideas within the Muslim world. We advocate involving moderate U.S. Muslim groups and organizations, with the safeguards discussed earlier in this report, as an intrinsic component of our proposed network-building initiative.
1 Cheryl Benard, Civil Democratic Islam, Santa Monica: Calif.: RAND Corporation, MR- 1716-CMEPP, 2003; and Angel M. Rabasa, Cheryl Benard, Peter Chalk, C. Christine Fair, Theodore Karasik, Rollie Lal, Ian Lesser, and David Thaler, The Muslim World After 9/11, Santa Monica, Calif.: The RAND Corporation, MG-246-AF, 2004.
2 See Chapter 11, The Modernity of Theocracy, in Juan Cole, Sacred Space and Holy War: The Politics, Culture and History of Shi ite Islam, London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2002. For the challenges of democracy promotion in the Middle East, see Thomas Carothers and Marina S. Ottaway, Uncharted Journey: Promoting Democracy in the Middle East, Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005; and Thomas Carothers, Marina S. Ottaway, Amy Hawthorne, and Daniel Brumberg, Democratic Mirage in the Middle East, Carnegie Policy Brief No. 20, Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, October 2002.
3 Abdullahi An-Naim, Public Forum on Human Rights, Religion & Secularism, notes by Siew Foong on speech delivered by Abdullahi An-Naim, National Evangelical Christian Fellowship Malaysia, January 18, 2003.
4 Authors discussion with Mansur Escudero, Spain, August 2005.
5 Patricia Martinez, Deconstructing Jihad: Southeast Asian Contexts, in Kumar Ramakrishna and See Seng Tan, eds., After Bali: The Threat of Terrorism in Southeast Asia, Singapore: Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Nanyang Technological University, 2003; and Youssef Aboul-Enein and Sherifa Zuhur, Islamic Rulings on Warfare, Carlisle, Pa.: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, October 2004
6 Rabasa et al., 2004, p. 6.
7 Liberal Islam Network, About Liberal Islam Network, Web page, n.d.
8 Authors interview with Ahmad Sya.i Maarif, Jakarta, June 2002.
9 Authors interview with Ahmad Sya.i Maarif, Jakarta, May 2002.
10 Mohammed Char., Islam and Liberty: The Historical Misunderstanding, trans. Patrick Camiller, New York: Zed Books, 2005
11 Mohammed Char., conference, Hudson Institute, Washington, D.C., October 18, 2005.
12 Abdurrahman Wahid, Right Islam vs. Wrong Islam, The Wall Street Journal, December 30, 2005.
13 Communication from Stephen Schwartz, July 25, 2006.
14 Shmuel Bar, for instance, points out that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Syria was heavily Su.. Authors discussion with Shmuel Bar, Washington, D.C., April 14, 2005.
15 Bulent Aras and Omer Caha, Fethullah Gulen and His Liberal Turkish Islam Movement, MERIA Journal, Vol. 4, No. 4, December 2000. Gulen is regarded with suspicion by Turkish secularists, who believe that he may be seeking to undermine the strict separation of religion and state under Turkeys Ataturkist constitution.
16 Saad Eddin Ibrahim, presentation at Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) Conference, Washington, D.C., April 22, 2005. Graham Fuller de.nes political Islam as the belief that the Quran and the hadith (the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) have something important to say about how society and governance should be ordered. Graham Fuller, The Future of Political Islam, Foreign A.airs, Vol. 81, No. 2, March/April 2002.
17 This de.nition is given in Sue-Ann Lee, Managing the Challenges of Radical Islam: Strategies to Win the Hearts and Minds of the Muslim World, seminar paper, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, April 1, 2003.
18 Ibrahim, 2005.
19 This argument was made bluntly to one of the authors by a representative of a European foreign ministry.
20 Amr Hamzawy, presentation, CSID, Washington, D.C., May 19, 2005.
21 Authors discussion with CSID president Radwan Masmoudi, Washington, D.C., May 19, 2005.
22 In a Washington Quarterly article, scholar Daniel Brumberg argues that uncritical engagement with Islamists in the cause of democracy would strengthen illiberal Islamist forces, particularly in the absence of institutional reform that would prod mainstream Islamists to forge a democratic power-sharing accommodation with regime and with non-Islamist political forces. Daniel Brumberg, Islam Is Not the Solution (or the Problem), The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 1, Winter 20052006.
23 Cited in Lee Smith, The Kiss of Death? Slate, November 24, 2004.
24 RAND discussion in Jakarta, August 2005
25 See Satlo., 2004, pp. 8384.
26 The Arabic plural of madrasa is madari, but we anglicize it to madrasas in this report.
27 Ken Miichi, Islamic Movements in Indonesia, IIAS Newsletter, No. 32, November 2003.
28 Asia Foundation, Islam and Development in Indonesia, Web page, n.d.; United States Indonesia Society, Muslim Civil Society, Web page, n.d.
29 Sameena Nazir, Challenging Inequality: Obstacles and Opportunities Towards Womens Rights in the Middle East and North Africa, in Womens Rights in the Middle East and North Africa, Washington, D.C.: Freedom House, 2005.
30 Liora Hendelman-Baavur, Nabila Espanioly, Eleana Gordon, Anat Lapidot-Firilla, Judith Colp Rubin, and Sima Wali, Women in the Middle East: Progress or Regress? A Panel Discussion MERIA Journal, Vol. 10, No. 2, June 2006.
31 Oddbjørn Leirvik, Report from a Delegation Visit to Indonesia by the Oslo Coalition of Freedom of Religion or Belief, July 29August 11, 2002
32 Hendelman-Baavur et al., 2006.
33 Rabasa et al., 2003, p. 33.
34 Chandra Muza.ar, interview, Frontline, October 10, 2001.
35 Among the works translated and made available by the Libforall Foundation are: Islamic Law on the Fringe of the Nation State, by Azyumardi Azra; The Contextualization of Islamic Law, by Zainun Kamal; The Ideal State from the Perspective of Islam and Its Implementation in the Present Age, by Masyukuri Abdillah; Islam, the State and Civil Society: The Christian and Muslim Experience, by Olaf Schumann; The Secularization of Society and the Indonesian State, by Yudi Latif; Democracy and Religion: The Existence of Religion in Indonesian Politics, by Bahtiar E.endy; The Role of Telematics in the Democratization of Muslim Nations, by Marsudi W. Kisworo; The Impact of Misunderstandings Between Islam and the West, by Munim A. Sirry; The Democracy De.cit in the Islamic World, by Sukidi Mulyadi; Is Religious Jurisprudence Still Relevant? New Perspectives in Political Islamic Thought, by Luth. Assyaukanie; The Jurisprudence of Civil Society Versus the Jurisprudence of Power: A Bid to Reform Political Islam, by Zuhairi Misrawi; Reforming Islamic Family Law in Indonesia, by Siti Musdah Mulia; Good Governance in Islam: Concepts and Experience, by Andi Faisal Bakti; Staking Out the Principles of an Alternative Islamic Jurisprudence, by Abd Moqsith Ghazali; Islamic Feminist Movements and Civil Society, by Nurul Augustina; Leaving Contemporary Islam, Heading in the Direction of a Di.erent Islam, by M. Qasim Mathar; Avoiding Bibliolatry: The Importance of Revitalizing Our Understanding of Islam, by Ulil Abshar-Abdalla; HAM [Indonesian Human Rights Association] and the Problem of Cultural Relativity, by Budhy Munawar-Rachman; and The Typology of Contemporary Islamic Movements in Indonesia, by Komaruddin Hidayat and Ahmad Gaus AF.
36 Ahmad Sya.i Maarif, Mencari Autenisitas Dalam Kegalauan, Jakarta: PSAP, 2004.
37 Project MAPS and Zogby International, American Muslim Poll 2004, October 2004.
38 Center for Religious Freedom, Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Fill American Mosques, Washington, D.C.: Freedom House, 2005.
Building Moderate Muslim Networks
By: Angel Rabasa, Cheryl Benard, Lowell H. Schwartz, Peter Sickle
Radical and dogmatic interpretations of Islam have gained ground in recent years in many Muslim societies via extensive Islamist networks spanning the Muslim world and the Muslim diaspora communities of North America and Europe. Although a majority throughout the Muslim world, moderates have not developed similar networks to amplify their message and to provide protection from violence and intimidation. With considerable experience fostering networks of people committed to free and democratic ideas during the Cold War, the United States has a critical role to play in leveling the playing field for Muslim moderates. The authors derive lessons from the U.S. and allied Cold War network-building experience, determine their applicability to the current situation in the Muslim world, assess the effectiveness of U.S. government programs of engagement with the Muslim world, and develop a road map to foster the construction of moderate Muslim networks.
They could stop killing innocents in their cowardly way tomorrow but for 1000 years they will be looked upon with untrusting eyes. They sealed their own fates and remain rightfully mired in Islam.
I can see OBL saying the same thing about us.
Very interesting, educational. Thanks very much for posting.
Islam will forever be tied with violence since it entered into the world by using violence as it’s spring board.
It conquered it’s way with the sword being held by a delusional manic who raped everything and everyone in his path. Knowing that little bit of info, do these lying fools believe that we will actually buy this Road Map for Moderate islam?
I’ve got to hand it to you. You keep trying. You do have to admit, however, that if Islam was not a problem, there would be no need for these discussions. And Islam will remain problematic for as long as it exists, or at least until “2030.”
Thanks so much for posting this.
When have I ever said there wasn’t a problem?
If Radical Islam takes over the world, Communism will look like true Utopia.