from: Point of Contact
10:02 AM CDT on Sunday, September 24, 2006
Our Q&A with Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, formerly a radical Muslim, now a Washington, D.C.-based counterterrorism consultant
When you were a Muslim, you were converted from progressive Islam to Wahhabism, also called Salafism, by the logic of the Salafists' arguments. What does that tell us about the prospects for Islamic reform?
The logical force of the radicals' interpretation of the Islamic faith cannot be denied; anybody who brushes off Islamic radicals' interpretation of jihad as clearly and simply distorting Islam is either dissembling or speaking from sincere ignorance.
I don't think, though, that the radicals are inevitably right, and I thus haven't yet given up the hope that Islam can save itself. ... One of the Muslim moderates with whom I've been dialoguing for that project tells me that the Salafi interpretation seems insurmountable at first, but as a Muslim gains greater mastery of Arabic and is able to interpret Islamic history on his own, less radical alternative interpretations may seem more compelling.
At this point, it's too early for me to assess whether this statement is accurate. But the fact that I don't think the radicals are inevitably right makes the current controversy over Pope Benedict's remarks all the more distressing.
It seems that the media would rather condemn the pope and thus place criticism of Islam off-limits rather than focus on the pathologies in contemporary Islam. This Western response serves to undermine Muslim moderates and strengthen radicals. It undermines moderates because one of the strongest big-picture arguments the moderates have is that Muslims need to act like adults. Yet the signal we're sending is that we're willing to look the other way and create a ridiculous double standard: that we're unwilling to hold Muslims accountable for unacceptable behavior and unacceptable actions.
The extremists are helped not only by the missed opportunity to examine the crisis in contemporary Islam, but also because it increasingly appears to them that if they want to use threats of violence to stifle speech, they will be helped in their cause by hordes of guilt-ridden Westerners who will side with them.
We live in cowardly times, and it's sad to see that so many Westerners pick the wrong side in what is a stark choice between free speech and intimidation.
This does bring up a question I have had for awhile and it is regarding the different "sects" of Islam. How are they related to each other and what do they think of each other? Is there a huge, silent majority of moderate Muslims like the media tells us there is, or is anti-Semitism and anti-United States sentiment becoming more intrinsic to Islamic belief? I really don't know, so I ask. It's just that I always hear the media say that the extremists are a small fringe minority of Islam, but they are the only ones I hear. I have yet to hear anything from the "majority" of Islam. Of course, the media often only lets us hear what they want us to hear, so it is hard to tell what is the truth.