This is the third post in a series challenging popular cultural myths. My first two posts, exploring the myth of obama's eligiblity and the myth of poison gas showers in nazi germany, were quickly deleted. But the duty of a poet is to challenge the accepted "wisdom" of society, so I'll continue regardless.
Labeling muslims as "moderate" is common practice for the media. The term is so vague as to be meaningless, and should be offensive to all muslims. Calling someone a "moderate" muslim is similar to the old practice of calling some a "good negro." Both phrases have the unspoken implication that most muslims are not "moderate" and that most negroes are not "good." By labeling people as such, the media is hoping to grant them legitimacy in the minds of the public.
In the west, any muslim who does not openly support or participate in terrorism is labeled as "moderate" by the media. But, as I have said, the term moderate is a purely relative term. Moderate in comparison to what? And the term does not address the beliefs or agenda of the muslim in question. Prior to september 11, most of the terrorists would have rightly been termed "moderate" based on their public personas. They lived in america, visited strip clubs and did not protest or make public pronouncements on their private views. Is that enough to make some a "moderate muslim?"
I do not like the use of relative terms in general, whether the term is applied to muslims or american political leaders. The terms conservative, moderate and liberal have no objective political meaning, and merely place an individual or group on an imagined spectrum of political ideology. But those terms do have some accepted meaning in popular political debate. When sarah palin is described as a conservative, or john mccain a moderate, or barak obama a liberal, their is an understanding of what those terms mean (whether they are accurate can be debated another time.)
But, using the term "moderate" to describe muslims is, at best, misleading. Most americans are not educated in the teachings of islam. americans are, to some degree, knowledgeable about the american political spectrum. But they have little if any knowledge of the details or range of muslim ideology. With no frame of reference, the term moderate can be applied to almost anyone, and it gives no understanding of the religious or political beliefs of the subject.
In popular debate, I don't use the terms conservative, moderate or liberal. "conservatives" are more correctly labeled traditionalists, libertarians or some other word. These terms have a clearer defintion than the relative reference "conservative." (I don't label myself a conservative, either. I consider myself a modernist, constitutionalist and contexutualist.)
There are many definitions in islam -- sunni, shia, wahabi, etc. But these terms have no meaning for most americans. I doubt muslims in the middle east are really concerned with the difference between anglicans and episcopalians, and most americans don't understand or really care about the sunni-shia schism.
For myself, and most informed americans, what they really want to know is if a mulism is a "modern muslim." Modernism indicates an acceptance of modern principles -- free speech, women's rights, secular control of society, freedom of religious belief, etc. There are some modern muslims, to be sure. You can usually identify them because they are condemned by their fellow muslims. muslims who support equal rights for women, or who reject sharia law are rare, but those who do are the ones americans and europeans should embrace and support.
If the west is to survive the cultural war of civilizations, it must first demand the media accurately portray the battle they are in. Use of the term "moderate" muslim should be stopped. First, it is offensive. Second, it is inaccurate.