Saturday, April 9, 2011

Invisible Moderation

After a week of watching Verizon struggle to reestablish consistent internet service to my home, I’m finally able to blog again, and ideally return to the nice, daily pace I’d effectively established before being abruptly cut out of the loop.

What’s caught my eye tonight, and struck me as worth commenting upon, is this clip from Real Time with Bill Maher.

I came across the video via a Breitbart post, which applauded Maher’s statement that there is one religion in the world that kills you when you disagree with them. I’m not exactly shocked by the commentary, coming from him. Maher’s less than nuanced views on the topic of religion are well established, and should come as a surprise to no one.

I’m sick of the impulse to let outspoken conservatives direct the media narrative, so I’m not interested in responding to Breitbart’s praise for Maher or for the audience that applauded his statement. Obviously, I think Maher is making a tremendous mistake when he singles out Islam as being inherently more violent that other widespread religions, but it is a more particular mistake that is made by both him and Katty Kay of BBC America in the clip when they lament the lack of moderate Muslim voices protesting the extremism that leads Maher to his incisive conclusion.

I don’t understand what the two commenters are looking for when they say that there should be more visible moderate protest to cut against the terrorist extremism that is the topic of discussion. I think they’re forgetting that essential point – that extremism is what everybody's talking about. In the clip, Andrew Sullivan does take care to point out that the violent, fundamentalist impulse exists among a small but very visible minority of the world’s Muslims. It’s easy to understand, though, that campaigns of kidnapping and murder garner a great deal of attention. By contrast, the thing that makes moderate worldviews moderate is the fact that they’re not disturbing and sensational enough to make them particularly interesting topics for the evening news.

When Maher and Kay say that there ought to be more moderates to counter the statements and actions of extremists, what exactly is it that they’re looking for? I fail to see how it is the responsibility of moderate Muslims to answer for the actions of every Muslim terrorist, or how it is even in the power of those moderates to actually obstruct and intercept terrorism. But that capability and duty seems to be exactly what Maher and Kay are asserting belong to all Muslims, and only to them.

The world has not exactly been without Christian-motivated acts of violence and even genocide. I wonder if people who bemoan the lack of moderate Muslim voices have made the same conclusions about Christians during their conflicts as they have of Muslims in the current state of global affairs. Or would they have taken the systematic attacks by the Ku Klux Klan and other white radicals against black targets during the civil rights era as evidence that America was deficient in moderate Caucasians?

It seems to me that for people like Maher and Kay to be satisfied that there is a contingent of moderate Muslims in the Middle East, they would need to first see those individuals attack and destroy extremist organizations, individuals, and infrastructure. But that doesn’t sound moderate. It sounds like a type of extremism that’s grounded in something other than Jihadist thinking. It seems to me that Maher and Kay are despairing not of the lack of Muslims who are not violent, but rather of Muslims whose violence is more palatable to them.

But it seems obvious to me that you can’t conclude that there are no moderates based on the fact that extremists still operate within the same society. The extremists are easy to see, but the moderates, no matter how numerous, are practically invisible.

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