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Is “Moderate Muslim” an Oxymoron?

Dr. Richard L. Benkin (July 2012)

Is “Moderate Muslim” an Oxymoron? As applied to individuals, absolutely not. Those of us who know individual Muslims will testify to that all day long. Our Muslim friends and colleagues are no different than our other associates, and we find it difficult to hear blanket statements categorizing all Muslims as open or closet jihadis. Condemn all Muslims that way, and you do more to condemn yourself. And that’s one of the reasons for all the distortions we encounter: our values make us uncomfortable condemning any religion or large group of people because of their adherence to it. But our existential struggle is not about individuals.

The disingenuous and politically-motivated use of the phrase “moderate Muslim” without regard to reality leads us to make deadly decisions; deadly not just for jihad’s immediate victims but ultimately for us as well. Case in point: Bangladesh.

When you start talking about Bangladesh, people start looking at their watches; but Bangladesh is the only nation that ranks among the world’s ten most populous and ten most densely populated countries—like cramming every second American into the State of New York. It also has the world’s fourth largest Muslim population—more than Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia combined. It is a country poor in significant resources except one: an excess of people who are learning to live with radical Islam. Bangladeshi jihadis have surfaced in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, and elsewhere. In 2007, I spent a day in the Bangladeshi capital with another: a former Mujhadeen commander who fought in Afghanistan. The nation’s current left-center government, the Awami League, which took power from a military-backed caretaker at the end of 2008, defines itself with words like moderate and secular, pretending to stand apart from people like him; and few people bother to check reality.

The UN formally recognized Bangladesh as a “moderate Muslim democracy”; and a recent CNN report began:  “Muslim and moderate. Two words that describe Bangladesh.” Bangladeshis play the moderate card every chance they get and trumpet their nation as “a model of religious harmony and tolerance” on their US web site. More to the point, a recent Congressional Research Paper said that Bangladesh is the “partner of choice for the United States in many of the foreign policy priorities of President Obama.” But do those words reflect reality?  Who is this country that the Obama Administration has made a “partner of choice”?

In 2009, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told visiting French naval commander Gerard Valin that her government would repeal the nation’s anti-minority laws—a rather curious thing to say as she was admitting that this supposedly moderate Muslim-majority country indeed has anti-minority laws. That was three years ago, and the anti-minority laws remain in force. One of them, the Vested Property Act, allows the government to declare Hindu property “vested” on the flimsiest of pretexts and distribute it to the crones of its choice—about 2.5 million acres so far or about 75 percent of all Hindu-owned land. Is that indicative of a moderate Muslim country?

The same Awami League, whose moderate reputation is an article of faith among diplomats and other elites, passed on an opportunity to repeal that law with no fanfare or repercussions immediately on taking power; just as it did when challenged by the Supreme Court in 2011 to re-write several constitutional provisions, including the notorious Eighth Amendment that declares Islam to be the official state religion and provides for its favored treatment. Does that sound like the actions of a moderate Muslim country?

Sources on the ground in South Asia have told me that the Awami League has recently made common cause with the nation’s Islamists, agreeing to allow the latter to implement elements of their radical agenda in return for support in the 2014 election, much as it did in advance of the aborted 2007 elections. Since elements in the party recently approached me as well with their concerns about the next election, the cynical deal with Islamists rings true. But press reports about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent visit there were effusive with her positive comments and pledges of more aid and cooperation. It seems she had no time to address this disturbing move by her hosts. And if my sources could uncover it, is there much doubt that her sources did, too?

Less than a month after Clinton's departure, a Bangladeshi court issued an arrest warrant against author Salam Azad charging him with blasphemy for a book he published in 2003. All it took was a general allegation, according to the petitioner’s attorney. “We told the court that the book contained slanderous remarks against the Prophet Mohammed and Islam. The judge accepted the petition and issued a warrant of arrest.” According to the author, a senior official of that supposedly moderate party was behind it. I became "his target once I protested his getting of Hindu property via the Vested Property Act,” he said. Azad told me that while he is out on bail, he receives regular death threats over the phone and a faces a public campaign by Islamists calling for him to be hanged. The government has not tried to stop any of that or provide the author with protection.  Nor is Azad the first Bangladeshi writer to face that charge. In the same year Azad published his book, Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury was arrested for writing about the rise of radical Islam in the country and urging relations with Israel. After an intense 17 month long effort, we won his freedom, but it took the intervention of then Congressman (now Senator) Mark Kirk (R-IL); and though Choudhury remains free, the blasphemy charge remains, too.  Does arresting writers for blasphemy sound like something that happens in a moderate Muslim country?

The deadliest ramification of the moderate label, however, is our continued tolerance for the ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Bangladesh. Hindus used to comprise almost a third of the population, according to East Pakistan’s 1951 census. When East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971, they were under a fifth; 30 years later less than a tenth; and according to reliable estimates, less than eight percent today. Throughout that time, reports of anti-Hindu atrocities have poured out of Bangladesh; atrocities including murder, rape, religious desecration, land grabs, property destruction, beatings, child abduction, and forced conversion to Islam. (While forced conversion to Islam is not a crime there, Bangladeshis who have converted from Islam have been killed with impunity.) In the first quarter of 2012 alone, there were at least 15 anti-Hindu atrocities. Perpetrators are rarely brought to justice. Refugees from Islamist terror in Bangladesh continue to pour across the border into India; so does jihad, which has now taken hold in that giant’s Northeast.

Yet, the Obama administration continues to make us complicit by propping up the fiction of Bangladesh as a moderate Muslim country. This is in line with Obama’s 2009 search for “moderate Taliban,” and his current insistence on the wonders of partnering with “moderates” in Egypt’s Muslim brotherhood. There is a clear pattern here the end of which is not good for any civilized individual.

So, yes, when applied to nations, moderate Muslim is an oxymoron; and we better hope that our political leaders catch on to that soon.

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