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October 03, 2004



I have been reading your blog for a while and find it very interesting and informative even if I don't always agree with your conclusions.

For instance, the issue of how to describe the position of Yusuf al Qaradawi. You have argued persuasively that he was a publically against the attacks on 9/11 and has publically denounced the beheadings of non-combatants in Iraq.

Yet you also seem to admit that he has been less discriminating on his positions against terror acts against Israel and, because of the terrible conditions in Iraq, has become more radical in his positions there as well.

So, at what point should he lose his moderate label? He may certainly be more moderate than other Islamic religious leaders but he certainly appears radical compared to, say, al Sistani, at least as portrayed in the press.

You appear to have strong feelings about how others should label him. I wonder if you could elaborate on how you see the spectrum of radical to moderate to...what? Conservative doesn't seem the correct opposite end. Perhaps traditional?

Is there some litmus test that you can propose in this regard?

the aardvark

An excellent question, one which I don't really have time to do justice to right now, but which I'll try to come back to this week. For now, let me put it like this: what signifies a moderate in Islamists, for me, is their position on the value of dialogue. Moderates like Qaradawi embrace dialogue as a core political value, which has a whole range of spinoff implications: a rejection of violence, a rejection of tyranny, a rejection of intolerance; and a commitment to something which can offer important links towards democracy and co-existence. It isn't specific political positions, but rather a political orientation.

Radicals, for comparison, tend to embrace concepts such as a notion of "jihad" which embraces violence, and a notion of "jahiliyya" which denotes existing society as fundamentally corrupt. They do not see dialogue as important, since they already know the "truth" and see their enemies as impossible to persuade.

Someone like Qaradawi, then, I see as a moderate because his profile fits the moderate profile. Going back to the early 1980s, he consistently denounced the radicals for their practice of "takfir" (declaring a Muslim to be an apostate) and their use of violence. He has a procedural conception of politics based on consultation and popular participation which is a plausible version of democracy. But if he's a political moderate for these reasons, he's a social conservative - with views on abortion, homosexuality, family values, etc., which put him far more in tune with the American Christian right than with me. And he's a political populist, in that his positions on the big pan-Arab issues almost always fall directly in the middle of the spectrum of opinion - which usually puts him in opposition to the radicals (who represent one minority extreme), but also in opposition to American preferences.

What you see with his positions shifting from 9/11 to Iraq really does have to do with the Arab political center shifting in that direction. His positions on suicide bombings against Israel, while pretty repugnant, do not reflect a radical position within Arab public opinion.

If you want to know what would make me shift my opinion on whether he's become a radical, I would look for an endorsement of terrorism against the West (which, as I've argued repeatedly, he has never offered); a shift away from endorsing political democracy; and a shift towards adopting radical positions internally towads other Arabs and Muslims.

Now that I've written this much, I think I'll move it up to the front so others can see it and comment!

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