As I was turning over my compost pile this weekend, having read Jonah’s Islam column and a report on the conflict over abortion between Congressboy Patrick Kennedy and his Catholic bishop, I had a revelation. The search for a moderate Islam (or, more narrowly, a pro-American Islam) is so difficult because a “moderate Muslim” is like a “Catholic for choice” — there are lots of them out there, but their position is incompatible with the fundamentals of the faith. Moderate Muslims, like pro-abortion Catholics, remain genuinely attached to their faith, but run against its grain in a basic way, and are proposing changes that would alter its essence. And as with pro-abortion Catholics, the rejection by moderate Muslims of many of the elemental principles of historic Islam undermines their credibility with ordinary Muslims, and complicates any effort by us to shore up the moderates against mainstream Muslims (a/k/a “extremists”).
This is a useful lens through which to assess the value of our efforts to assist moderate Muslims in their efforts. How persuasive would it be for, say, liberal Protestants (like, oh, Presbyterian Lynn Woolsey) to tell traditional Catholics that they should be more like the Catholics for choice crowd? Is there a difference between that and our support for moderate Muslims? No.
The two examples are different, though, in that the traditional Catholic defense of life, while often difficult in modern conditions, can and is reconciled with modernity. Traditional Islam, on the other hand, is simply incompatible with modernity, and while Muslims may not be interested in modernity, modernity is interested in them. The combination of modern communications technology with the innate human desire for liberty, knowledge, pop music, and porn ensures that modernity is — for good and for ill — a literally unstoppable force.
I’ve written before that while traditional Islam is doomed in the modern world, Muslims must come to that conclusion on their own through bitter experience. And to those who think a moderate Islam is simply impossible, I’d draw an analogy to another religion: After the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, it was no longer possible to practice traditional, centuries-old Judaism, and as a result a new and different religion, rabbinic Judaism, evolved out of the ruins of the old one. The cataclysm that will befall Islam may not prove as dramatic as what happened to Judaism but the effects will be at least as profound and far-reaching. Our interference can only postpone the inevitable day of reckoning. Our goal must to be to steer clear and ensure that as little of the fallout as possible blows our way.