Sunday Sermonette: Rejecting the "moderate Muslim" label
Asma Khalid has a thought-provoking essay in AlterNet entitled "Why I am Not A Moderate Muslim."
In this passage, she puts her finger on what has always bothered me about using the term "moderate Muslim" to describe followers of Islam who embrace values such as democracy, gender equality, and peace:
In the aftermath of September 11, much has been said about the need for "moderate Muslims." But to be a "moderate" Muslim also implies that Osama bin Laden and Co. must represent the pinnacle of orthodoxy; that a criterion of orthodox Islam somehow inherently entails violence; and, consequently, that if I espouse peace, I am not adhering to my full religious duties.
I refuse to live as a "moderate" Muslim if its side effect is an unintentional admission that suicide bombing is a religious obligation for the orthodox faithful. True orthodoxy is simply the attempt to adhere piously to a religion's tenets. [AlterNet]
Khalid's insight applies to other groups as well. It would be insulting to describe members of the United Church as "moderate Christians" compared to Southern Baptists--because the implication would be that industrial-strength Christianity is conservative and that more liberal faiths represent a watering down of the old time religion.
When I first moved to New York, I nearly got into a shouting match with an Orthodox real estate broker who was showing me an apartment in Crown Heights. As I was checking the tile in the bathroom, the guy made some off-the-cuff remark about how Reform Jews weren't really very Jewish.
"No, we just don't agree with you," I snapped.
The thing to remember is that claims of fundamentalism or orthodoxy are positioning statements for brands. We often treat claims of religious orthodoxy as if they were statements of fact rather than rhetorical devices.
Positioning your doctrine as the orthodoxy is a way to marginalize your competition. If we uncritically allow the most reactionary sects to claim the mantle of orthodoxy, we do the work of fundamentalists for them.