Islamic Radicals and Moderates Not All That Different Says Poll


A Bush Administration foreign policy shibboleth is that the US must encourage moderate Muslims. For example, in 2002, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz declared "To win the war against terrorism and, in so doing, help shape a more peaceful world, we must speak to the hundreds of millions of moderate and tolerant people in the Muslim world, regardless of where they live, who aspire to enjoy the blessings of freedom and democracy and free enterprise. These are sometimes described as "Western values," but, in fact, they are universal." In September, President George W. Bush spoke of empowering the "voices of moderation" in the Middle East.

Foreign Policy
is reporting a poll of 9000 Muslims in 9 countries that finds that distinguishing moderates from radicals is not going to be easy. The poll identified moderates and radicals using a 5 point scale in which participants were asked if the 9/11 atrocities were justified or not. Moderates scored 1 to 2 points and radicals 4 to 5 points. The poll found that 92 percent of radicals and 91 percent of moderates said that religion was really important in their lives. Also, moderates were slighly more likely to have attended religious services in the past week. In addition, radicals were more highly educated and richer than moderates. Radicals were more hopeful about the future. Both admire the West for its technology (top response), but most surprisingly, both equally esteemed the West for its liberty (second most frequent response). What do they think the West should do to improve relations? Both moderates and radicals first choice was respect Islam. However, radicals next choice was for the West  to avoid imposing its policies and beliefs, while moderates yearned for economic development and jobs.

Respecting Islam is all fine and good, but respect is a two-way street. Muslim moderates must call on their governments to stop outlawing and persecuting believers in other faiths. While both moderates and radicals profess a love of liberty, it is not at all clear to me that they understand that liberty entails things like tolerance for those who differ from them, democratic elections, and an unfettered press that can criticize even their most deeply cherished beliefs. As far as I can tell from this poll, "moderate" does not equal "liberal" and that's a problem for both the Islamic world and the rest of us.