Spirits of ‘moderate’ Islam

250px Bottle of Arak RayanAs regular GetReligion readers will know, I have a thing about that vague word that mainstream journalists keep using to describe the Muslims that America likes, or that the journalists like, or that the Taliban dislikes, or something. That word, of course, is “moderate.”

In particular, I want to know more about the doctrinal or religious content of the word. I know that it has something to do with being pro-West or pro-America. I suspect that it has something to do with the belief that one can be a good, practicing, faithful Muslim without living under Sharia law — a hot question in the Islamic world today.

So I read with interest a New York Times story that ran with this headline: “In Mixed Slice of Baghdad, Old Bonds Defy War.” It’s about the shockingly peaceful Baghdad neighborhood called Bab al Sheik:

… (It) has been spared the sectarian killing that has gutted other neighborhoods, and Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and Christians live together here with unusual ease. It has been battered by bombings around its edges, but the war has been kept from its heart, largely because of its ancient, shared past, bound by trust and generations of intermarriage.

Reporters even feel safe there, walking and talking. We are marching closer to the crucial word, of course. Take this visit to a large Kurdish family.

Abu Nawal, the father, recounted how a group of men from the office of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr came to a local cafe, proposing to set up shop in the area. The cafe owner pointed to a sign, which stated in dark script that all discussions of politics and religion were prohibited. The men were then asked to leave.

“The guys in the neighborhood said, ‘If you try to make an office here, we will explode it,’” said Abu Nawal, a shoemaker, whose family has lived in the neighborhood for four generations.

Some time later, Sunni Arab political party members came and were similarly rebuffed. …

He said he despised the poisonous mix of religion and politics that was strangling Iraqi society, and he enjoyed cracking wry jokes at politicians’ expense. Playing off the names for extremist militias, which in Iraq call themselves things like the Islamic Army, he refers to his group of friends as the Arak Army, righteous defenders of an anise-flavored alcoholic drink.

So intermarriage and alcohol — two terrible things for traditional Muslims — are crucial. Now we have arrived at the key moment in the story.

The neighborhood has another rare asset: moderate religious men.

Sheik Muhammad Wehiab, a 30-year-old Shiite imam whose family has lived in Bab al Sheik for seven generations, was jailed for 14 months under Saddam Hussein, a biographical fact that should have opened doors for him in the new Shiite-dominated power hierarchy. But his moderate views were unpopular in elite circles, and he has remained in the neighborhood.

He feels connected. So much so that while talking on the phone one night this fall, he walked out into the tiny alley outside his door, lay down and watched the stars in the night sky.

250px Bottle of Arak RayanAnd what are those “moderate” views, pray tell?

We get some clues later in the story. We meet an anonymous Sunni cleric who seems to share these “moderate” views, although we have not been told what those views are.

The cleric, who asked that his name not be published out of concern for his safety, because of the high profile of the mosque, lovingly ticks off qualities of the 12th-century Sufi sheik Abdel Qadr Qailani, who gave the mosque its name: Intellectual. Scholar. Moral teacher.

But moderate religion is not drawing an audience on a national scale, and Qailani Mosque, one of Baghdad’s most important Sunni institutions, has fallen on hard times. Donations are down. Its long-running soup kitchen serves one meal a day instead of three. Sufi clerics cannot perform their rituals. A bomb sheared off part of a minaret in February.

So “moderates” are smart, which means that non-moderates are, well, not smart? And moderates believe in morality, but are not hung up on the actual teachings of Islam?

Then, the story ends with a long, rather strange anecdote about how positive it is when people feel free to drink lots and lots of that Arak drink. The alcohol really seems to be crucial.

This is not helping me much. It sounds like “moderate” is, again, code for Muslims with whom Western journalists feel comfortable. Did I miss something in this story?

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Religious freedom swept under the rug

Olympic ringsIn response to reports of Web chatter, the Associated Press and other news agencies inquired with Olympic officials about whether Bibles will be allowed in the Olympic Village for the 2008 Olympics in China. Most reporters got the answer they wanted and probably expected. Yes, of course Bibles will not be banned in the Olympic Village. What kind of country do you think this is? Oh, wait.

The nuance and significance of the story are left unstated in most news reports. For example, here is the AP:

The USOC contacted the International Olympic Committee about the issue in response to a story posted on the Catholic News Agency Web site citing a list of prohibited items that was reported to include Bibles.

That story said the Italian daily, La Gazzetta dello Sport, reported that organizers cited “security reasons” for prohibiting athletes from carrying any kind of religious symbol at Olympic facilities. Those reports and others were producing active blog discussions on several Web sites.

USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel said the federation contacted the IOC about the news reports.

“We have heard from the IOC and there will be no restriction on athletes bringing the Bible or any other religious book into the village for their personal use,” Seibel said in a telephone interview from USOC offices in Colorado Springs.

The emphasis of that sentence and the story should be on the restriction of Bibles and other religious literature to “personal use.” Are athletes restricted from having their own religious services or Bible studies?

Perhaps that explains a Reuters story in which China proclaims a guarantee that religious services will be held in the Olympic Village:

China will offer religious services for foreigners arriving for the 2008 Olympic Games and religion will play a positive role in the country’s future, its top religious affairs official said on Wednesday.

… Ye [Xiaowen, director-general of the State Administration for Religious Affairs,] said he expected large numbers of religious faithful among the athletes, coaches and tourists swarming into the officially atheist nation during the Olympics.

“We are learning from practices in past Games to make sure that their demands for religious worship are met,” Ye told reporters on the sidelines of the ruling Communist Party’s 17th Congress.

“Here I can promise that religious services we offer will not be lower than the level of any previous Games,” Ye said. He did not say if proselytising would be allowed.

This Reuters piece is Exhibit A for scribe-style journalism. Important person with important title stands up and tells journalists something and their job is just to write the quotes down accurately and spit those quotes out in a sensible manner in 800 words or less. No follow-up questions, please.

Catholic News Agency has been all over this story and reports (with links) that there are still contradictory statements out there. One example is the recommendation that travelers to China only bring one Bible and that “Any printed material, film, tapes that are ‘detrimental to China’s politics, economy, culture and ethics’ are also forbidden to bring into China.”

The world’s Big Media will descend on China next summer and the country will no doubt do its best to sweep under the rug those policies that restrict personal freedom of speech, the press and religion, among others. Whether the Big Media types, particularly those fancy TV evening news hosts, take the time and effort to stoop down and look under those rugs will say a lot about whether they value the freedoms they enjoy in the U.S.

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The Economist on the resurgence of religion

religion in the economistIf there is one edition of The Economist you should pick up off the newsstand, it is this week’s because of its special report on the state of religion in the world.

Quite appropriately, The Economist notes that it was wrong when it wrote in December 1999 that God’s career was over. If any other journalists felt the same way lately, they should have reconsidered that thought a long time ago.

There is so much that could be said about this report. Generally from what I have read they get it. The general message is that religion matters in the world. Moreover, you have to get it to function.

As you can see from the cover, the big issue of the day is why religion has inspired violence in the modern era. Much of the leading report discusses how the world should “deal with” religion as if all its readers are secular and are frustrated with religion’s role in the world. To me that’s a flawed approach, but not that surprising from The Economist:

Part of that secular fury, especially in Europe, comes from exasperation. After all, it has been a canon of progressive thought since the Enlightenment that modernity — that heady combination of science, learning and democracy — would kill religion. Plainly, this has not happened. Numbers about religious observance are notoriously untrustworthy, but most of them seem to indicate that any drift towards secularism has been halted, and some show religion to be on the increase. The proportion of people attached to the world’s four biggest religions — Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism — rose from 67% in 1900 to 73% in 2005 and may reach 80% by 2050 (see chart 2).

Moreover, from a secularist point of view, the wrong sorts of religion are flourishing, and in the wrong places. In general, it is the tougher versions of religion that are doing best — the sort that claim Adam and Eve met 6,003 years ago. Some of the new converts are from the ranks of the underprivileged (Pentecostalism has spread rapidly in the favelas of Brazil), but many are not. American evangelicals tend to be well-educated and well-off. In India and Turkey religious parties have been driven by the up-and-coming bourgeoisie.

With modernity now religion’s friend, an eternal subject has become fashionable. Father Richard John Neuhaus points out that when he founded his Centre for Religion and Society in 1984, there were only four centres of religion and public life in America; now, he thinks, there are more than 200. Religious people are getting more vocal in all sorts of fields, including business. Religion is also cropping up in economics. Niall Ferguson, a Scottish historian, re-examined Max Weber’s theory of the Protestant work ethic to explain why Europeans work less than Americans.

One of the things I enjoy most about reading The Economist is its respect and understanding of the broad scope of history. If there is a news report from a far-off place, such as Pakistan, The Economist generally makes the background of the story, particularly if there is a long history behind it, fairly clear. You can debate the conclusions, but at least something is there and it’s generally fairly sound.

In this instance, the report takes a step back and tries to pinpoint when religion in the world decided it was not going anywhere:

In retrospect, the turning point came long before Osama bin Laden declared his jihad on Jews and Crusaders. For Timothy Shah, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York who is writing a book on secularism, the symbolic turning point was the six-day war of 1967. It marked a crushing defeat for secular pan-Arabism; meanwhile Israel’s “miraculous” triumph gave God a stronger voice in its politics, emboldening the settler movement. In the same year a Hindu nationalist party won 9.4% of the vote in India.

By the end of the 1970s this counter-revolution was in full swing. America had elected its first proudly born-again Christian, Jimmy Carter; Jerry Falwell had founded the Moral Majority; Iran had replaced the worldly shah with Ayatollah Khomeini; Zia ul Haq was busy Islamising Pakistan; Buddhism had been formally granted the foremost place in Sri Lanka’s constitution; and an anti-communist Pole had become head of the Catholic church.

Is it fair and accurate to lump those religious movements together like that? Are they responding in unity to the first revolution of the 1960s?

If you do not have time to read the entire special report or cannot find a place to buy it, check out this free audio interview with John Micklethwait, editor of The Economist and author of the special report. This is Micklethwait’s first special report, and he says he chose religion because of the demand for religion news and commentary.

I hope other journalists are hearing that. If a leading numbers-crunching, libertarian-leaning publication finds religion news in demand and important in today’s society, how can other newspapers serving a more general interest see otherwise?

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Here they stand, er, leave

pittsburghbishopMan, the hits keep on coming. The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh voted to leave the Episcopal Church and realign with an Anglican province in another yet-to-be-determined country. Ann Rodgers, who writes religion news for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and is a board member of the Religion Newswriters Association, has been covering the story. Apparently Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori warned the diocese that she would remove Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan (pictured) from office if the diocese voted to leave. Rodgers went to the annual convention where laypeople and clergy voted by very large margins to leave:

“We have a tough road ahead. We will be faithful and charitable and do everything we can to help those congregations who are uneasy about this, or who may be very opposed to this, to be part of our fellowship,” Bishop Duncan said after the vote. During his speech prior to the vote, he proposed finding ways for two local Anglican dioceses, one of which would be the minority still aligned with the Episcopal Church, to share important assets such as Trinity Cathedral and Sheldon Calvary Camp.

He read the brief reply to Bishop Jefferts Schori. The first of its three lines was a famous quote from Martin Luther when he broke with the Catholic Church: “Here I stand. I can do no other.” It continued, “I will neither compromise the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, nor will I abandon the sheep who elected me to protect them.”

Rodgers reports that the vote needs to be approved again at next year’s convention, after which the diocese will choose a province to join. She gets the church’s position on the matter and provides some context:

Because of the requirement to vote again next year, “Today’s action of the Diocese of Pittsburgh is not final,” said Robert Williams, director of communications for the Episcopal Church. “But, more to the point, dioceses do not leave the Episcopal Church. Dioceses are set in place by the churchwide general convention.”

The divisions between liberal and conservative Episcopalians, and between many of the U.S. bishops and their counterparts in the global South, derive from differences over biblical authority and interpretation. Many conservatives say their main concern is that some bishops do not believe that Jesus was God incarnate.

Wait, you mean it’s not all about sex? Who knew?

So nice to see Rodgers explain the concerns from a broader context. Rodgers writes that at least three other dioceses have initiated or are contemplating leaving the Episcopal Church. Williams is probably correct that dioceses can’t leave the church. But they might not have many parishioners left if the votes continue this way.

Rodgers interviews various folks who opposed the vote and says convention participants discussed the chance of litigation and pension losses.

“At the end of the day, the issues before us aren’t about canons and conventions and procedures and lawsuits. They are about the centrality of the cross of Christ,” said the Rev. Jonathan Millard, rector of Ascension parish, Oakland, who introduced the resolution.

Not all theological conservatives advocated breaking now. The Rev. Daniel Hall, an Episcopalian working at First Lutheran Church, Downtown, said he shared Bishop Duncan’s theological concerns, but that the primates of the Anglican Communion should be allowed more time to try to resolve the situation.

“I cannot support this resolution because of this time of spiritual desolation in which I find myself … St. Ignatius commends us to refrain from making significant decisions when we find ourselves so desolated,” he said.

Though I didn’t excerpt them all here, Rodgers quoted folks from all along the spectrum. Her lengthy story helped explain and flesh out the raw numbers of the vote. We’ll be sure to check out her follow up stories in the coming year.

The New York Times had a brief story on the vote. It emphasized how Jefferts Schori had promised repercussions against Duncan. I think it would be interesting for a reporter to explain why Episcopal leadership is so hardcore when it comes to canonical issues and so lenient when it comes to theology, church teaching and worship style. To be clear, I’m not saying that critically. If one understands Anglican and Episcopal structure it is certainly defensible and understandable. I just think the seeming incongruity should be explained.

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When is a lawyer just a lawyer?

52808 Pakistan Book BurningLet me state, right up front, that I am confused and the stories that I am reading in the big newspapers are not helping me.

So President Pervez Musharraf has taken Pakistan into its latest state of “emergency rules” backed by the military, which he said was necessary to prevent a takeover by “extremists,” which is usually code language for Islamists. Yet Musharraf has been focusing his crackdown on lawyers, journalists and human-rights activists, if the newspapers have their facts right.

So here is why I am confused. This past summer, during a conference in Istanbul, I had a chance to talk with several Muslim scholars who, in one way or another, stressed that we are watching a global struggle inside Islam. On one side are those who believe that to be a true Muslim requires living under Sharia law or engaging in some kind of struggle to create a state of Sharia law wherever one lives. On the other side of those who believe that Muslims can live under and even support cultures built on a state of neutral, common, secular law.

So here is where I am confused. It sounds to me that the lawyers who are revolting against the general in Pakistan are in favor of constitutional courts and, I would assume, the rule of law. What I cannot find out is whether there is some way — I mean, Pakistan is a wild place — in which some of these “lawyers” may also be on the side of Sharia law and the creation of an Islamic, as opposed to a “secular Muslim,” state. Of course, I am also confused about what the words “secular Muslim” mean when placed in front of the word “state.”

The Washington Post‘s report opens like this:

Ousted Pakistani chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry urged the country’s lawyers to continue protesting against the emergency rules imposed by President Pervez Musharraf over the weekend, saying they needed to fight to eliminate “dictatorship” in the country and restore the constitution.

Under house arrest since his firing along with six other supreme court judges, Chaudhry reached a gathering of lawyers in the capital via cell phone and told them to “go to every corner of Pakistan and give the message that this is the time to sacrifice,” the Associated Press reported. “Don’t be afraid. God will help us and the day will come when you’ll see the constitution supreme and no dictatorship for a long time.”

flag thumbSo Musharraf wants to overthrow the supreme court. Yet, one would assume, that true Islamists — like the Taliban within the nation’s borders — would also want to overthrow a secular supreme court. So this is a three-sided conflict inside one of the most religious nations on earth. And, of course, there is another key figure in all of this, another “secular” figure, Benazir Bhutto.

The New York Times‘ report offers this:

… General Musharraf stopped short of taking some steps characteristic of martial law, like shutting down Parliament, he said. The main points of General Musharraf’s emergency order were the suspension of the Constitution, the dissolution of the Supreme Court and the four provincial High Courts, and the silencing of privately owned television news channels.

Ms. Bhutto, a former prime minister and the leader of the country’s biggest secular political party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, said she would come to the capital on Tuesday from her home in Karachi, where she has been since returning to Pakistan as emergency rule was imposed Saturday night.

She insisted that a rally planned by her party would go ahead on Friday in Rawalpindi.

It will be a “secular” protest rally, of course, and one assumes the lawyers will turn out. What about the clerics? Where are they in this story?

Top photo: A Taliban-style burning of books, CDs and videos in Pakistan.

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Of the making of lists there is no end

SgtPepperThe right-of-center Daily Telegraph, Great Britain’s only remaining broadsheet, has published a list of what its editors consider the 100 most influential conservatives and liberals in the United States. The list tells us a lot about how the British see our next presidential election. It’s also a peek into how journalists across the pond understand America’s political power structure. Where do they rank the leaders of our political, business, social and, yes, religious institutions?

Like many others, I tend to find lists like these silly and, by definition, flawed. But they are reasonably interesting conversation pieces worth mentioning, and it is often the subsequent discussion that produces the most interesting insights.

It’s not that surprising to see former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani lead the conservative list, but who would have predicted Hillary Clinton down at number four with her husband leading at number one? Also, is it really that surprising that President Bush wasn’t in the top 20? The Telegraph thought it was significant enough to put in a special word for why the country’s president failed to crack the top 20.

With that aside, for the purposes of this blog, who were the leading conservative and liberal religious figures on the list and how do their rankings compare? The list is fairly focused on people who might have a direct influence on the election (and likely make an endorsement in the primary). It has missed the people, particularly in religious communities, who will probably end up influencing the election in a more indirect but significant way.

That said, here is the Telegraph‘s rather interesting disclaimer about the list:

When in doubt, we have leant towards those likely to be most influential in the future rather than those whose careers and impact lies in the past. But some historical figures cast such a long shadow that it would have been perverse to have excluded them.

The mere holding of a high office did not guarantee inclusion, though it was often an important factor. The future influence of some figures will depend largely on whether the candidate they are associated with wins their party’s nomination or the presidency. Certainly, a year and a week from today, these lists will probably be very — though by no means entirely — different.

Now consider whether the people on this list will exercise future influence or whether they’re just “historical figures” casting a “long shadow.”

On the conservative side, the closest religious figure in the top 20 is Mike Huckabee, the former Baptist preacher and Arkansas governor who’s now running for president. He’s definitely among the future influential people. On the other hand, Focus on the Family president James Dobson appears at number 26 (one spot in front of Christopher Hitchens), former presidential candidate Gary Bauer is at 70 and the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins is number 81. There are others on the list who express religious sentiments regularly, but that isn’t their primary purpose.

On the liberal side, the list of religious figures is a bit shorter: Former presidential candidates and civil rights activists Jesse Jackson (number 44) and Al Sharpton (88). That’s it. Apparently the emerging religious left hasn’t given notice to the folks across the pond that they have influence these days.

From my perspective, this is a fairly significant oversight. There was no room for Jim Wallis of Sojourners, author of God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It? Or is it too difficult to pin him down as a liberal?

The challenge with some of the religious leaders is that they are difficult to pigeonhole on the right or left. Where would you place Rick Warren, if you think he should be on there at all? Perhaps that is this list’s fundamental flaw. What about the leaders of the Episcopal Church? Do Mike Gerson’s efforts to make the Republican Party more aware of Catholic social issues make him somewhat significant?

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Go ahead, count the Iraq ghosts

a blog photo 1649 photo00This is one of those GetReligion topics that I struggle not to write about day after day after day. I’m talking about the role of religion in the Iraq disaster.

The Washington Post had a page one report the other day by Joshua Partlow that offered some perfect examples of the kinds of religion-shaped holes that we are seeing in the coverage, places where one extra sentence or even a well-crafted phrase would have given readers a much better chance to understand what is happening.

The headline simply used the usual vague word — “sectarian.” The two-decker said: “‘I Don’t Think This Place Is Worth Another Soldier’s Life’ — After 14 months in a Baghdad district torn by mounting sectarian violence, members of one U.S. unit are tired, bitter and skeptical.”

This kind of news feature is all about the details, and there are many. For example, here is how it opens:

Their line of tan Humvees and Bradley Fighting Vehicles creeps through another Baghdad afternoon. At this pace, an excruciating slowness, they strain to see everything, hoping the next manhole cover, the next rusted barrel, does not hide another bomb. A few bullets pass overhead, but they don’t worry much about those.

“I hate this road,” someone says over the radio.

They stop, look around. The streets of Sadiyah are deserted again. To the right, power lines slump down into the dirt. To the left, what was a soccer field is now a pasture of trash, combusting and smoking in the sun. Packs of skinny wild dogs trot past walls painted with slogans of sectarian hate.

Now, I assume that if the reporter knows the slogans on the walls are messages of “sectarian hate,” then that means someone at the scene can read them.

So I, for one, am curious. What do they say? Are they Sunni vs. Shiite? If so, does one side accuse the other of something specific? Heresy? Cooperating with Jews or Christians? What? In other words, what is the killing about in the minds of the people doing the killing?

Let’s keep reading:

A bomb crater blocks one lane, so they cross to the other side, where houses are blackened by fire, shops crumbled into bricks. The remains of a car bomb serve as hideous public art. Sgt. Victor Alarcon’s Humvee rolls into a vast pool of knee-high brown sewage water — the soldiers call it Lake Havasu, after the Arizona spring-break party spot — that seeps in the doors of the vehicle and wets his boots.

“When we first got here, all the shops were open. There were women and children walking out on the street,” Alarcon said this week. “The women were in Western clothing. It was our favorite street to go down because of all the hot chicks.”

iraq graffitiThis was before the Sunni vs. Shiite warfare in this area dominated life there, in other words. But the reference to changes in the dress of the local women is interesting. Has there been an actual change here in the enforcement of sharia law?

I could go on and on, because there are plenty of other examples. But again I ask: If this sectarian war is rooted in clashes about religion, for the people who are fighting and dying, would it help for American citizens and politicians to understand some of the content of that? Is ignorance a good thing, in this case?

Here’s one more quote:

“It’s just a slow, somewhat government-supported sectarian cleansing,” said Maj. Eric Timmerman, the battalion’s operations officer.

Really? Government supported? That sounds important.

Photos: Can anyone read the graffiti in these photos from the Web?

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Punching my ‘moderate’ button again

bhutto 3I hit the wall on something this past weekend. But before I vent a bit, let’s flash back to one of the most candid and insightful statements in the New York Times self-study document (PDF) from a few years ago.

The key, of course, is that the labels we use to describe people and groups really matter — especially religious labels. Thus, a study group at the world’s most powerful newspaper wrote:

Too often we label whole groups from a perspective that uncritically accepts a stereotype or unfairly marginalizes them. As one reporter put it, words like moderate or centrist “inevitably incorporate a judgment about which views are sensible and which are extreme.” We often apply “religious fundamentalists,” another loaded term, to political activists who would describe themselves as Christian conservatives.

GetReligion readers already know what we think around here about journalists who like to toss the word “fundamentalist” around. That isn’t what has me on a slow boil at the moment, however.

No, I am fed up with the use of the word “moderate” by journalists, which basically means “people that we like.” I have been doing a lot of travel in recent weeks, and at almost every location — from Prague to Princeton — I have ended up in conversations with journalists and scholars about “moderate.” This word is getting more and more and more use when married with the word Muslim.

What exactly is a “moderate Muslim”? Moderate in comparison to what? Moderate vs. traditionalist? Moderate vs. liberal? Moderate vs. radical? And in what context is a “moderate Muslim” a “moderate Muslim”? As an Al-Jazeera English executive asked recently, during an interview for my Scripps Howard column, is that “moderate” in Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Great Britain, France or the U.S. of A.?

What are the standards here, either in terms of politics or Islamic doctrine? What does a “moderate” believe or not believe that a “traditional” or even a “radical” Muslim does not?

Let’s look at a typical reference, in an amazing deadline story by Laura King of the Los Angeles Times about the bombing that almost killed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but before her return, Islamic militants had threatened violence against Bhutto, who is seen as a pro-Western moderate. Pakistani cities have been hit hard in the last year by suicide attacks, but this was by far the deadliest.

Until the bombings, the focus of the homecoming had been the highly fraught relationship between Bhutto and President Pervez Musharraf, who remains the chief of Pakistan’s powerful military. The two have been trying, with the blessing of the United States, to negotiate a power-sharing arrangement.

So, is “moderate” a political term? Of course, in Islam, there are no lines drawn between faith, culture and government, but let’s set that aside for a minute. “Moderate” means “pro-Western.” What is the content of that statement? Muslims who are willing to support the rule of secular, common law as opposed to the rule of sharia?

This is the context for most of the “moderate” language in the coverage of this terrorist attack. But wait, there is one more thing to look at — the ultimate button-pusher for me.

You see, it seems that journalists are not the only people confused at the moment. Check this out:

Mindful, perhaps, of resentment in Pakistan over perceived American meddling in domestic politics, the White House declined to comment directly on Bhutto’s return. Press Secretary Dana Perino said the United States hoped for a “peaceful, democratic Pakistan, an Islamic state that is a moderate force in the region, and one that can be an ally to help us fight extremism and radicalism.”

Later, U.S. officials condemned the attacks.

Now, did Perino mean to say “Islamic state” as in a state under Islamic law? Or did the press secretary mean a “Muslim state”? Is there a difference? Which one is “moderate” and which is “radical”? Does anyone know? Does anyone care?

Too many questions. My head hurts.

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