The struggle underway in America is essentially a war of ideas. Its outcome will determine the future direction of America and the world. It profoundly affects the security of the world. While extremists in the United States are a minority, they have developed extensive networks from coast to coast, sometimes reaching beyond our shores to clusters of like-minded radicals in Europe and elsewhere. Moderate Americans, although a majority in most states, have not created similar networks.
Moderate American networks and institutions should provide a platform to amplify the message of moderation as well as some measure of protection from violence and intimidation.
We all need an ever-evolving and ever-sharpening set of criteria that distinguishes true Moderates from opportunists, and from extremists camouflaged as Moderates. A critical part of moderate network-building efforts is identifying key partners and audiences. Difficulties in distinguishing potential allies from adversaries present a major obstacle to organize support for moderation.
Americans differ substantially not only in their religious views, but also in their political and social orientation, including their conceptions of government; their views on the primacy of the Bible versus other sources of law; their views on human rights, especially the rights of women and racial or religious minorities; and whether they support, justify, or tolerate violence perpetrated in advancement of a political or religious agenda. We refer to these as “marker issues”, and the position of groups or individuals on them allows for a more precise classification of these groups in terms of their affinity for democracy and pluralism.
In determining whether a group or movement in the United States can be considered as “Moderate Americans”, we offer the following characterization of Moderation.
Herewith the Manifesto of the Moderate American.
- love their country and are proud of its accomplishments, and also believe that all human life is sacred and that all humans are created equal, whether white, black or brown;
- affirm Justice Robert H. Jackson’s words at the Nuremberg Trials that “to initiate a war of aggression…is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole”. They reject war as a first resort. They affirm President Dwight Eisenhower’s warning that “in the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex”;
- reject violence against civilians, that is to say, terrorism. They reject violence against civilians perpetrated by governments and non-governmental organizations alike. It is, however, legitimate to use violence defensively to protect American lives against aggressors. Legitimate violence must respect normative limits, such as using the minimum force required, respecting the lives of noncombatants, and avoiding ambushes and assassinations;
- affirm that for-profit private armies and prisons are not consistent with democracy, freedom and liberty;
- reject empire and the “unitary executive theory”; affirm a republic at home;
- affirm that America’s national interest should not be defined exclusively by narrow corporate or special-interest agendas;
- affirm the Jeffersonian promise of American religious pluralism, intellectual freedom, and freedom from fear of tyranny;
- affirm that racial and ethnic disparities in health and society erode, corrode and explode the American Dream for millions of our fellow citizens;
- affirm that every person detained or charged has the right to a fair trial and habeas corpus;
- reject torture
Looking back over the past five years, Americans have faced a number of challenges in constructing a strategy for promoting democracy and freedom inside and outside the Beltway. Many of these challenges arise from domestic, local, and international factors beyond the control of regular citizens or public servants.Using the criteria of this Manifesto, our network-building effort to promote Moderates could initially focus on a core group of reliable partners whose ideological orientation is known, and work outward from there (i.e., following the methodology of underground organizations).
Just as various US institutions and personalities played an important role in the network-building effort during the Cold War, we believe American Muslims have a potentially important role to play in building moderate American networks and institutions. The United States has been more successful in integrating its Muslim population than European nations the United States is historically a country where successive waves of immigrants have reinvented themselves as Americans. Moreover, American Muslims are well educated a majority are college graduates and have annual incomes greater than the average American income.
We obviously need to assist groups like American Muslims to build up the necessary expertise and capacity to execute the strategy.
Firstly, we need to constantly refine our criteria to distinguish true moderate Americans from opportunists and from extremists camouflaged as moderates. We need to have the ability to make situational decisions to knowingly and for tactical reasons (i.e., not out of ignorance, or without due and careful consideration) support individuals outside of that range under specific circumstances.
Secondly, we need a reliable, sufficiently-vetted database of partners (individuals, groups, organizations, institutions, parties, etc.)
There is some “networking” of moderates currently going on, but it is random and insufficiently considered. Networking individuals and groups whose credentials as moderates have not been firmly established and networking pseudo-moderates not only are a waste of resources, but can be counterproductive.
Next time: Building Moderate Christian and Jewish Networks
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The Rand report “Building Moderate Muslim Networks”, from which much of the introductory language in this piece was shamelessly lifted, can be found here.