From The Gathering Storm Blog

Daniel Pipes asks, “If militant Islam is the problem and moderate Islam is the solution, as I often argue, how does one differentiate between these two forms of Islam?”

That’s a good question. We hear over an over again that radical Muslims are just a small minority of Muslims. But how can you tell one from the other? It’s not easy but Daniel Pipes has a suggestion.

The best way to discern moderation is by delving into the record – public and private, Internet and print, domestic and foreign – of an individual or institution. Such research is most productive with intellectuals, activists and imams, all of whom have a paper trail. With others, who lack a public record, it is necessary to ask questions. These need to be specific, as vague inquiries (“Is Islam a religion of peace?” “Do you condemn terrorism?”) have little value, depending as they do on definitions (of peace, terrorism).


So where do you start? Daniel Pipes has a list of questions to ask.

Violence: Do you condone or condemn the Palestinians, Chechens, and Kashmiris who give up their lives to kill enemy civilians? Will you condemn by name as terrorist groups such organizations as Abu Sayyaf, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Groupe Islamique Armée, Hamas, Harakat ul-Mujahidin, Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, and al-Qaida?

Modernity: Should Muslim women have equal rights with men (for example, in inheritance shares or court testimony)? Is jihad, meaning a form of warfare, acceptable in today’s world? Do you accept the validity of other religions? Do Muslims have anything to learn from the West?

Secularism: Should non-Muslims enjoy completely equal civil rights with Muslims? May Muslims convert to other religions? May Muslim women marry non-Muslim men? Do you accept the laws of a majority non-Muslim government and unreservedly pledge allegiance to that government? Should the state impose religious observance, such as banning food service during Ramadan? When Islamic customs conflict with secular laws (e.g., covering the face for drivers’ license pictures), which should give way?

Islamic pluralism: Are Sufis and Shi’ites fully legitimate Muslims? Do you see Muslims who disagree with you as having fallen into unbelief? Is takfir (condemning fellow Muslims with whom one has disagreements as unbelievers) an acceptable practice?

Self-criticism: Do you accept the legitimacy of scholarly inquiry into the origins of Islam? Who was responsible for the 9/11 suicide hijackings?

Defense against militant Islam: Do you accept enhanced security measures to fight militant Islam, even if this means extra scrutiny of yourself (for example, at airline security)? Do you agree that institutions accused of funding terrorism should be shut down, or do you see this a symptom of bias?

Goals in the West: Do you accept that Western countries are majority-Christian and secular or do you seek to transform them into majority-Muslim countries ruled by Islamic law?

It is ideal if these questions are posed publicly – in the media or in front of an audience – thereby reducing the scope for dissimulation. No single reply establishes a militant Islamic disposition (plenty of non-Muslim Europeans believe the Bush administration itself carried out the 9/11 attacks); and pretence is always a possibility, but these questions offer a good start to the vexing issue of separating enemy from friend.

The United America Committee has now issued a useful list of complementary danger signs to discern signs of radical Islam, which I list here:

  1. Justification of any Islamic Terrorism, Palestinian or otherwise
  2. Supporting or refusing to condemn Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, Hamas, or other terrorists or terrorist organizations by name
  3. Promoting jihad for Muslims to fight against what they determine is “injustice” or “aggression”
  4. Demands for Sharia law in the West, or denying that Sharia forbids equal rights for women and members of religions other than Islam
  5. Demanding that Americans accommodate the public expression of Islamic laws, customs, and practices that conflict with, or are harmful to American laws, customs, and practices
  6. Denying that Muslims were involved in the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and other attacks around the world
  7. Refusal to cooperate with or inciting others not to cooperate with authorities or standard security procedures
  8. Branding progressive Muslims or Muslims of different opinions as apostates.
  9. Refusal to interact, converse, or socialize with non-Muslims

Here are some more approaches to the same problem thanks to Pipes.

Tarek Heggy, the liberal Egyptian political thinker, worries about the impending U.S. government dialogue with his country’s leading Islamist force, the Muslim Brotherhood. He proposes a list of questions for American diplomats to ask their would-be interlocutors.

  1. Could a Copt (an Egyptian Christian) in principle be elected president of Egypt?
  2. Would you follow the Saudi model of segregating girls from boys in schools and universities?
  3. Beach tourism generates in excess of 75% of Egypt’s tourism revenues; what are your views about alcoholic drinks, gambling, and casinos, and about women dressing as they choose?
  4. What is your opinion concerning the peace treaties between Egypt and Israel and between Jordan and Israel?
  5. What do you think of the different forms of economic cooperation between Egypt and Israel, such as the Qualifying Industrial Zones?
  6. How do you describe the killing of Israeli civilians in suicidal operations by Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad?
  7. Is Sayyid Qutb’s doctrine of Hakimiya (à system of government based exclusively on Allah’s law that rejects democracy and human law) still your political goal?
  8. What are your views on women occupying high governmental offices?
  9. What are your views on George W. Bush’s vision of Israel and Palestine living peacefully next to each other? If it were achieved, would you accept the right of Israel to exist? Would you accept that the Jewish section of Jerusalem is Israel’s capital?
  10. Egypt‘s legal system since 1883 has been based on the Code Napoléon. Do you have plans to change it? Do you endorse physical punishments, such as are used in Saudi Arabia?
  11. The Egyptian banking system is based on the notion of interest; would you keep it?
  12. Is Iran today a force for stability or instability?

Heggy concludes by warning Americans talking to the Muslim Brotherhood to be aware of the latter’s likely use of taqiya, or dissimulation. This, he says, is permission to lie, if so doing “would assist them to ultimately defeat the infidels.”

Pipes has other variations and additions to the list at his blog.

What other questions might apply? What’s your list?

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