It’s true that the size of the liberal segment in Islamic societies is generally quite small, but it’s not that the radical militant sections are any larger.
The vast majority of Muslims are moderate. They are neither liberal in the classic sense nor are they ready to do anything dramatic and harmful for the sake of orthodox interpretation of religious verses.
However, they are somewhat religious and loyal to the religious identity -- many of them even consider this identity as their primary identity. On the whole, this segment of Muslims is, more or less, average people going on about the normal course of life; although they have their idiosyncrasies and limitations.
The phenomenon of global Islamic terrorism has brought about substantial tension in the lives of these people. Some pockets of societies in the Middle East and Afghanistan-Pakistan region are more inclined to orthodox beliefs, yet most of the non-Arab Muslims residing in the West or Muslim minorities in the East tend to maintain a healthy balance between religiosity and secular life.
Not a threat
Like ordinary non-Muslims, they are also interested in their material well being eg financial solvency, education, health care, employment, career, family, etc. But the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism has affected their lives to a substantial degree.
The primary challenge for moderate Muslims and moderate Muslim communities across the globe is how to position themselves, collectively, amidst the complexity of the current political climate -- in the era of sensationalising bad news.
The moderates also have a problematic world view. Obviously, they can’t think as rationally as the liberals. They undergo a strong socio-cultural indoctrination and believe in some dogma from which it’s difficult for them to become separate, despite their lesser inclination to violence.
Even in a moderate Muslim’s mind, there are some irrational doubts and suspicion about non-Muslim people and countries -- but that does not equate to violence nor extremism. Violent Islamic extremists are a recent and distinct league. Some moderates do tend to sympathise with the radicals, mostly due to their lack of knowledge or comprehension which is actually often against their intent.
Yet, these people are a tiny minority among the moderates and these exceptions can’t be used as general examples.
Average Muslims need to have a better collective philosophy of life and a realistic world view. There is no alternative
There is a historical context of the evolution of the moderate Muslim nations. Around the middle of the last century, it was possible to somehow cobble up the post-colonial modern or quasi modern states with tacit cooperation from this segment.
In them, both Ummah and the national identity co-existed. Muslims of Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, and even some semi modernist Arab republics of yesteryears like Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq fall in this category by and large.
What went wrong?
Despite a few conflicts and wars, there was substantial hope in the Islamic world and in the global Muslim diaspora. The Muslim countries and societies were flourishing economically, educationally, and culturally -- but not democratically.
Disunity among the Arabs and their lack of social progress were critical deficiencies that kept the Islamic world leaderless, disunited, and as an underachiever. An unchecked undercurrent of terrorism gradually developed out of frustration and, partly, due to the Western interventions in Middle East and Af-Pak region. Terrorism grew initially in the lawless pockets of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
As the Islamic terror struck the West, Western interventions intensified, resulting in more destruction, frustration, and more terror which spread to the West as well as other Muslim countries.
Further frustration caused the Arab Spring, which ended in murderous and utterly destructive sectarian infighting. Terrorism in the Muslim countries and elsewhere, especially in the West, continued. It was deadly and unreservedly destructive -- and some countries like Syria and Iraq were almost reduced to ruins. Human suffering was and still is immense especially in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and parts of Nigeria and Afghanistan.
With the spread of Islamic terror, Islamophobia spread across many Western and other countries like India, Myanmar, etc. Right wing forces of these countries started persecuting minority Muslims including the moderates.
Suddenly, the otherwise harmless moderates started feeling a sense of insecurity and disenfranchisement. In many cases, discrimination and abuse towards moderate Muslims became counterproductive and made terrorists out of some moderates. Internationally, a great sense of insecurity, helplessness, and uncertainty engulfed the moderate and stable Muslim nations.
The Rohingya crisis is a case in point.
With Islamophobic Donald Trump at the helm of the US, the sense of insecurity among the Muslims has increased and reliability on the West plummeted. In the Middle East, there is hardly any interest to stop disastrous civil wars. Geo-politics is rather aggravating the situation at the cost of hundreds of thousands of human lives and extensive collateral damages.
The media, especially in some Western and non-Western non-Muslim countries like India and Myanmar, were largely irresponsible. The Right-wing anti-Muslim forces, in their own spaces, through biased and exaggerated reports, created an atmosphere of high Islamophobia. Moderate patriotic Muslims in Muslim minority nations like India are portrayed as unpatriotic; and normalcy in ordinary Muslims’ lives has been greatly hampered.
Now, it’s imperative for the vast majority of moderate Muslims in Islamic communities across the globe to create a clear distance from the radical Islamists and put up social resistance against the latter.
There is a need for educating ordinary Muslims as to how multicultural and multi-faith societies function or ideally ought to function and what is to be expected individually and collectively as a community from the state and international communities.
Average Muslims need to have a better collective philosophy of life and a realistic world view.
There is no alternative if the Muslims want to lead normal lives, for there are unpleasant consequences otherwise.
Violence causes chaos and mayhem, and in the end the whole thing is a zero sum game where everyone loses.
Collective reflection on what happened or what is happening and why, and introspection followed by corrective measures are a must.
Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury is a freelance commentator on politics, society and international relations. He currently works at BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD).