There is a major distinction that people like to make between Islam and Islamism, one which protects people from the accusation of Islamophobia. It’s alright to denounce Islamists since they espouse so many values and causes that are antithetical to everything that modern civil polities stand for. It’s not okay to “essentialise” all Muslims in the same way. It generally comes with the generalization – completely unsupported but nonetheless asserted as a “truth” – that the “vast majority of Muslims” are moderate and only a “tiny minority” are extremist/Islamists.
In his remarkable book, Delectable Lie: a liberal repudiation of multiculturalism, Salim Mansour addresses the point directly:
The Islamist zealots are a minority within the world of Islam, but the politics of Islamism resonate widely among Muslims and it can be said that most of the Muslim majority countries accept in principle the fundamental Islamist demand of adopting shari’ah as the basis of legislation. This “unofficial” or tacit acceptance of the Islamist demand was illustrated at the Cairo conference in August 1990 of the Organization of Islamic Conference where member states issued the “Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam.” The Cairo Declaration spelled out the OIC view on human rights as a parallel and complementary “official” statement to stand alongside the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights. But for OIC members, hence the world of Islam, the Cairo Declaration─ article 25 of the Declaration stated the “Islamic Shari’ah is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification to any of the articles of this Declaration” ─ takes precedence. This meant Muslim immigrants in the West were under advice by their religious leaders that in situations of conflict between the principles enunciated in the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the Cairo Declaration they adhere to the latter; and from this it followed that Muslims engage politically to bring their host Western governments recognize shari’ah and make allowance for them to live in accordance with its provisions. The push for shari’ah recognition in family law as part of the multicultural arrangement in the West has become one of the key objectives of immigrant Muslim activists, and as the Muslim immigrant population grows in numbers the mainstream political parties have also become increasingly receptive to the idea.
My guess is that if we were to map Islamic opinion not according to some (wishful) distinction between “moderates” and “extremists”, that if we were to consider it as a series of concentric circles, emanating from a pre-modern consensus that Islam should dominate, that Sharia should be the law of the land, that infidels should be subjected dhimmis, and moved outwards towards Muslims who, even if they don’t approve and wouldn’t become involved in terror attacks on civilian infidels, nevertheless swelled with pride at the blow that Bin Laden struck at the American hegemon (heck even infidels felt that way), that the picture one had of the map of Islam would be quite a bit more disturbing. (I remember going to a Muslim-Jewish dialogue, replete with all the kinds of remarks that would lead us non-Muslims to feel that we were talking with moderates. After the speeches, in the socializing time, my friend Steve spoke with one of the people there, and mentioned the Rushdie Affair, assuming that this moderate would denounce the fatwa against Rushdie’s life. “Oh,” responded his interlocutor, “you have to understand, we Muslims feel very strongly about blasphemy. You can’t disrespect the Prophet with impunity.”
What we mean by “moderate,” and what Muslims mean by “moderate” are not necessarily the same thing. Indeed, there’s a whole lexicon of words that have different meanings to us and to them: respect, occupation, moderation, human rights, freedom… Only someone on rekaB street could miss the differences.