Sunday, August 25, 2013

We're All Moderates Here

A couple of different people I know passed this along on Facebook this weekend. 

I was with Ms. Yasira Jaan until she put "Islamic" in quote marks. (The No True Scotsman move.)  But she's probably right: Most Christians use the Westboro Baptist Church to make themselves look moderate by comparison, and so no doubt do most Muslims about Islamists.  Jerry Falwell called WBC pastor Fred Phelps "a first class nut," and fretted, "I found it almost impossible to believe that human beings could be so brutal and vicious to a hurting family."  (This was the same guy who said to a hurting country a few days after September 11, 2001: "[T]he pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way--all of them who have tried to secularize America--I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'")  Returning Christian love for Christian love, Phelps picketed Falwell's funeral.  Was Falwell a moderate?  Phelps also denounced Pope Benedict XVI for protecting sexually predatory priests; was Pope Rat therefore a moderate?  My Right Wing Acquaintance RWA1 loves to post links to stories detailing the offenses of the man he calls "the demon-possessed preacher."  I certainly am not surprised if Muslim "terrorists" play the same role in the mainstream Muslim imaginary.

In saying this, I don't mean to say that all Muslims are the same, or that Ms. Jaan secretly makes donations to al-Qaeda.  It's just that using Phelps or al-Qaeda as the pole star of extremism leaves self-styled moderates a lot of wiggle room.

My comment to this effect displeased one of the friends who'd posted Ms. Jaan's tweet.  He replied, "Your comment would seem to suggest you consider moderation a meaningless term."  Well, yes, I do, as a matter of fact.  "Moderate" has no content whatever, especially if the self-styled moderate is permitted to set the extremes -- which they usually do.  Many people confuse moderation of tone with moderation of content, but neither one means much.

People can and do define just about any position as moderate if they're allowed to choose the extremes. Was Jerry Falwell a moderate? Was Pope Benedict a moderate, just because Phelps denounced him?  The classic statement on moderation is in Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail"; check it out. He didn't have much use for moderates either:
... I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I don't know anything about Ms. Jaan's political or other opinions, but I notice she wears a headscarf.  Of course that tells me that she is a moderate.  An extremist at one of the spectrum would wear a chador or burqa; an extremist at the other end would walk around immodestly bare-headed.  Lest anyone accuse me of attacking women who choose to cover their heads of their own free will, let me point out I too am a moderate, because I agree that women should be free to wear the hijab if they freely choose to.  There are extremists who would ban Muslim women from wearing headscarves; at the other extreme there are those who would force them to do so.  The friend who posted this tweet to Facebook, by the way, is also a moderate: he regards Barack Obama's presidential offenses as a "disappointment," between extremists of the Right who cheer on drone strikes, NSA data mining, cutting Social Security, etc.; and extremists of the Left like me, who see them as grounds for impeachment.  Isn't moderation wonderful?