Most of the Western leaders, editorialists, analysts and political experts, have frantically searched for the “moderate Muslims” who can save Islam from itself and improve relations with the West. The problem is that there’s no such thing as a moderate Muslim, at least the way these decision makers define the term. Look at whom they call moderate: George W. Bush often cites Abdallah, King of Jordan, Ben Ali, Tunisia dictator and Mohammed, King of Moroccan, as examples of modern and moderate Muslim leaders. But a glance at the Amnesty International reports on their countries, or those supported by the West, reveals them to be anything but moderate in the way they treat their citizens. In fact, their level of repression and censorship have significantly increased since September 11, 2001, and from the renewed support extended to them by the West as “friendly countries”.
True moderate Muslims strongly reject the U.S. foreign policy, the Western materialistic society and the corruption it engenders. By doing so, they are labeled “radicals” by their governments and ours. The leaders we label as moderate are generally considered as such by their citizens – and rightly – as corrupted and dictatorial servants of Washington foreign policy, which is itself hard to be considered moderate. On the other hand, Muslims respect those we consider “radicals” for standing up to us, even if most do not agree with the methods used by the said resistance.
Yet the reality is that even the most radical of extremist groups such as al-Qaeda are not that radical. Instead, they bear striking resemblances to other utopian movements throughout history, from the French Jacobins to the fascists and Maoists of the last century. The tools they use might be new—from the Internet to the suicide vest—might be new, but their desire to violently purify their societies is all too familiar.
What would a truly radical Muslim look like? Perhaps like the young Shiite sheikh named Anwar al-Ethari whom I met in Baghdad. He has religious and secular university degrees and is willing to use “whatever works, wherever it comes from” to help the residents of Sadr City. Or he might look like the Moroccan Reda Zine, one of the leaders of the heavy metal scene in Casablanca, who has also a Ph.D. degree in Islamic studies at the Sorbonne. But he was labeled “satanist” by the Moroccan government and was arrested because he dared to sing songs challenging the country’s political order and patriarchal politics. Or they might look like Nadia Yassine, the leader of Morocco’s movement Justice and Development, who explained that Islam was “hijacked by men” after the Prophet’s death and has suffered for it ever since. Because she dared to make such a statement and conceived a republic in Morocco, she was also arrested. It was from her that I heard for the first time that Islam needs not moderates but radicals, radical people in a good sense, who stand up to their own problems. They are backed by the Swiss Muslim philosopher Tariq Ramadan. One of the leading progressive voices in Europe, his visa to teach at Notre Dame University was revoked by the U.S. government on the utterly baseless charge of being “tied to terrorists.”

Tikkun Magazine (United States)

Islam needs radicals, by Marc Levine, Tikkun Magazine, November 9, 2005.