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When under attack, moderates must fight back

, Farish A. Noor | Friday, Aug 22, 2014

Moderation is a political choice. The individual and the state have to defend it in a non-violent way against encroaching radicalism.

Living as we do at a time when violent sectarian currents seem to be growing stronger among most religious communities across the world, there is a need to revisit the idea of moderation, and to locate it in the context of real-life political struggles.

Years ago I penned a short monograph entitled New Voices Of Islam while working at an institute in Leiden, the Netherlands.

The work comprised half a dozen interviews with moderate and progressive thinkers from across the Muslim world, most of them academics and activists, who were promoting religion as a progressive force of change and social evolution.

Though they and I were never really comfortable with the label "moderate", they had, by then, come to be known as such.

But anyone who thinks that being a "moderate" believer means living an easy, relaxed, cushy life should think again: Of the six intellectuals I interviewed, all of them had been the victims of death threats, abuse and attacks.

One had his house pipe-bombed, another narrowly escaped the gallows, yet another had been under arrest.

Throughout their lives they lived in a state of perpetual pressure and harassment, and even after my book was published many of them remained the victims of routine violence. So much for the "comfort" that moderation affords you.

What was true then remains true today. Indeed, it seems to be the dangerous trend emerging in all the major faith communities across the globe.

In Myanmar, moderate Buddhist monks who have called for peaceful dialogue between the various religions in that complex and plural country have been labelled enemies of their faith and traitors to their ethnic community.

Some have been harassed and faced boycotts. Some have also become the victims of online vilification campaigns.

The same is true for moderate Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka who opposed the politicisation of Buddhism and called on all religious communities to work together to build a more tolerant society.

In India, Hindu intellectuals and activists opposed to the rise of right-wing Hindu-based sectarian movements were called traitors.

In all these cases, "moderation" has been vilified on the grounds that it weakens the collective power of a particular religious or ethnic group - often the majority.

At a time when religion is being harnessed for non-religious, even sectarian and nationalist ends, moderates are cast as the political enemy.

Such developments, however, do help us identify the meaning of "moderation".

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