In a recent editorial in the New York Times entitled "Islam's Silent Moderates" , Ayaan Hirsi Ali asks the question "Where are the moderates?" as she laments on the silence from the so-called contingent of moderate Muslims around the globe in response to the recent case of the "girl from Qatif". As much as I admire Ayaan Hirsi Ali for her outspoken courage, I'm disappointed that she consistently misses the mark on defining a solution for effectively dealing with Islamic extremism. I'm also disappointed that someone like Ayaan Hirsi Ali fails to see that the issues we face and not so much with "moderation" and "extremism" but rather with what I believe to be the real issue of moderninity.
In dealing with Islamic extremism, the first thing we need to do is skip through the endless mind-numbing musings on Islamic jurisprudence peddled by a plethora of self-proclaimed Muslim pundits and scholars around the globe, the harsh reality is the there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim. What we do have though is the modern Muslim. The modern muslim versus the anachronism.
I had first met Hassan many years ago while I was having my lunch at a small restaurant in Singapore on Jalan Pisang called Hajah Maimunah. The restaurant is a bit off the beaten track from Orchard road and so, few tourists will ever visit it, but it serves perhaps the best Indonesian and Malay food in all of Singapore and at lunchtime during the week the restaurant can be quite packed. Hassan, with his tray in hand saw me sitting alone at a table as asked if he could join me. I looked up at this poor sob decked out in his full Islamist regalia complete with the androgynous black eyeliner and turban and nodded my head for him to sit down.
Typical of many of these living anachronisms who often meander the streets and loiter around the mosques in modern-day Singapore, Hassan epitomized many of these psychically enslaved individuals who are hopelessly and perpetually trapped in some sort of cosmic Manichaean struggle between good and evil, where they find even the simple use of cutlery confounding. Showing his complete and utter disdain for modernity, Hassan sat down and proceeded to stick the fingers of his right hand into his food. Amused and yet disgusted at the same time I watched this individual make a spectacle of himself as well as a mess at the table with his curry-covered hand. Sitting there in my shirt and tie watching Hassan, I almost felt pity and couldn't help but think, not only how comical he looked but how he simply did not fit in with modern society. Attempting to hide my disgust at his table manners and with perhaps a bit of feigned congeniality I reached over and passed Hassan a napkin and asked him politely in Indonesian if he would mind cleaning the mess that he made on the table.
At this point you're probably thinking that this is quite condescending of me and that perhaps this individual's disdain for cutlery is nothing but a "cultural thing", and in some respects you are correct, but Hassan's disdain for not only cutlery but modernity as well, is equally if not more, founded in, and influenced by his own ethnic and religious chauvinism and the "us versus them" dichotomy that permeates each and every aspect of his life.
As I look around the restaurant I noticed many other Indonesians and Malays who found no problems adapting to the implements of a modern-day society. Individuals who did not feel threatened by cultural progression, individuals who did not feel compelled to repudiate all aspects of what they perceived to be in any possible way linked to Western civilization, individuals who, above all, were not hopelessly enslaved by the same brutal dualistic worldview that Hassan was.
By this time Hassan had finished his meal and then looked over at me and said. "I see you can speak Indonesian".
to be continued...