Love and thanks,
“Islam is the Answer,But JIHAD is Not the Way”
Who are the Reformers, and what do they want?
“AREN’T THERE ANY MUSLIMS out there who think the Radicals are crazy and are willing to fight back against the jihadists?” I am often asked. “Where are the Muslim leaders who are promoting freedom and opportunity and trying to create and expand democracy, as difficult as that may be in the modern Middle East?”
It is sad that such questions need to be asked so long after the 9/11 attacks. But the mainstream media has, frankly, done a terrible job examining the internal tensions and enormous diversity of beliefs and practices within the Muslim world.
So here are the answers: “Yes, absolutely,” and “They’re out there, but they don’t get nearly enough attention or respect.”
My wife, Lynn, and I have met many Muslims who vehemently oppose the Radicals and seek only peace and prosperity for their people and the community of nations. We have befriended such Muslims. We have had them to our home for dinner. We have traveled around the world to have dinner in their homes. We have interviewed them at length, and though we do not agree with them theologically, we have grown to love and admire them in many ways. Indeed, they are a tremendously welcome breath of fresh air in a region being suffocated by the Radicals, and they deserve not only to be acknowledged by the free people of the West but to be appreciated, encouraged, and supported, for in many ways they represent our front line of defense in stopping the worst-case scenarios being planned by the Radicals.
Let there be no doubt, then, that throughout North America, Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, there is an enormous and growing number of devout Muslims who read the Qur’an, pray to Allah, worship in mosques, respect Islamic culture, raise their children to follow Islamic tradition … and are moderates, not extremists.
Like the Radicals, moderate Muslims feel the Islamic world faces enormously serious and challenging social and economic problems. Like the Radicals, many of them feel dismay that for so long during the twentieth century and right up to the present, so many Islamic societies failed to substantially improve the quality of life for 1.3 billion Muslims on the planet, much less for the minority groups that live in Muslim-majority countries. Like the Radicals, they are largely dissatisfied with the political stagnation in the Middle East, even as they are deeply concerned about the deleterious effect of Western culture (movies, music, television, the Internet, pornography, etc.) on their children and grandchildren.
But unlike the Radicals, they are adamant that violence is not an appropriate avenue for political discourse for social change. Unlike the Radicals, they do not believe in imposing their view of Islam on anyone else. Unlike the Radicals, they do not see the West as a mortal enemy, whatever our faults. They do not seek the end of the world or a clash of civilizations. To the contrary, if you were to talk with them, they would tell you, as they have told Lynn and me, “Yes, Islam is the answer, but jihad is not the way”
Such devout Muslims represent a huge portion of the group I call “the Reformers.”
And they are not alone. There also exists a large and growing number of Reformers who, while agreeing wholeheartedly that violent jihad is not the way, would not go so far as to say that Islam is the answer. They were raised as Muslims. They are respectful of traditional Muslims. But they themselves are not that religious. They have not abandoned Islam, per se, or converted to another religion. But they are primarily secular in their approach to political and social change. This group of Reformers would be more comfortable saying that Islam is an answer, but only one of many.
Together, these two strands make up the movement for reform in the Islamic world and seek a revolution that is no less dramatic than the Radicals’ but that is far better for Muslims and for the rest of the world.
The Followers of Jefferson
What is so fascinating and compelling to me about this movement of Reformers is that while they see the world through the lens of the Qur’an— whether for religious reasons or merely cultural ones—they simultaneously agree with Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in America’s Declaration of Independence that all people have been “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” They argue, therefore, that the key to unleashing the true promise and potential of Islam is to provide Muslim men, women, and children with more freedom, more openness, more protection of human and civil rights, and more opportunities to participate in representative government— up to and including the creation of fully functional political democracies— whenever and wherever they can. Why? Because like Jefferson, they believe that these are God-given rights and that governments are created to protect them, not dispense with them or deny them at will. What’s more, they believe in protecting the human and civil rights of ethnic, religious, and political minorities within their countries, again because they believe that God created all men with these unalienable rights and that because God celebrates differences and diversity, so should Muslim governments and societies.
In his first presidential inaugural address in 1801, Jefferson—one of the most highly respected and influential voices during the American Revolution—laid out fifteen principles of representational government, what would become known in time as “Jeffersonian democracy” Among these principles:
“Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political”
“Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none”
“A jealous care of the right of election by the people”
“Absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority”
“The supremacy of the civil over the military authority”
“The diffusion of information and arraignment of all abuses at the bar of the public reason”
“Freedom of religion”
“Freedom of the press”
“Freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected”‘
“These principles,” Jefferson noted, “form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civic instruction, the touchstone by which to try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.”
Jefferson believed his country was “the world’s best hope” for the spread of freedom and human dignity, and he openly and unashamedly appealed to the Almighty, “that Infinite Power which rules the destinies of the universe,” for wisdom that the councils of government might do “what is best” for the people.
In the same spirit, and sometimes using the same language, the Reformers are trying to lead their own revolution in the Muslim world, a revolution based on principles of freedom and opportunity, not fascism and oppression.
Building a Movement
While not all Reformers are full-blown “Jeffersonian democrats,” a growing number of Muslim leaders are seeking to follow Jefferson’s teachings and example in their own way, at their own pace, however haltingly and imperfectly.
Not all Reformers are willing to admit publicly that they are disciples of Jefferson. Some understandably fear they would be accused by their domestic critics—and especially by the Radicals—of trying to impose an “American model” on their citizens. Others, perhaps, are not even fully cognizant that the universal principles they are advocating and attempting to implement were articulated by America’s third chief executive. But whether they admit to it or not, the most important and impressive of the Reformers are, in fact, followers of Thomas Jefferson.
And they are not simply teaching or talking about the power of representative government; they are actually gaining real political power and wielding game-changing influence in critical countries in the Middle East. In the process, they are representing and encouraging a vast and growing movement of Muslims who want to expand freedom and democracy throughout the region.
In part 1, I referred to John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed, who in 2007 wrote a book entitled Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think. Based on Gallup surveys conducted in thirty-five countries with Muslim-majority populations or substantial Muslim minorities, the book was described by the authors as “the largest, most comprehensive study of contemporary Muslims ever done.”‘ The study found that the overwhelming majority of Muslims—more than nine in ten—are traditional and quite moderate in their political views, meaning they are not inclined to violence and extremism, as are the Radicals. This does not necessarily make them all Reformers. But significant numbers of moderate Muslims are eager to embrace Jeffersonian notions of government.
For example, the authors found that “substantial majorities in nearly all nations surveyed”-94 percent in Egypt, 93 percent in Iran, and 90 percent in Indonesia—said that if they had the opportunity to draft a constitution for a new country, “they would guarantee freedom of speech, defined as ‘allowing all citizens to express their opinion on the political, social, and economic issues of the days.”The authors also found that large majorities in most Muslim countries support the right to vote not just for men but for women as well.
These figures, which indicate such a large number of reform-minded people in the Muslim world, were reinforced by a massive survey conducted throughout the Middle East by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, released in 2005. The Pew study found that 83 percent of Muslims in Kuwait believe democracy can work in their country, 68 percent of Muslims in Jordan, 68 percent in Lebanon, 64 percent in Morocco, and 58 percent in Pakistan, to name just a few.’ Likewise, 83 percent of Muslims in Turkey believe it is “very important to live in a country where people can openly criticize the government.” The same is true for 67 percent of the people of Lebanon, 63 percent of Pakistanis, and 56 percent of Indonesians.
Could we wish there was 100 percent support for Jeffersonian principles in these and other Muslim countries? Of course we could. But the point is that there are real and enormous numbers of Rank-and-File Muslims who describe themselves as ready, willing, and able to respond to the message of leaders who are perceived as bold and sincere Reformers. Indeed, some already have.
Snapshots of Success
In this section of the book, I will take you inside the Muslim world to get an up-close-and-personal look at several of the most impressive Reformers. But first, we need to consider a few snapshots of success stories from the region to get the big picture.
The Muslim world’s first big Reformer success story was led by a man named Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the fall of the caliphate in Istanbul in the 1920s, Ataturk founded the modern state of Turkey as a Muslim-friendly but essentially secular representative democracy. Many never expected his experiment to survive, much less work. But it has done both for nearly a century.
After the sweeping reforms Ataturk put into motion—giving men and women the right to vote, separating the affairs of mosque and state, and establishing safeguards to prevent Radicals from gaining control of the military— Turkey became a trusted ally of the United States and a member of NATO. In fact, Turkey became so trusted that the U.S. actually placed ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads aimed at the Soviet Union on Turkish soil during some of the coldest years of the Cold War.
Today, Turkey is pressing to become the first Muslim-majority country to join the European Union. It has sent troops to Afghanistan to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban. It has sent troops into northern Iraq to fight terrorist cells along the Turkey-Iraq border. It has sent troops into Lebanon to participate in the U.N. peacekeeping force there. It is a haven and meeting place for Muslim moderates. It has been so friendly to Israel for so long that tens of thousands of Israeli Jews flock there every year for gorgeous, low-cost Mediterranean vacations. It is a country steadily modernizing its economy, its infrastructure, and its tourism industry.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to visit Turkey no fewer than a half-dozen times in recent years, and while I am concerned about the possibility that Turkey could eventually go in the wrong direction and become controlled by the Radicals (for reasons I will describe in Part 3), to date I have been simply amazed by how a country that once was the epicenter of Islam has for so long been a model of moderation and Jeffersonian democracy.
King Hussein of Jordan was another impressive if imperfect Reformer in the twentieth century.
The king’s family—descendants of Muhammad—hailed originally from the Arabian Peninsula, and for decades His Majesty was a leader in the fight to destroy Israel. But to his enormous credit, King Hussein eventually turned against the Radicals and the violent Arab nationalists in a dramatic and almost miraculous way.
In 1978, he married an American woman (Lisa Halaby, who became known as Queen Noor). He became an ally and close friend of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, who in 1979 became the first Arab leader to forge a historic peace treaty with Israel. King Hussein also established a democratically elected parliamentary system responsible for the day-to-day governance of his tiny desert country. Then he himself agreed to a peace treaty with the Jewish state in 1994. And he did all this despite living in the shadow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, his maniacal neighbor to the east, and in the shadow of the Assad regime controlling Syria, his despotic neighbor to the north, and despite the fact that Radicals tried to assassinate him numerous times.
When King Hussein succumbed to cancer in 1999, it was a sad day for Reformers in the region. But fortunately, his son, King Abdullah II, has continued in his father’s footsteps. He signed a free trade agreement with the U.S. in 2000. He became a critically important ally of the West in the battle against the Radicals after 9/11 and during the liberation of Iraq and its aftermath. In 2006 he became the first Muslim monarch to address the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., speaking on the importance of Muslim-Christian relations before two thousand evangelicals from all over the world. And all the while, King Abdullah has tried to move Jordan step by step in a more moderate direction politically and socially, despite constant threats of assassinations, terrorist attacks, coups, and insurrections.
It has not been an easy journey, and there have been setbacks along the way. No one would describe the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan as a full-blown Jeffersonian democracy at this point. But having visited the country three times in recent years, I must tell you that I have fallen in love with Jordan, its people, and its leaders. Both a Jew and a believer in Jesus, I have never felt in danger in Jordan. To the contrary, I hat had the honor of meeting safely with Reformers from one end of the country to the other. I have interviewed Prime Minister Abdelsalam alMajali, the man who actually signed the peace treaty with Israel. I have stayed in the homes of Jordanians who have welcomed me with open arms, taught me about their history, and told me how hopeful they are about their future. As a result, I am deeply impressed with the significant progress the country has made over the past three decades.
Indeed, it is precisely because the Jordanians have made such progress that I am worried by the Radicals’ determination to launch a jihad there, seize the capital, and create a new anti-Israel, anti-Western base camp for Iran and al Qaeda. Therefore, I pray often for Jordan’s peace, prosperity, and continued progress. I pray for King Abdullah’s health and safety, and I pray that God will grant him the wisdom to know how best to move forward in such challenging times.
Hamid Karzai is another of the most remarkable Reformers of our time, one whom I will profile in the pages ahead, and one who needs a lot of prayer.
In October of 2008, I had the privilege of traveling to the Afghan capital of Kabul—a city on the front lines of the war between the Radicals and the Reformers—to meet tribal leaders, interview Rank-and-File Afghanis, and discover Karzai’s story for myself. It is, I must say, an unforgettable saga.
Once a member of the mujahadeen against the Soviet occupation of his country in the 1980s, Karzai became a fierce critic of the Radicals and a powerful advocate for democracy in the 1990s. After the liberation of Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, Karzai emerged as the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan in more than five thousand years of recorded history. Against all odds, and in the face of repeated assassination attempts, Karzai has not only been governing a country once thought ungovernable, he has also tried to build a truly Jeffersonian democracy in a land that it seems could not be less suited for the experiment.
Is he controversial? Absolutely. Will he succeed? That remains to be seen. But there is no question that his is a compelling story, as you will soon see.
Jalal Talabani is yet another fascinating warrior-turned-Reformer, and another leader I will profile.
” Jalal who?” you ask.
Don’t worry. You’re not alone. His face should be on the cover of Newsweek. His story should have made him Time magazine’s “Person of the Year.” He should be a household name for Americans who have invested so much blood and treasure into the liberation of Iraq. Yet the media has largely ignored him. Thus, few Americans have any idea who he is or why he matters.
In 2008, I had the privilege of making two trips inside the war-ravaged nation of Iraq to better understand who this man is and what makes him tick. His is an incredible story, and honestly, if I had not been there and heard it for myself, I might not have believed it.
Once the leader of a violent Kurdish guerrilla faction in the 1960s and 1970s, Talabani put down his arms, ordered his followers to do the same, and helped create a peaceful and prosperous democratic province in northern Iraq in the 1990s after the first Gulf War.
By 2005, after the fall of Saddam Hussein and the liberation of the entire country, Talabani emerged as the first democratically elected president of Iraq. Ever since, he has waged a relentless and, I would say, heroic battle to defeat the Radicals and build a Jeffersonian democracy.
He is not alone, of course, and the fate of the democratic experiment in Iraq certainly does not rest entirely on his shoulders. But what he believes will astound you. What he has accomplished with the help of the Iraqi and American people, along with our Coalition allies, will amaze you. And his vision for his country’s future will, I think, encourage you as it encouraged me and hopefully will persuade you to pray daily for Iraq as you have never prayed before.
Nearly unnoticed by the mainstream American media is King Mohammed VI of Morocco. He is almost never profiled, but he should be, for he is quietly but steadily becoming one of the most intriguing and accomplished Reformers in the Muslim world.
Since assuming the throne in 1999, the impressive young North African monarch has embarked on an initiative to turn Morocco into a model of moderation, cooperation with the West, and democratic reform. After the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. and a series of suicide bombings that rocked his own country in 2003, the king cracked down on al Qaeda and other Radical groups. He strengthened Morocco’s political, economic, and military ties to the United States and the European Union. He allowed and encouraged dozens of political parties to compete in free and fair parliamentary elections, a relatively new experience for Moroccans. He has expanded the role of the democratically elected government to run the day-to-day affairs of the country. He has also dramatically expanded opportunities for women to serve in government.
Meanwhile, His Majesty has quietly strengthened ties to Israel and the Jewish community. He completely revamped the training methodology for new Muslim clerics in the kingdom, requiring them to be schooled in the virtues of Christianity and Judaism and the theology of the Reformers. What’s more, he dispatched top Muslim leaders to build bridges with evangelical Christians in the West and even invited well-known evangelicals to visit and speak in Morocco.
Since King Mohammed came to power, I have had the honor of traveling to Morocco four times and building friendships with close associates of His Majesty, including the country’s top Islamic scholar. Along the way, Lynn and I have fallen in love with Morocco and pray for that nation often. We believe Morocco’s story will become vitally important to the rest of the Muslim world in the years ahead.