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EDITORIAL

Erdogan vs. moderation

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Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he delivers a speech at a tourism council in Ankara, Turkey.

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan decried Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s use of the phrase “moderate Islam” in describing his vision for Saudi Arabia over coming decades. 

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“The term ‘moderate Islam’ is being lathered up again,” Mr. Erdogan said in a recent speech at a program hosted in Ankara by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. “The patent of moderate Islam belongs to the West. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam; Islam is one. The aim of using such terms is to weaken Islam.”

This is a supremely destructive bit of demagoguery, even by Mr. Erdogan’s standards. Harmony between the West and the Muslim world — and peace within the Muslim world — ultimately depends on Islam’s ability to de-emphasize its anti-liberal tenets. This is likely to be a slow and difficult transformation, as it was for Christianity, and progress depends in large part on Muslim leaders’ willingness to embrace reforms. When the head of one of the most populous and richest Muslim-majority countries insists that moderate Islam is a Western plot to weaken the faith, he reinforces the worst status quo in the world. 

Not many Westerners, steeped in politically correct rhetoric on the topic of Islam, are aware of how bad that status quo is. Polls consistently show that large majorities of Muslims throughout the region want a society governed by Sharia Law, with its injunctions to murder apostates, unbelievers, adulterers, and gays. 

In a 2014 survey by the Anti-Defamation League, 74 percent of North African and Middle Eastern residents registered anti-Semitic beliefs. Violent extremists are obviously a small percentage of Muslims (though a small percentage of 1.6 billion people is still quite a lot of people), but supporters of extremists are not. According to polls conducted in 2010 by Pew Research, 23 percent of Indonesians, 34 percent of Jordanians, and 49 percent of Nigerian Muslims hold a “favorable” view of al-Qaeda. Only 55 percent of Pakistanis disapprove of terror attacks against civilians on U.S. soil. 

That hundreds of thousands of Muslims hold attitudes like these is a problem for the U.S. and for civilization, and it is a problem that only Muslims can solve. They cannot do this without an honest reckoning. 

Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s expressed desire to “return to what we were before — a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world” is precisely the kind of action needed to move Islam into the 21st Century.

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