The following was written by Babs Barron, a chartered psychologist in independent practice in the UK who writes under a pseudonym because she wishes to keep her work and her professional life entirely separate from her politics.
Whereas there is no definitive explanation for the sudden eruption of hitherto apparently peaceable Muslims into the perpetration of terrorism, the process has been given a name – Sudden Jihad Syndrome – by Daniel Pipes among others. I concur with Pipes that the tendency towards jihad may not be sudden on the part of the perpetrators. The process of indoctrination may have taken years while all the time the jihadi-in-waiting goes about his life, to all intents and purposes appearing to be an upright citizen. No, the suddenness is in the acting out and perception of those towards whom the attacks are directed.
One almost invariably hears these perpetrators described as “family people” and “good neighbours” by the shocked non-Muslim communities in which they lived, so it made sense to me to try to formulate a method by which we might be able to assess, from our ordinary day-to-day conversations with self-styled moderate Muslims, whether their actual beliefs match what they say and their behaviours towards the rest of us.
A friend and I came up with the term “Muslim roulette” to denote the vague unease which we and other mindful people often experience when we hear the “moderate Muslim” mantra from them. Most of us check that feeling when we experience it and may blame ourselves for doubting them in the absence of proof that they actually mean us harm. But how can we know for certain that they do not? The answer is, of course, that we cannot. We cannot read their minds and far too often we are forced into playing “Muslim roulette” until we find out whether they can be trusted.
My friend and I therefore came up with some questions (added to by Citizen Warrior when I ran them by him) which can be sensitively embedded in conversation with Muslims with whom we can talk freely about their beliefs and who insist that they are moderate. I stress “sensitively” – put too bluntly or in an interrogatory manner they would result in defensiveness. The aim here should be to assess from the answers to what, after all, are reasonable questions, and the way in which those answers are delivered, whether there is any dissonance between what the person says and what s/he believes, and also to lessen the odds that you are unwittingly engaged in a game of “Muslim roulette” by trusting this person.
Any reticence or defensiveness or anger or refusal to discuss the matter further would, I believe, be telling, although whether those would denote defensiveness, hurt feelings or anything else is moot. Having said all that, however, would it not be reasonable to assume that a truly moderate Muslim would not be made uncomfortable by the questions?
Here are the questions:
- Do you believe that all faiths/belief systems are equally valid? (If not, why not?)
- Do you believe that men and women are equal in intelligence and ability? (If not, why not?)
- Do you believe that every nation/faith/denomination should have the right to self-determination and to live in safety provided that it is a good neighbour? (A moderate Muslim would have little or no difficulty with, say, Israel's right to exist as a Jewish nation, warts and all).
- Do you believe that all the commandments in the koran should be followed literally and to the letter? Do you accept that the ahadith and sunna are valid interpretations of how all Muslims should live? (The best answer here would be along the lines of “No, not in this day and age.” A “yes” answer indicates cognitive dissonance between what this person believes and how s/he describes himself to you).
- Do you believe that everyone should be free to leave the faith/belief system that they are born into without fear of reprisal? (If the answer is “Yes”, you can follow up by asking whether that should apply to Muslims too).
- Do you follow Mohammad’s example in the way you live your life? (Again, if the answer is “Yes” you need to find out how much your interlocutor actually knows about how Mohammad lived his life. It will be obvious that a “Yes” answer, coming from someone who knows about Mohammad’s sociopathy as evidenced by his behaviour towards the tribes who opposed him, and believes that the koran, ahadith and sunna should be followed to the letter, or believes that men are superior to women, acts as a disqualifier from any claim to moderateness).
You may be able think of other questions and please feel free to add them and share them with the rest of us, but my respectful advice is that you pay careful attention to how you phrase them. The aim here is to enquire and assess whether this really is a moderate Muslim.