Together with my colleague Alexander E. Balistreri, I have looked at the phenomenon of “moderate Islam” post 9/11 in a new article in Asiatische Studien – Études Asiatiques (in German: “Reflektierte Führer in der Allianz der Toleranz: 9/11 und die Suche nach dem „gemäßigten Islam“”). You can check it out here: https://doi.org/10.1515/asia-2022-0022
The attacks of September 11, 2001 spurred an intense interest in “moderate Islam” in U.S. government circles. Some high-ranking officials, for example, saw “moderate Muslims” as necessary allies in the “War on Terror.” In this article, we examine how the United States went about making allies in the Muslim world after the attacks. The goal was supposedly straightforward: “moderate” Muslims were to be strengthened and empowered to act as an antidote to radical groups. Yet such plans ran into numerous problems. First was the notoriously difficult definition of “moderate Islam,” which ranged from a simple rejection of the primacy of jihad to the acceptance of basic democratic values. Second, in reaching out to the Muslim world, the United States could not solve its own dilemma of being torn between a preference for stability provided by autocrats and the commitment to promote “Islamic” forms of democracy. These tensions resurfaced in the deepened partnership with two countries that were touted as manifestations of moderate Islam’s new promise: Turkey and Pakistan. Given their past efforts in fighting communism, both countries were seen to be potentially
equally reliable partners in fighting the new “radical Islamic menace.” As we show, however, these visions did not materialize as hoped. The U.S. government overestimated the room local actors had to maneuver while underestimating the political costs that came with being tied too closely to American interests.