There is a lot of talk about Islamic extremism that takes it as a given that if the reasonable Muslims would just be more forceful and staunch in their condemnation, it would help a great deal to calm all this down.
What if it really wouldn’t help much?
It may be fair to say that the experiment has not been run – that condemnation too quickly turns to hand-wringing worrying about possible backlash…that surveys show an uncomfortable amount (10-20%) of passive support for terrorists…that powerful figures in the Muslim world have not taken their responsibility seriously. I agree with all three. But really, do we think that if the mostly reasonable multitude of shopkeepers, students, salesmen, and housewives collectively decided they weren’t going to take it anymore, the murders would respond by saying “Oh, sorry then. We’ll stop. We thought you approved?.” More likely, they’d kill the shopkeeper first for saying it before moving on to infidels.
I’ve known lots of Italians over the years, none of whom had a kind word for the Mafia. They might kid about having a cousin or classmate who could be called on to break someone’s knees or take them for a ride, but when the discussion got serious they could be deeply resentful about the stereotype and as condemning of organized crime as one might like. (I’ve worked with Boston Irish who sorta defended it, but not Italians.) Maybe they could have done more, earlier, over a longer time. But the reality is that they did disapprove, but the criminals didn’t much care.
A lot of the terrorists seem to be semi-converts who don’t have a lot of actual Islamic study under their belts: westerners of middle-eastern descent who take it into their heads to be take seriously a religion their parents are trying to shed or hold superficially. The trained-from-birth fanatic also exists, but he’s not the only strain.
I’d like to see the moderates courageously take the lead. It would likely help some, and could hardly make things worse. But the idea that creating that change would solve the problem may be one more magic pony. Evil doesn’t not go away easily, and defining it as someone else’s problem isn’t likely to work.