Revisiting our ‘strengthen the moderates’ strategy, I now believe that while it was basically sensible, it was off track in two critical ways that could do us in. Our criteria for defining a moderate were too simplistic, and we missed a key concept that arguably should have been our mantra instead: integration.
In our definition of Muslim moderates, we basically only had one red line. If a person disavowed violence and terrorism, he or she was a moderate. But this is not enough. You can eschew terrorism while still harboring attitudes of hostility and alienation that in turn become the breeding ground for extremism and the safe harbor for extremists. What we lumped together as moderates includes what we might better have termed aggressive traditionalists, people who believe that Muslims living in the West must struggle to remain external to Western values and lifestyles, and should owe little or no loyalty to Western institutions and persons. They might be against violence, but they are also against integration.
Consider San Bernardino. Along with grief and anger, many of us felt frankly baffled. Why would a young couple—earning a good income, living in sunny California, raising an infant daughter—do such a thing? How could the husband, Farook, slaughter in cold blood the people who had been his colleagues, had organized a baby shower, had tried to befriend him? His former cubicle-mate relates how he tried to connect with him. Knowing that restoring old cars was Farook’s hobby, he had attempted to engage his taciturn colleague on this neutral topic, only to be continuously rebuffed. Why did Farook hate America, the country of his birth, the country that had taken in his immigrant parents, accommodated his religion by giving him time off to go on hajj, and readily issued a visa so he could bring home his murderous Pakistani bride? “Why do they hate us” – this question marked the popular response to 9-11 on the part of the American public. It was dismissed by the experts as naïve, but it turns out that this question was spot on and needs pursuing.