Rouhani, the voice of Muslim moderation

On the eve of his inauguration, Iran’s in-coming president Hasan Rouhani spoke from his moderate heart:  “The Zionist regime has been a wound on the body of the Islamic world for years and the wound should be removed.”

Now this statement might in some quarters be said to belie Rouhani’s widely acclaimed moderation. One begins to harbour ugly suspicion that perhaps he’s not as moderate as he was widely portrayed after his election victory two months ago.

The suspicion becomes even uglier when one tries to picture ways in which the desideratum of removing the wound can be achieved. The Muslim devil, just like our own, is in the detail.

For the body of Islam to be healed, Muslim countries must first secure military victory over Israel. Imagining for the sake of argument that they have the wherewithal to do so, what would be the consequences of the medical procedure?

It doesn’t take much suspension of disbelief to realise that every Israeli who doesn’t manage to flee will be murdered in all sorts of imaginative ways for which Islam is so justly famous. This is the outcome Rouhani desires and towards which he no doubt will tirelessly toil.

This brings into focus the question I asked two months ago: “Exactly how moderate is Rouhani anyway?”

Barristers are trained only ever to ask a question in court to which they already know the answer. My query followed that legal technique.

The answer is, there’s no such thing as a moderate Muslim. There are only Muslims and non-Muslims, those who are Islamic in the same sense in which Leon Trotsky was a Jew or Richard Dawkins is a Christian. Born to a religion, they neither follow its practices nor live by its doctrine.

Such chaps may very well be moderate. What they can’t be is Muslim. For there are over 100 verses in the Koran that directly call for the murder of apostates, infidels, Jews – you name it. Free will not being at the top of the list of Islamic virtues, the dictates of its scripture must be followed to the letter on pain of death.

Thus a ‘moderate Muslim’ is an oxymoron, a bit like ‘a young person’, ‘a Christian atheist’ or ‘Dave the Tory’. And a Muslim cleric is as likely to be a moderate as he is to make the GQ’s best-dressed list.

Far be it from me to suggest that everything is relative, but some things definitely are. Moderation is one of them. My moderation may be your radicalism, his licence and their fascism.

Yet since the 1979 Islamic revolution Iran has been generally regarded as rather immoderate even by Muslim standards. By comparison, the Shah with his torturing secret police began to look like a humanitarian trying to get in touch with his feminine side. At least he drank decent wines and never threatened to develop nuclear weapons and blow up half the world.

Since then, whoever was democratically elected in Iran, the country has always been run by its Supreme Leader, first Ayatollah Khomeini then, after his death in 1989, Sayyed Ali Khamenei.

It’s the Ayatollah who decides who’s allowed to stand for the presidency of the Shi’ite republic and, by a multitude of variously subtle mechanisms, who’s allowed to win. In this type of democracy, it doesn’t really matter who wins. It’s all the same Shi’ite. Moderation really isn’t part of it.

Now the moderate Mr Rouhani wishes to wipe Israel off the face of the earth and murder everyone there. Here his cherished dream has to deviate from that of any decent Westerner.

The strategically inclined individuals among us realise that Israel is the West’s bulwark in its historical confrontation with Islam. Should hot lava yet again burst out of the volcano that is the Muslim world, Israel will be the West’s only reliable ally in the region.

Those whose thinking goes beyond pragmatic geopolitics remember that Israel and Christendom share much of their canon. Israel also acts as guardian of the sites held as sacred by Christians, and it takes little imagination to picture the devastation of such sites should the Muslims vanquish.

And those who think along neither geopolitical nor religious lines proceed from a purely aesthetic judgment.

All knowledge, wrote Descartes, comes from comparing two or more things. Comparing Israelis with, say, Palestinian Arabs, a Westerner is bound to see that the former are more or less like him, while the latter might as well have come from another planet. He will also notice that while the Israelis manage to turn a desert into an orchard, the neighbourhood Muslims are more likely to turn an orchard into a desert.

For these and many other reasons, we must take Hasan Rouhani at his word. Muslim leaders aren’t like ours: they tend to mean what they say. Occasionally they even do it.

So next time we read about Rouhani’s moderation in The Guardian, let’s reach for that grain of salt – and think what we must do about both Iran and The Guardian.

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