I often remind my children that it's best to observe this rule of thumb--everything in moderation--when it comes to personal behavior. Without it people fall into the trap of alcoholism, drug addiction, and obsessive gambling, etc. The same rule of thumb can be said about religion and faith. Without moderation, people succumb to extremism, whether Islamic radicalism or Christian fundamentalism/evangelicalism. The cure for extremism is for moderate and progressive voices to speak sense, expose lies, and stand up for the victims of extremist ideology.
I introduced the abuses of evangelical extremism in the Christian Right in my nine lessons and expound on it in my forthcoming book, Confessions of a Bible Thumper. Here I want to share two examples of how moderation fights extremist Islam. First is Somali women's rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim turned atheist who exposes the victimization of women in radical Islam in her book Infidel. This is a courageous yet disturbing account of her journey out of fundamentalist faith and into rational and compassionate humanism. Although I think she ignores progressive ideas on faith when she rejects all religious thought and becomes an atheist, I applaud her heroic stand against the radical elements of Islam and her defense of women's rights. Her atheism seems to be a natural reaction to her experience and not the fundamentalist variety. A kind of moderate atheism.
Another more promising example is Dr. Hawa Abdi, another Somali woman (I've always admired and loved the strong-willed beautiful women of the horn of Africa) who stood up to the Party of Islam in Somalia in defense of her own moderate humanitarian efforts to fight suffering and injustice (which includes, like Hirsi Ali, the condemnation of female genital mutilation). Read the details in Nicholas Kristoff's article, Heroic, Female, and Muslim. The Party of Islam's militia tried to take control of her hospital but she heroically faced them down.
As a moderate Muslim, Hawa Abdi has much more influence to stop extremism because she remains a Muslim and attracts other moderate Muslims to support her efforts. (I make this point on Lesley Hazelton's excellent post on the subject). Whereas Hirsi Ali's atheism hinders Muslims from hearing her message, Dr. Abdi's Muslim faith helped rally other moderate Somali Muslims to protest the Party of Islam's actions.
It's encouraging to see moderate and progressive thinkers exposing the lies and abuses of extremists wherever those extremists are. In Somalia, Hawa Abdi's courage to fight Muslim extremists, and the outrage voiced by the world's Somalis, is an encouraging glimmer of hope that moderate ideals can win out.