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Katherine Marshall Katherine Marshall is a senior fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, where she leads the Center's program on Religion and Global Development. After a long career in...
Faith in Action tracks the activities of people of faith across the globe and across religious traditions, with a focus on development issues. Posts are originally published by the Huffington Post. Older blog posts appeared on the Washington Post's Georgetown/On Faith site.


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Passionately Moderate in Doha

March 2, 2008

Where are the passionate moderates in Islam, Madeleine Albright wanted to know. Why does all the passion seem to come from extremists? The former secretary of State was speaking at the recent U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, sponsored by the Brookings Institution. To the Islamic world, her message was that what we need now is “moderates on the march, moderates with swagger.”

But to her own countrymen, she had plenty to say about reaching out to others, about lecturing less and listening more, about learning to understand different positions, perceptions, and people. The images of a world divided into good and evil are fundamentally wrong-headed, she said. And the U.S. must act quickly and forcefully to bridge the gulf that has opened between its ideals and its image. Closing Guantanamo and stating clearly that torture is wrong would be a good start.

True dialogue is incompatible with ignorance, she said, and any U.S. dialogue with the Islamic world must take religion into account and must be better informed about it.

Afghanistan’s President, Hamid Karzai, spoke just before her, with some remarkably similar messages. He wanted more than anything to debunk what he called the dominant and very wrong impressions in the West of an extremist Islam, conveyed by a few discordant voices preaching hatred. The American ideal of “We the People” has strong resonance with the core beliefs of his religion that were articulated 1400 years ago. The ideal of multi-faith tolerance, exemplified in the ideals of Al-Andalous, a golden age of Islam in pre-1492 Spain, is, for him, at the core of the Islamic faith.

Two frustrated complaints are repeated constantly in debates about U.S. relations with Muslim communities: that the moderates do not speak out with force and conviction, and that moderates do speak but are not heard. Madeleine Albright and Hamid Karzai were probing this important contradiction in their comments – Albright in seeking to redefine what moderation means by stripping the blandness out of the term and seeking more vigor and conviction, and Karzai by debunking the suggestion that Islam is in any way incompatible with democracy and American ideals. They added some oomph to a debate that will no doubt continue.

But their exchange was tuned to the U.S. election campaigns as much as to events in the Muslim World. The Doha Forum was a reminder of something that those of us who work in an international setting hear constantly: United States political discourse and its decisions on future leadership are not just about the United States; they affect the world. Thousands of miles away, people are gleaning the campaign debates for insight on how America’s potential new leaders see the rest of the world, how they would conduct foreign policy, nowhere more than on the fraught issues facing the Middle East. As some dissident Americans shouted so memorably 40 years ago, “the whole world is watching” what we do.