When eight Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets in London recently began trials of an all-halal menu, a backlash erupted from an unexpected source. Some Muslims are "boycotting the restaurants because they say the meat has not been killed correctly." Adding to the dissonance, two halal monitoring organizations are engaged in a public dispute over the matter.
Besides illustrating the law of unintended consequences, the above episode underscores a vital truth: in contrast to how they often are depicted, Western Muslims do not think with one brain or speak with one voice. Much of this plurality breaks down along moderate-versus-Islamist lines, as seen in events from the past few months:
- In late May, Islamic extremists marching in Luton, England, were confronted by a group of Muslims shouting, "We don't want you here!" Its leader explained that such protesters have been giving Muslims a bad name and fueling hatred. "The community decided to move them on because the police won't," he said. "We hope they get the message that the law-abiding community is sick and tired of them."
- Somalis took to Minneapolis streets in June to accuse the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) of "discouraging local Somalis from cooperating with the FBI," which is investigating the trend of youths returning to Somali to take part in jihad. Days later, a CAIR-friendly crowd gathered to rebut the allegations.
- Recent calls by Nicolas Sarkozy and French legislators to outlaw face-covering veils have highlighted divisions among Muslims. While most Islamic advocacy groups quickly slammed leaders for daring to broach the topic, some prominent imams have denounced the niqab and backed a prohibition. Furthermore, Fadela Amara, a government minister and practicing Muslim, boldly described burqa-like clothing as a "coffin for women's basic liberties" and "proof of the presence of Muslim fundamentalists on our soil."
- When some Muslims in the UK started rejecting alcohol-based cleansing lotions that had been recommended to combat swine flu, even the Islamist-leaning Muslim Council of Britain sounded reasonable in comparison: "We would advise people to follow the medical advice so we would, of course, encourage people to use hand gel. People need to find ways to accommodate their beliefs."
For all concerned about the rise of Islamic radicalism, the most promising approach is clear. Rather than painting adherents of Islam with a broad brush, let us recognize the range of viewpoints exhibited by Western Muslims and stand beside moderates in the struggle against a common Islamist foe.