Since 9/11, many of us have wondered: Where are the moderate Muslims? If they are out there, why are we not hearing more, and getting more help, from them in the fight against our common foe -- the totalitarian Islamists?
In recent weeks in this space, I have chronicled the saga of an effort to answer that question. It took the form of a 52-minute documentary I helped produce for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's "America at a Crossroads" series. The film, entitled "Islam vs. Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center," features compelling stories of anti-Islamist Muslims who have had the courage to stand up to co-religionists who are using faith to accomplish political ends.
The documentary makes clear why the moderates are not more in evidence. Observant Muslims who dare to challenge the Islamists over ideological agendas pursued in the name of religion are shown being subjected to ostracism, intense coercion to conform and, in some cases, death threats. As long as these anti-Islamist Muslims are rightly seen as isolated, vulnerable and powerless, it would be foolish to believe that many of their co-religionists will want to emulate them.
Such a conclusion is especially likely to the extent that fence-sitting moderate Muslims perceive those repressing the anti-Islamists to be what Osama bin Laden calls "the strong horse." The success of organizations supportive of the Islamists and of their efforts to exploit real or perceived Muslim grievances and civil liberties to create "parallel societies" in Western democracies will, inevitably, attract more adherents to the former's ranks.
Unfortunately, what has happened to "Islam vs. Islamists" can only compound this perception. The Public Broadcasting Service and its Washington flagship station, WETA, refused to air this film. While a number of explanations have been given for that decision – including demonstrably false claims that the documentary was not submitted on time, was too long, was unfinished, the officially stated reason is that it was: "flawed by incomplete storytelling, a limited focus that does not adequately corroborate the film's conclusions, and a general lack of attention to the obligation of fairness, which requires that viewers have access to additional context and relevant information about a complex subject."
In other words, PBS/WETA judged our film to be "unfair" to the "conservative imams" and fellow Islamists shown denouncing, threatening and, in one case, proposing to murder the moderate Muslims we profile. Unless our production team, which included a number of world-class journalists, agreed to change not the "storytelling" but the story, "Islam vs. Islamists" was going to be suppressed.
Interestingly, PBS and WETA were untroubled by the manifest lack of fairness in a film on much the same subject entitled "The Muslim Americans," produced by Crossroads series host Robert MacNeil. This documentary amounted to a love letter to the Islamists and like-minded organizations in America. It helped legitimate a number of their most prominent spokesmen and agendas, in the process virtually ignoring easily ascertained records of troubling statements, behavior and/or affiliations.
It is bad enough that the public airwaves were used to disseminate only one rendering of the state of Islam in the West – and a highly misleading one, at that. The process whereby the voices of anti-Islamist Muslims were silenced by PBS and WETA was also characterized by egregious behavior, some of which would typically evoke howls of outrage from American liberals.
These included: attempts to blacklist producers on political grounds; outlandish conflicts of interest (notably, MacNeil's self-dealing and his film's featuring of two Islamist-sympathizing Muslim "advisors" recruited by WETA to help determine which documentaries were aired); and one of those advisors' unauthorized preview of a "rough-cut" version for representatives the Nation of Islam, a subject of the film – in clear violation of the most basic tenets of journalistic ethics.
The question occurs: Where are the liberal non-Muslims in the controversy over "Islam vs. Islamists"? They have at least as much on the line as the rest of us in the outcome of this struggle for the soul and future character of Islam.
After all, the anti-Islamist Muslims and conservatives are not the only ones in the Islamofascists' cross-hairs. Homosexuals, women and Jews are among those whose lives will be made miserable, or simply be prematurely terminated, in the new world order the Islamists have in mind. Blacks are still being sold into slavery in Islamist nations. And, to date, the Islamists have been responsible for killing more of their fellow Muslims than any other population, not just in Darfur but around the world.
Yet, as of this writing, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Rep. Brad Sherman of California have been the only examples of individuals with strong liberal credentials who have publicly urged that the American people be allowed to view "Islam vs. Islamists." They understand the stakes if the voices of the anti-Islamists are suppressed and, worse yet, if those of their repressors continue to be amplified.
The struggle over a documentary designed to do the former is a microcosm of the larger struggle for the future of Islam and the War for the Free World. None of us can afford to be AWOL in these fights.