"The quest for a moderate Islam may be futile", says Theodore Dalrymple, reviewing Islamic Imperialism: A History by Efraim Karsh in City Journal. The review is worth reading in full, as indeed are all of Dalrymple's articles:
The week following the Muslim protests in London against the Danish cartoons—with marchers carrying signs calling for the beheading of infidels—other Muslims demonstrated to claim that Islam really meant peace and tolerance. While their implicit recognition that peace and tolerance are preferable to strife and bigotry did these Muslims personal honor, the claim regarding Islam was both historically and intellectually preposterous. Only someone ignorant of the most elementary facts could believe such a thing. From the first, Islam was a religion of pillage, violence, and compulsion, which it justified and glorified. And it is certainly not “the evident truth of the doctrine itself,” to quote Gibbon with regard for what, with characteristic irony, he called the primary reason for the rapid spread of Christianity throughout the civilized world, that explains the exponential growth of the Dar-al-Islam in its early history.
Muslims speaking to Western audiences say that Islam spread peacefully. In the past they did not feel the need to say this. They acknowledged that Islam spread by conquest, but argued that this proved that it was right, and furthermore, that conquest of territory for Allah is not the same as conquest of territory for personal gain.
It is important, of course, to distinguish between Islam as a doctrine and Muslims as people. Untold numbers of Muslims desire little more than a quiet life; they have the virtues and the vices of the rest of mankind....But the fact that many Muslims are not fanatics is not as comforting as some might think...
In his new book, Islamic Imperialism: A History, Professor Efraim Karsh does not mince words about Mohammed’s early and (to all those who do not accept the divinity of his inspiration) unscrupulous resort to robbery and violence, or about Islam’s militaristic aspects, or about the link between Islamic tradition and the current wave of fundamentalist violence in the world. The originality of Karsh’s interpretation is its underlying assumption that Islam was, from the very beginning, a pretext for personal and dynastic political ambition, from the razzias against the Meccan caravans and the expulsion of Jewish tribes from Medina, to the siege of Vienna a millennium later in 1529, and Hamas today.
I hesitate to rush in where so many better-informed people have hesitated to tread, or have trodden before, but I would put it like this. The urge to domination is nearly a constant of human history. The specific (and baleful) contribution of Islam is that, by attributing sovereignty solely to God, and by pretending in a philosophically primitive way that God’s will is knowable independently of human interpretation, and therefore of human interest and desire—in short by allowing nothing to human as against divine nature—it tries to abolish politics. All compromises become mere truces; there is no virtue in compromise in itself. Thus Islam is inherently an unsettling and dangerous factor in world politics, independently of the actual conduct of many Muslims.
I agree wholeheartedly. As Ibn Warraq said, there are moderate Muslims but there is no moderate Islam. A distinction should be made, not between fundamentalist and moderate Islam, or between Islam and "Islamism", but between Islam the ideology and Muslims the people. Muslims may or may not practise Islam. To the extent that they practise it, they are a danger to society. If they do not practise it, or practise only certain rituals, but do not renounce it, the true Islam remains intact for the next generation to discover.
The fundamental question is whether Islam as a private faith would still be Islam, or whether such privatization would spell its doom. I think it would spell its doom. In this sense, I am an Islamic fundamentalist. The choice is between all and nothing.
A bleak conclusion, but a realistic one.