I have a problem with moderation. It’s the same as the issue I have with extremism. And it’s almost as painful as the trigger I experience when someone claims to know the “truth.” This may explain why events of the past few weeks have affected me deeply, as they have most likely shaken your world.
I have so many questions. And not a single answer. Except for this:
“The role of the writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.”—Anais Nin
This quote sits on my favourite author Sue Monk Kidd’s desk. I understand why. Sometimes I catch myself with my hand to my mouth to stop the words from spilling out of me, falling like ice picks chipping at my bare feet.
I have often referred to myself as a “moderate Muslim” on my travels and studies abroad. It was the only way for me to soften my muslimness. I still do it — in my own country in more subtle ways. I am not ready to go into this yet. That is my Mount Everest and I am too scared of heights. It gives me little comfort that I am not the only one. Muslim leaders in palaces and on pulpits align themselves with moderate Islam, an oxymoron we moderates pretend to ignore.
Moderate Muslim Vegan
My most recent moderate qualification has been assigned to my diet. I am the proud proponent of moderate veganism. I try my best to ensure anyone having a meal with me feels safe I will not blow them up for their religious beliefs nor douse them with red paint for their [carnivorous] plate.
It was at one of those tables in fact that I became aware of my discomfort with moderation. As has been typical of the last four years, I felt I needed to make a great deal of effort to make a fellow diner relax at the dinner table. His passive-aggressive attitude and draining armour against my assumed judgement was apparent from the first hello. (I have had plenty of practice, so it normally takes me a few minutes to coax off the armour to hang alongside our coats by the door.) Lighter but certainly not gentler, Mr. moderate went on an extended soliloquy celebrating his life of moderation. He eats everything [processed] in moderation. He drinks in moderation, a glass or two of good quality alcohol every night that gives him the right moderate buzz. Sure, he needs to take some medication to manage chronic diseases, but it’s in moderation. Two or three pills at the most. Because he has figured out the formula of his happiness, it makes it universal truth. And because it is universal truth, I need to stop depriving myself from [his] joys of life and hop on the moderation train.
His voice rises a couple of decibels on the last point.
Very recently, I found myself at another dinner table. Different gender, another conversation mostly around COVID-19, vaccinations, conspiracy theories, scientists, lay people like myself, and you guessed it moderation. But this time it was two or more decibels higher in volume. (It could be I am getting older and have less tolerance for loud noises.)
Today, moderate republicans and moderate democrats have overtaken the moderate news channels I follow. Everyone is still yelling, from their moderate pulpits.
Could having a point of view, a belief system, or set of values make one extremist? And could moderation wash down those views to the point that makes them irrelevant? Are we using moderation to remind ourselves of our common humanity?
I looked it up. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, moderation is defined as
“The avoidance of excess or extremes, especially in one’s behaviour or political opinions.”
“The action of making something less extreme, intense, or violent.”
In other words, I kind of believe but not entirely.
I also looked up balance. It is defined as
“An even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.”
“A situation in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.”
“Mental or emotional stability.”
We may be confusing moderation with balance.
Balance comes from stability. Stability cannot be sustained on a weak foundation. A foundation is made steady by the health of its separate parts. Our very humanness is made whole by an intricate balanced system.
Maybe we need to stop qualifying our choices if we truly believe in them. The problem we are facing is that we are paralyzed by fear that the very idea of uncomfortable questioning of those choices pushes us toward extremism or moderation, two faces of the same coin: one unapologetically radical, the other apologetically shy, manifested in loud noises expressed all at once at dinner tables, Capitol steps, and television.
I cannot deny that those of us who have suffered the injustice of white supremacy, apartheid, and colonialism felt vindicated on January 6. There it was, in all its ugliness for the world to witness. But there is no win to celebrate because sadly this same ugliness thrives in our own backyards.
I recently watched “The Dissident.” The horror of this crime never leaves my mind. To this day, there has been no accountability for the brutal dismemberment of the Saudi Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi despite overwhelming evidence that the mastermind behind it is the “moderate” Saudi Crown Prince. A short few months before the murder, Saudi Arabia ended its longstanding policy of banning women from driving. While the world celebrated this generous gesture of modernity and moderation, female activist Loujain al-Hathloul was arrested and detained for nearly three years without charge until a court recently charged and sentenced her of conspiring against the [moderate] ruling family.
Below is an excerpt from a piece in the British The Guardian newspaper published on December 28, 2020, ice picks and all:
“The Saudi kingdom has repeatedly denied that she was arrested for campaigning for women to be allowed to drive, a right that was granted in 2018, but instead for mounting a campaign to undermine the royal family. The case underlines how little political dissent is allowed within the kingdom.
The original charge sheet included meeting British and other European diplomats, as well as applying for a job at the United Nations, and using her arrest in her CV. She was also accused of speaking to foreign press agencies and international human rights groups.
Other charges included joining a group on the messaging app Telegram, where she discussed human rights and a new constitution, liaising with the human rights defender Khaled al-Omair and receiving daily expenses of €50 from foreign organisations when attending international conferences to speak about women in Saudi Arabia.
Additional alleged offences involve tweets about her drive from UAE into Saudi Arabia and documents found on her laptop including a pdf file of the UN convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. She was also accused of communicating with European embassies about her case at the time the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was due to visit those countries.”
While this happens to thousands of activists to the east of where I write, our fellow Palestinian brothers and sisters a mere 45 minutes to the west of me are still living in the world’s only remaining apartheid state. It also happens to enjoy the top slot in the number of COVID-19 vaccinations per capita in the world. To date, 1.5 million Israelis have been innoculated, while Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza do not have access to the COVID-19 vaccine and instead are left to deal with a pandemic they have no infrastructure to handle under an occupation that controls their movements, their livelihoods, their access to basic human rights, and the very air they breathe.
The pandemic destroying us is a collective moral bypassing that is staring us so boldly in the face it cannot be ignored anymore. And I am afraid “moderation” has been enabling its rapid metastasis. What sits at the root of the world’s ills at the moment is injustice, plain and simple. Justice requires taking sides and a clear position. Until the handful of powerful, morally bankrupt forces depleting the universe are held accountable for their actions, we will drive ourselves crazy spinning in circles, looking for justifications to make sense of nonsense. I wish it was as simple as chips implanted in us by the likes of Bill Gates or WhatsApp accessing our data.
I would start with rethinking our moderation crutch. Love, light, and unity may not pull us out of this one. There is no prison that can house 73 million Trump supporters in the US. Silencing thought has never worked. It just makes it louder. My dinner dates attest to that. And gives it voice from beyond the grave, thanks to non-moderate truth seekers and activists. I imagine what we need most right now is courage. And courage sits right at the centre of fear. I don’t know about you, but I am scared as hell right now. So terrified in fact that I have started to see the outline of a seed of bravery buried deep in my heart. It is this seed that allows my sharp thoughts to spill out. It covers my feet so that their edges don’t permanently scar my toes. And it is slowly pushing me toward the Everest I need to climb.
Moderation is not a position. It is a cop-out. If I need to justify my choice, I need to rethink it. And if my choice harms a living being, it is the wrong choice. That is the only right and wrong that exist. Truth is complicated.