You'll note that, apropos of a discussion on Donklephant about what to call those of us who are neither left nor right, Ali does not call himself a "moderate" Muslim but a "reformist," which sounds and is much fierier. As Tom Strong describes "moderates," they are temperate, sometimes bordering on tepid. That's not what's needed, although the ability to listen and to reason, not rant, is needed. (A good rant every now and then doesn't hurt, either, especially when it's spiked with deadly reason, which is why we read The Mighty Middle.) It's a combination of passion, compassion, and rationality that is called for when combating extremists.
Here's Ali in a revealing interview with Sigmund, Carl, and Alfred.
Here he's exhorting reformist Muslims not to shun support from outsiders, even when the motives for offering help are mixed. This post, which was chosen as the Watcher's Council's best non-council post this week (hat tip to The Gilttering Eye), interested me less for the outreach than for the glimpses of how Ali envisions the coming struggle within Islam:
At this time the fight between our philosophy of the future and yesterday’s death theory, has not even begun. When it begins, those who joined for illegitimate reasons will reveal themselves. But that remains to be seen. In fact, who is to say, given the magnitude of the confrontation and given what is at stake — enlightened living for our children — that there will not be individuals amongst us who turn tail in the face of the gravitas? Who is to say, given that our activism will pit us against our elders, our ancestral homes, our history as it has been so far written, that there will not be individuals amongst us who simply turn traitorous and expose us to the frothing fundamentalism we face off against? When we see those who appropriate our efforts, well, we’ll call a spade a spade, but that is no reason to not start gardening.
Man has always come to the assistance of man. The Helpers of Medina to the migrants of Mecca; Indians to the Pilgrims; Ottomans to the Sephardigm; Albanian Muslims to the Jews of Europe. There are men and women in the West who wish to be of assistance to us. So what if they sometimes say things that you find offensive or incorrect. To correct them by way of friendship is much better than to sneer at them. We must judge them, not by their ancestors’ history, but by their love of the oppressed. We are clear, are we not, that there has been one too many Mukhtaran Mai? We are clear, are we not, that there has been one too many tyranny? We are clear, are we not, that there has been one too many Bin Laden? One too many 9/11, 3/11, 7/7, and Aksari Shrine and Shia massacre and Baha’i jailing and Jew-baiting. One too many Bamiyan Buddhas. One too many novelists accused. One too many suicides. The task ahead will be difficult enough. If, then, there are those who will link their arms with us, we must not hesitate. When the moment of reckoning comes — and there is no reason to believe that time is not now — we will be in need of every able mind, profligate pen, and nervous smile. Do it out of pragmatism, or do it out of love, but do it you must.
Then read the comments and see that this is not a matter of mere political opinion and flaming, where at worst someone may get their feelings hurt. This is a matter of life and death.
To understand Ali's resolve it helps to acquaint yourself with the insightful despair that preceded it.
Here he is committing what for all I know is regarded as blasphemy -- seeking to know and love Muhammad as an actual human being.
I'm not interested in Muhammad who is a Prophet; or Muhammad who is a messenger; or Muhammad who is anything other than a man. Not merely am I interested in his humanity, but in his mere humanity. Not his nine-wife-satisfying virility, nor his outerworldly beauty, or his paradise-like-breath. His mere humanity means I am interested in his inadequacies. This means that I am interested in his psychology; in his insecurity; in his weakness; his over-compensations; his sorrow; his loss; his loneliness and, yes, his virulence; and, all in all, like I said — I am interested in Muhammad, the man. Before I can accept the man, I have to know the child. Each and every one of us, is only the adult we began to come as children. Yet, with Muhammad we not permitted ourselves such a knowing. I love a woman not only for the being she is today, but for the being she, as a child, said she one day wanted to be. If you clamor that I should love Muhammad, then I clamor that I shall have to become intimate with him, will have to sketch portraits of him. Otherwise, it cannot be love. If you should be opposed to this, then do not ask me to love. If you simply do not accept my way of loving, then you simply don't know love.
He was once an infant — who came fatherless into the world. He was once a child — who lost his mother at six. He was once a youth — who lost his dear grandfather at twelve. He was once an adolescent — who lost his guardian uncle to illness. In other words, Muhammad, long before he was a man, was alone. What? Protestation, again? Either you do not wish me to know his heart, or you do not know what loneliness can be. Which is it? Either way, without sorrow, there is no Muhammad. To know how Qurans and Shariah spilled from him, we must know how death ran after him. To know how he painted an altogether Eternal God on an Eternal Kursi, we must recognize that in every postulation of permanence, the backdrop is the feeling of longing. It has been the orphans, the fatherless, the motherless, the clanless, the lonely, who have left to mankind everything that claims to be eternal . . .
See? Ali's blog is awesome. He's a magnificent writer. And every once in a while, as if in passing, he drops the name of a great Sufi. I think what he's doing is a model not only for Muslims but for anyone. For me. (After all, he does call himself "a pioneer of global nomadism"!)
UPDATE: Here's another side of Ali you have to meet -- his wicked humor. Whaddaya know, Islam has its own Michael Reynolds:
Sigmund, Carl, and Alfred: For the west, the age of empire has passed. Why has an 'age of empire' emerged amongst Muslims?
I contend with the suggestion that the Western age of empire has passed. What's changed in the West is that we take over the world using economic and cultural means. Not only that, but we as Westerners need to be very aware of the fact that our age of military empire only ended in 1991 (with the fall of the Soviet Union). Also, you need to define the 'West.' For what it's worth, I like being part of the winning side. It's hypocritical, but so what? I can say it because I belong to the winners.
As to whether there is an age of empire amongst Muslims? There is. But not all Muslims. A few here and there. Plus, I don't know whether calling it an 'age' is appropriate since there isn't even anyone who is capable of acquiring an empire. Who's going to do it? Pakistan? They hve a hard time maintaing straight lines at weddings. Are you suggesting they can march into Poland? They'll probably take a wrong turn in Oman and end up at Euro-Disney. Seriously, let's not give 'credit' (if you want to call it that) where none is deserving. 99% of Muslim nations are failed states. The only empire they have right now is over stagnance. Islam: Empire of Self-Flagellation. As someone who likes the Western status-quo, I'm very alarmed when we start trumpeting the emergence of an Islamic Empire. No! Please don't do that! Don't make the wackos think that we believe they are capable of anything. When Germany was kicking the shit out of its neighbors, it was also the home of the world's greatest scientists; German competed with English as the world's dominant tongue; and it had the greatest number of educated people in the world (not to mention Heidigger and Heisenberg). What do any of these Muslim states have? Have a long island iced tea instead of trying to answer that.
And (I can't stop quoting this guy) here he is, in the same interview, on feminism and gender:
S, C, & A: How much of an impact will a movement that is fundamentally a creation of women, have on Islam?
Nietzsche said that woman is a creation of man. Fact is, at the end of the day, given the history of patriarchy in the world, woman will always be defined by man. As such, the definition of man has to change.
A lot of people get upset at me when I say, "no, I'm not a feminist." Don't get me wrong, I supported female prayer-leading and support all women's rights. However, as a man, I think my job is to engage in making better men, not better women. Then, we can together go forward and reshape gender relations.
When Muslim women are like Katherine, the Shrew of Padua, and all men are like Petruccio, then we are going to get somewhere.
I have no interest in Muslim women who get what they want by crying, and Muslim men who don't think about being men.
When and why did it become more important for Muslims to be concerned about what goes on the head of women as opposed to what goes in?
That's a brilliant observation. I don't think I should defile it by giving a history lesson.
S, C, & A: When you pray- (or wish for, if you won't admit to prayer!), what do you pray for?
This is what I say: "God, you are God because you know everything, even the unsaid, otherwise you are not God. You don't need me to ask. I need you to be God." That pretty much covers everything. I hate the whole beg and wheedle attitude that believers take with God (this, by the way, is a cross-religious critique). There are times when I don't believe in God (it's an organic relationship). In those times I pray to the ghost of Nietzsche. Sometimes I pray to Mary, mother of Christ (although I conceive her to be incredibly good looking, something akin to a childhood nun I used to have a crush on).