"Moderate" is one of those words, like "terrorist," that can be used precisely and informatively or loosely and ideologically. The difference is that "terrorist" is a reproach, while "moderate" is a term of approbation.
Because "moderate" contrasts with "extreme," and because all ethical systems deem moderation a virtue and extremism a vice, the ideological appropriation of the term follows naturally and occurs in many political contexts.
Thus Middle Eastern and African regimes that collaborate with "the West" have long been deemed "moderate," no matter how nefarious or corrupt or, by any reasonable metric, extreme they might be. A similar usage has lately been applied to Latin American countries where, under the unwatchful eye of an American government occupied with wars in the Middle East, counter-systemic forces have been on the rise. What applies to governments applies as well to political movements. Whatever is friendly to imperialism is "moderate" and therefore good; the rest are "anti-American" and therefore "our" enemies.
"Moderate" plays a role in our domestic politics too. The two, semi-official parties are of one mind in protecting the interests of corporate, military and national security elites, even as they have become increasingly polarized around issues that are of only marginal importance to these masters of "democracy." Because Democratic politicians regard their base with contempt, while Republicans live in fear of theirs, the resulting spectrum, which never included more than a trace of a genuine left, has veered increasingly rightward in recent years.
Nevertheless, Democrats who list towards the Republican side are deemed "moderate," as are Republicans who lean Democratic. Nowadays, there are many more moderate Democrats than Republicans. Because moderation is considered good, this has been, and probably still is, good for the Democrats' electoral prospects. However it is far from good for those who would transform the political status quo for the better.
The idea that pleasing moderates is necessary for electoral success has become conventional wisdom. One must wonder, though, whether the pillars of the Democratic establishment really believe this; if they had half the sense they were born with, they'd realize that their own parochial interests would be better served if they showed more willingness to take what they claim is their own side. But the fact that it is conventional wisdom to play to what passes for a "center" helps them serve their corporate masters better. If nothing else, it keeps the pesky demands of the people Democrats call on for votes at bay.
None of this is exactly news. But it is news that this disabling ideological posturing has gotten out of control -- to the point that it now threatens elite interests in what unreconstructed neo-cons still think of as "the war on terror." For this, we have right-wing demagogues and a media culture that feeds on fear mongering sensationalism, along with Republican guile and Democratic pusillanimity, to thank.
The change is subtle, but momentous. It is also ironic - uniting the interests of the elites our political class serve and the popular interests they consistently disappoint.
The issue is "moderate" Islam, and what has catalyzed the change is the "debate" over the "Ground Zero mosque." [Scare quotes are appropriate because there is really nothing to debate - of course, the mosque should be built - and because the building in question isn't exactly a mosque and neither is its location Ground Zero.]
What has emerged from the storm and fury is a widespread assumption: that everything Islamic should be presumed immoderate ("extremist," "radical") and therefore evil until proven otherwise, and that the presumption is difficult if not impossible to overcome. In contrast, Judaism and Christianity are presumed moderate no matter what evils are done in their name. Even when the facts on the ground make it impossible to claim moderation, Jewish and Christian extremists are deemed aberrant and described in terms, like "fundamentalist," that don't challenge this underlying assumption.
What then follows for anyone with the wits to draw obvious conclusions is that if this is what Americans think, then America really is at war with Islam. It also follows that "true Americans" don't want Muslims in their midst.
This is a recipe for generating terrorists. It also provides an additional reason, as if more were necessary, for Muslims to resist American imperialism.
Needless to say, what is bad for imperialism is good for the world and for the American people (in contrast to American elites) -- especially now, as the empire is crumbling and the need for a soft landing is becoming increasingly urgent. Yet another demonstration of the futility of "counter-insurgency" would therefore be welcome, other things being equal.
But other things are not equal because, even as the vaunted General Petraeus and his co-thinkers go down to defeat, the rest of us stand to lose even more if islamicist resistance continues unabated. Then the likelihood that we will become victims of terror at home increases mightily, and it becomes certain that we will continue to be agents of murder and mayhem abroad. For the targets of imperialism's depredations, the prospects are even bleaker. This is why there is no reason to welcome the self-defeating machinations of those who, wittingly or not, encourage endless war.
Even George Bush knew enough not to stir the islamophobic pot. Because his successors lack even that much decency, their self-serving ideological constructions are careening out of control -- into lethal territory. In these circumstances, there are even worse things than making common cause with enlightened imperialists. Republicans may know no better. But shame on Democrats who allege "sensitivity" to the feelings of 9/ll families as an excuse for not acknowledging the obvious.