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Encourage Moderate Muslims to Make Voices Heard, say Analysts

Some long-time observers of the Middle East believe the voices of radical Islam are overpowering those of more moderate Muslims, who outnumber radicals and are a potentially more powerful force. But, there are efforts to bring more moderate voices to the forefront.

Caryle Murphy says she is confident that moderate Muslims will win what she calls the contemporary theological crisis in Islam. Ms. Murphy lived in Africa and the Middle East, and worked in Cairo as the bureau chief of the Washington Post newspaper for several years.

She says Muslims today are wrestling with how to make their religion relevant to modern times. This debate, she says, involves theological introspection, which she calls "fundamentally a good thing." But, she says, the crisis in the Middle East is stifling moderate voices.

"Why are the orthodox voices louder, and why do they have currently more sway? Because people have grievances - the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the lack of political liberties, and various U.S. foreign policies," she said. "At the moment, the moderate voices in this theological debate in the Middle East are very silent."

Ms. Murphy has just published a book called Passion for Islam, in which she focuses on Egypt's role in the modern Middle East. She reviews the history of Islam, and concludes that today's crisis is not going to be solved quickly.

"We are looking at a deep, historical, intellectual crisis in Islam - probably the deepest it has ever gone through since it was founded 1,300 years ago," she said. "This is going to take generations to work out."

Ms. Murphy says the imbalance between radicals and more moderate Muslims needs to change

Daniel Benjamin believes the shift can only take place through democracy. Mr. Benjamin is with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and has co-written a book entitled, The Age of Sacred Terror, which documents the rise of religiously motivated terrorism and the efforts of the United States to combat it.

"The long-term solution is democratization, because only a strong democracy can contain the discontents that are in the region," he said. "But it is going to be a very delicate and a very slow process getting there, because the United States has enormous security interests. I think there needs to be a long dialogue, and a firm dialogue, with support for democratization programs in the region."

But Westernized democracy should not be the aim, according to Shibley Telhami. Mr. Telhami is a professor of Middle East politics and conflict resolution at the University of Maryland. He has written extensively on the Islamic world, and has a weekly commentary show in Arabic on Radio Monte Carlo, which is broadcast all over the Middle East.

"I don't think the issue is bringing about democracy in the Middle East. Frankly, in this generation, we are not going to see a Western democracy in the Middle East," he said. "What we want to see is the reduction of authoritarianism, increasing civil and political rights, more empowerment for the people, increasing political liberalization, economic liberalization, more freedom for the people of the region."

Caryle Murphy agrees. She says the rest of the world, and the United States in particular, can help by consistently speaking out on human rights, freedom of the press and political liberalization in the Middle East. And the American people, she says, can also take part.

"Think of ways to support and encourage the moderate voices in the Middle East, who are there, but intimidated to speak out, or lacking the education, or the forum, to encourage them and encourage young people to think of them as worthwhile leaders," she said. "I think, this is a job for religious leaders in the United States, for businessmen, universities. I think it is across the board, but it has to be done."

Ms. Murphy says moderate Muslims can initiate change in the Islamic world, but only if political and economic frustrations are eased.