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World: Pakistani President Renews Call For Islamic Tolerance, 'Enlightened Moderation'

President Musharraf (file photo) Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has renewed his calls for fellow Muslims to reject extremism and to promote religious tolerance. Musharraf said Islamic nations need to embrace a concept that he calls "enlightened moderation." It is an idea Musharraf put forward about a year ago as a way to combat the root causes of terrorism. At the same time, Musharraf said that Western nations must help resolve long-standing political disputes -- like the Palestinian conflict -- that have caused pain across the Islamic world.

Prague, 20 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- President Musharraf's renewed call for religious tolerance in the Muslim world came during a speech he gave yesterday to a joint session of parliament in the Philippines.

The Philippines has the largest Roman Catholic population in Asia. But it also has a sizeable Muslim population. Moderate Muslims in the Philippines are facing an identity crisis as government forces battle Islamic extremists in the southern part of the country.

Musharraf urged all Muslims in the Philippines to "shun the path of confrontation," suppress extremism, and contribute to socioeconomic progress. In return, he said the government in Manila must respect Islamic traditions and culture "to enable them to live in harmony" within society.

"The fight against terrorism should not address only the visible manifestations. It should also address the root causes," Musharraf said. "It is from this perspective that I put forward my concept of 'enlightened moderation.'"

Musharraf set forth his strategy about a year ago in an opinion piece published in "The Washington Post."

Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a political and defense analyst at the University of Punjab in Lahore, explained: "Enlightened moderation implies that the extremist and hard-line perspective on Islam should be replaced with a tolerant and pluralistic approach," Rizvi said. "He has been saying that in Pakistan. He said that in the Philippines because even in the Philippines, you have some extremist groups functioning."

In his "The Washington Post" article, Musharraf wrote that innocent Muslims around the world are suffering because of the activities of a few Islamic extremists and terrorists.

He said hard-line militancy has led many non-Muslims to wrongly conclude that Islam is a religion of intolerance and terrorism. He also noted that Muslims are "probably the poorest, most uneducated, most powerless, and most disunited people in the world."

Musharraf returned to that theme in yesterday's speech, saying Muslims must work to reverse what he called their "downward slide." In return, he said, the West must do more to help bring an end to situations like the Palestinian conflict.

"This strategy calls upon the Islamic nations to do more to reject extremism and intolerance and promote socioeconomic development that is lacking in many Islamic societies," Musharraf said. "Simultaneously, it calls upon especially Western nations to help resolve long-standing political disputes that have caused so much pain in the Islamic world."

Analyst Rizvi told RFE/RL today that Musharraf's message clearly was meant to be heard around the world.

"You have extremist Islamic groups all over the Muslim world. He [Musharraf] is trying to address this issue by suggesting that instead of going to extremism and intolerance, [they should] adopt a liberal and accommodating attitude -- and acquire modern knowledge and technology to meet the new challenges," Rizvi said. "The idea is that this message should go all over the world. And it should also go to the other religious populations to explain to them that there is an effort to promote moderate attitudes and values in the Muslim world."

Rizvi said Muslim reactions to Musharraf's call for enlightened moderation have been varied.

"It's a divided response. The extremists and hardliners are opposed to it," Rizvi said. "They describe this as an attempt to secularize the Muslim world. But other than the hardliners and extremists, these ideas are welcomed. Hard-liners are in a minority. But they are very organized, so they can create a lot of problems. But the majority of Muslims are welcoming these kinds of statements."

Musharraf concluded that ordinary Muslims, in the spirit of Islam, must now show resolve and rise above self-interest.