What's wrong with being called a 'moderate Muslim'? It has such a nice, calming ring to it; after all, moderate means not extreme. I should take it as a compliment that I'm being clearly distinguished from the terrorist gangs of the world.
Except...don't. It's really rather annoying.
First, 'moderate' is inherently a relative term. What's moderate to one is extreme to another - disagreement on what's moderate is frequent. It becomes merely a convenient label to say, "This is the level of religiosity I think is appropriate for you." Without guideposts to define what moderation is, the term is like a speed limit sign that says "Don't drive too fast."
Second, the term is redundant. Qur'an 2:143 says:
وَكَذَٲلِكَ جَعَلۡنَـٰكُمۡ أُمَّةً۬ وَسَطً۬ا
And We have made you a moderate nation...
The Arabic word وَسَطً۬ has three connotations: middle, moderate, and best. The concept of the middle being the best is something that transcends cultures and languages. China calls herself the "Middle Kingdom" - and the Chinese character for middle - 中 (zhong) - rather obviously depicts this. And in English "central" denotes "main" or "principal."
The historian Ali ibn Atheer relates that virtue is sandwiched between vices. For example, courage lies between recklessness and cowardice, and generosity lies between prodigality and stinginess. The Islamic concept of "moderation" does not exist in a vacuum. It is defined as virtuous, and avoids extremes.
A Muslim then, by definition, is moderate. This is how we understand and practice our faith. Anything that's not moderate is not Islamic. Terms like "Islamic terrorist" are misnomers: there is nothing Islamic about terrorism.
Labels shape narratives. Professional Islamophobes like Frank Gaffney & Co. rely on the narrative of a clash of civilizations, tweeting ridiculous hashtags like #CivilizationJihad. To them, a terrorist waving the black flag presents the perfect picture of "real Islam" in practice. Yes, they call them extremists (because their actions are extreme by any standard) but in this framework, the 'moderate' ones are merely watered-down extremists. Give 'em a push, and any one of them could be activated into a real Muslim terrorist. Mere days after Gaffney was appointed foreign policy advisor for Ted Cruz, Cruz started spouting nonsense about patrolling Muslim neighborhoods - relegating the faith of 1.6 billion to not much more than a gang - as if merely being Muslim is an accurate precursor to terroristic behavior.
No label is precise. They all have lexical limits, and it takes intellectual fortitude to remember this. I wrote once about three labels used by the anti-immigrant crowd: illegal alien, criminal alien, and anchor baby. Labels like these perpetuate the xenophobic narrative of immigrants as criminal, subhuman freeloaders, which makes them easy to exclude, malign, and hate.
Take a few moments and think about a term before you use it. Turn it over in your mind. Is it accurate? Would it apply in other situations? Does the argument for or against the term require one to make a logical fallacy?