By Patricia H. Kushlis
Earlier this month, a friend recommended one “must read” book for inclusion in a short list of books and other materials on the Muslim world for a hand out at a recent symposium the World Affairs Forum held in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The symposium was entitled “Meeting Minds with the Muslim World” and was conducted on a “non-attribution” basis.
The “must-read” book was Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think by John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed. It was published in 2007 by Gallup Publishers and it should be at the top of the reading lists for all three U.S. presidential candidates, their advisors as well as American voters, the vast majority of who desperately need far more accurate information about Muslims and the Islamic world than the US media normally provides.
Short, well organized, timely and an easy read
Who Speaks for Islam? is mercifully short (184 pages). It is well organized and easy to read. Its findings are a distillation of reams of first rate data collected by the Gallup organization between 2001 and 2007 in hour long, face-to-face interviews using open-ended questions with tens of thousands of “residents of more than 35 nations that are predominantly Muslim or have substantial Muslim populations.” As I understand it, the book confirms the results of numerous – but far less comprehensive - opinion surveys conducted by other western survey research organizations over the same period.
These results presented in Who Speaks for Islam? explode virtually every assertion about the Islamic world and Muslim views of the West that the Bush administration has promulgated since 9/11 to justify its controversial policies in the Middle East.
Islam’s Silenced Majority: the “clash of civilizations” is a canard
First, according to Who Speaks for Islam?, there is no “inevitable clash of civilizations.”
Sorry Professor Huntington, I’ve also never agreed with your overly simplistic and often inaccurate divisions of the post Cold War world on questionably-drawn religious/ethnic grounds. This includes your monolithic characterization of the Islamic world. In Who Speaks for Islam?, Esposito and Mogahed demonstrate that a majority of the world’s approximately 1.3 billion Muslims do, in fact, value democracy and human rights. So, Mr. Bush, pray tell, where is the “inevitable clash of civilizations” based on irreconcilable differences of values upon which you have based our foreign policy for the past seven years?
Most Muslims do not hate the West, or the US, because of our values – despite what Mr. Bush and his neoconservative supporters at the American Enterprise Institute and other rightwing think tanks continue to attempt to shove down our throats through various media outlets – the problem is most Muslims object to America’s not living up to those values. This begins with human rights abuses at Abu Graib and Guantanamo, the administration’s covert rendition and discriminatory visa policies and moves on to its ill-considered invasion of Iraq coupled with unconditional support for a greater Israel.
The Gallup data also tell us that there are major differences between how Muslims view the West. Just as we should - but too often do not - recognize that the Islamic “world” is far from monolithic, the majority of Muslims realize that there are major differences between France and Germany, for instance, and the US. France and Germany come out far ahead because of American unilateralism based on the Bush administration’s militaristic approach to the world, in particular the invasion of Iraq and the administration’s one-sided support for a greater Israel’s domination of the Middle East.
War against whom? Against what?
As importantly, Who Speaks for Islam? debunks the Bush administration’s implicit, if not explicit, equation of Islam with terrorism. The Gallup survey demonstrates conclusively that most Muslims abhor terrorism. The book tells us that most terrorist acts committed in the name of Islam are directed against other Muslims. And it points out that Muslims who become suicide-terrorists are normally not deeply religious, e.g. they are motivated by other factors. Almost all – as indicated in Robert Pape’s comprehensive study of suicidal terrorist acts since 1980 – are reactions to perceptions of foreign occupation and colonialism, or more accurately neo-colonialism. This ranges from Lebanon to the West Bank and extends to Kashmir, Chechnya and Sri Lanka.
Sharia Law, the head scarf issue and the women
The Gallup data also indicates that differences are minimal between the attitudes of Muslim men and Muslim women with respect to support for Sharia Law as a basis for national legal codes or, for that matter, to female attire and treatment of women in Muslim majority countries and societies. These are complicated, intertwined socio-political-legal-religious issues as Esposito and Mogahed explain. To obtain the comprehensive attitudinal information from women of all socio-economic levels throughout the Muslim world Gallup trained and sent local female interviewers into Muslims homes to obtain women’s views. This had never been done before – or at least not on this scale. It was an expensive proposition and only made possible through Gallup’s willingness to commit $40 million to the project.
Before calling this book a day, I strongly recommend reading Appendices A and B which describe – in laypersons terms – the methodology behind the survey and the ways in which the data was analyzed for presentation in this book. This, in my view, helps underscore its considerable authority. I could, however, have done without the short summary or key points at the end of each of the book’s main chapters. They are trivial, sophomoric and unnecessary.
John L. Esposito & Dalia Mogahed, Who Speaks for Islam? What A Billion Muslims Really Think, Gallup Press, 2007