Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think
John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed
Gallup Press, 2008
A new book by John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed
ought to have a profound and transforming influence on Americans' view of their
government's confrontation with Islam. The book, Who
Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, presents the
results of six years of Gallup polling in the Muslim world between 2001 and
2007. "With the random sampling method that Gallup used," the authors
explain, "results are statistically valid with a plus or minus 3-point
margin of error. In totality, we surveyed a sample representing more than 90%
of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims, making this the largest, most comprehensive
study of contemporary Muslims ever done" (xi). Based on this data, Esposito
and Mogahed have determined that Washington's conflict with Islam is "more
about policy than principle" (xi). The pivotal findings of this massive
study for U.S. national security pertain to the motivation of the Muslims who
oppose the United States and the authors' claim that "[o]ne of the most
important insights provided by Gallup's data is that the issues that drive radicals
are also issues for moderates" (93).
- "As we have seen in the [Gallup] data, resentment against the West
comes from what Muslims perceive as the West's hatred and denigration of Islam;
the Western belief that Arabs and Muslim are inferior; and their [Muslims']
fear of Western intervention, domination, or occupation" (141).
- "As our [Gallup's] data has demonstrated, the primary cause of broad-based
anger and anti-Americanism is not a clash of civilizations but the perceived
effect of U.S. foreign policy in the Muslim world" (156).
- "[The Gallup data shows that] contrary to what the 'They Hate Our Freedom'
thesis might predict, Muslims do not recommend or insist upon changes to Western
culture or social norms as the path to better [Western-Muslim] relations.
… Rather they call on the West to show greater respect for Islam, and they
emphasize policy-related issues [U.S. interventionism; unqualified support
for Israel; and protection for authoritarian Arab regimes]" (159).
and over again, Esposito and Mogahed show the nearly complete absence among
Muslims of a desire to destroy America's equality of opportunity, liberties,
or democracy. Indeed, the Gallup data show that these are the aspects of U.S.
society that Muslims most admire. "[T]he sentiments of vast majorities
of those [Muslims] surveyed," the authors write, "[show] they admire
the West's political freedoms and they value and desire greater self-determination"
(31). But, of equal importance, Muslims do not believe that greater democracy
and self-determination in the Muslim world require a Western-like separation
of church and state. "Poll data show," Esposito and Mogahed explain,
"that large majorities of respondents in the countries surveyed cite the
equal importance of Islam and democracy as essential to the quality of their
lives and the future progress of the Muslim world" (35). And, again, these
findings are common to those the authors refer to as moderates and radicals,
as well as to male and female respondents (48).
The Gallup data also show that Muslims make a keen distinction between modernity
and Westernization. The surveys found that Muslims have a profound respect and
admiration for the West's technology and for its work ethic; both are regarded
as tools of modernity and avenues of social and economic progress for Muslims
(p. 97). Having presented this finding, however, the authors warn it must not
be taken as eagerness for Westernization. "[W]hile acknowledging and admiring
many aspects of Western democracy," the authors write," those [Muslims]
surveyed do not favor wholesale adoption of Western models of democracy … few
respondents associate 'adopting Western values' with Muslim political and economic
progress." Perhaps the most counterintuitive result of the Gallup data
for Western readers will be findings that the ostensibly degraded cultural
status of women in the West is one of the things most despised by Muslims
of both genders (110) ; that "the data simply do not support the persistent
popular perception in the West that Muslim women can't wait to be liberated
from their culture and adopt the ways of the West" (110); and that there
are no "systemic differences in many [Muslim] countries between males and
females in their support for Sharia as the only source of legislation"
The work of Esposito and Mogahed establishes a solid empirical base for refuting
the contentions of U.S. political leaders in both parties that "Muslims
hate us for who we are not for what we do." But will it do the trick? Previously,
Robert Pape's empirical study Dying
to Win: The Logic of Suicide Terrorism demonstrated that U.S. intervention
in the Muslim world is a key generator of suicide attacks on U.S. interests,
and Marc Sageman's quantitative study Understanding
Terror Networks politely shredded our leaders' claims that poverty,
illiteracy, and unemployment cause terrorism – but the they-hate-our-freedoms
chorus still chants on. Indeed, after these books were written, Norman
Podhoretz and George Weigel published neoconservative tomes that not only ignored
the work of Pape and Sageman, but also scourged their countrymen for being too
stupid to see that all U.S. interventions abroad are saintly and only medieval
Islamofascists could oppose them. On no other foreign policy issue since the
Cold War's end has the truth been so easy to establish on the basis of hard
facts but so hard for Americans to see – primarily because their leaders eagerly
distort or ignore the truth.
The reality accurately presented by Esposito, Mogahed, Pape, and Sageman –
as well as by Dr. Ron Paul – has never eluded Osama bin Laden, however. Five
years before Gallup even started collecting its data, bin Laden knew that U.S.
foreign policy effectively united the Muslim world's moderates and radicals
in anti-U.S. hatred, and that when he defied Washington and attacked U.S. interests
because of those policies he both drew and grew support for his jihad against
America. The conclusions of my own books about bin Laden's thinking, words,
and actions – which are largely corroborated by the findings of Who Speaks
for Islam? – make it clear beyond a doubt that al-Qaeda's chief knows precisely
what will sell wildly in the Muslim world and unite his brethren, as well as
what will be rejected outright by U.S. leaders, with disastrous consequences
Unfortunately, then, it seems unlikely that the fine book Who Speaks for
Islam? will attract the attention, let alone change the mind, of any senior
U.S. political leader. Under either party, Washington will maintain its now
40-year-old foreign policy status quo; it will keep intervening in the Muslim
world; and it will continue telling Americans they are hated for who they are,
not for what their government does. Ultimately, our bipartisan political elite
will turn the United States into one enormous Israel, lethally deaf to the realities
of our struggle with Islamists; arrogantly confidant of its pure intent and
sure knowledge of God's will; and utterly dependent on inadequate military and
intelligence options to fight a rising tide of hatred among 1.3 billion Muslims.