BOOK REVIEW: Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think (Esposito & Mogahed)
by Abdul Cader Asmal
Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think. John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed. Gallup Press, 2008, 230 pp.
The response to a rhetorical question we posed in the op-ed column of the Boston Globe in 2002, “Who Speaks for Islam?”, arrived in 2008 as, “What a Billion Muslims Really Think.” Based on the results of a Gallup Poll -billed as ‘the largest study of its kind’- John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed have written a monograph that presents a critical analysis of the worldwide views of Muslims on the subjects of ‘terrorism’ in general, the ‘global war on terror’, on a non-monolithic ‘West’, and their perception of how the ‘West’ views them. It also includes the impressions of segments of the non-Muslim American population about both their fellow Muslim Americans, and of Islam in general.
For those few who found the events of 9/11 a convenient pretext to racinate Islam, mutilate its cultural heritage to Western civilisation, and reduce Muslim countries to serfdoms of Western imperialism there is nothing in the book that will change their neocon agenda that wants to promote such a clash of civilisations. But for the majority of those who are deeply anguished by the radicalisation of our world by the ‘jihadi-crusader’ escalation of rhetoric and mayhem generated by both Muslim and neocon fascists, there is a tremendous amount of new objective evidence that demonstrates that there is no basis for ongoing antipathy between Islam and the so-called ‘West’.
In a critical review of the book, Michael Scheuer a distinguished retired one time head of the Osama Ben Laden Unit at the CIA, and himself a noted author with such books as ‘Imperial Hubris’ Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, and “Marching Toward Hell”, selects important excerpts from Esposito’s book to highlight the feelings of Muslims in the wake of 911. I have reproduced them because of their pivotal significance. “Resentment against the West comes from what Muslims perceive as the West’s hatred and denigration of Islam; the Western belief that Arabs and Muslims are inferior; and their(Muslims’) fear of Western intervention,domination or occupation”.141
” The primary cause of broad-based anger and anti-Americanism is not a clash of civilisations but the perceived effects of U.S. foreign policy in the Muslim world.“156
” 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’ 159. “Large majorities of respondents in the countries surveyed cite the equal importance of Islam and democracy as essential to their quality of lives and the future progress of the Muslim world’ 35.
In the conclusion of his critique entitled, “A Book Americans Must Read Before Time Runs Out”, Scheuer notes with bitter cynism, “It is unlikely that the fine book ‘Who Speaks for Islam’ will attract the attention, let alone change the mind, of any senior US political leader”. This he predicts will lead ultimately to a ” US arrogantly confident 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 hate among 1.3billion Muslims.”
That ‘time is running out’ underscores the gravity of Scheuer’s critique. Despite his pessimism perhaps if the public at large truly recognized that more than 90% of the Muslim world bears no animosity toward the West, but that all it expects is respect for its traditional values and the hand of rapprochement, their mercenary politicians might not be so bellicose toward Muslims. The message that Esposito and Mogahed have so diligently brought out should not be allowed to end up in the wastebin of history. It behooves the rest of us as Muslims and Americans who are uniquely poised to appreciate that there is no irreconcilability between Islam and democracy or American values to pick up their meticulously crafted manuscript and disseminate it throughout this land. Esposito and Mogahed have given us all, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, an opportunity to view each other in a new light through the lenses of each others fears and prejudices. It is an opportunuity that we as Muslims and Americans should not squander. We should each read this book for our personal edification and share it with our friends, neighbors and coworkers. We should individually and collectively ensure that in each of our local communities or Islamic centers we distribute copies of this book to our libraries, clergy, colleges and schools. And finally we should urge our leading national organisations such as ISNA , MAS and CAIR to make available this resource to everyone in our Administration, State and Defence Departments, all our Congressmen and Senators, Governors and State legislators and all involved with Homeland Security and Civil Rights Protection, because as Scheuer warns ‘time is running out’ - for the futures of all of our children .
If respect is what Muslims want, it is respect they will need to earn. Respect is not gained by the mindless carnage of innocent human beings, or by the threat of the barrel of a gun or a replay of a babarous ‘shock and awe’, or the chicanery at the ballot box, or the deployment of the ultimate weapon of mass devastation - the oil embargo. It is earned by revealing the truth. For what it is worth to non-Muslims Esposito and Mogahed have revealed the truth about Muslims to the rest of the world. Whether it accepts or rejects the truth is its call. But it is the responsibility of every Muslim to ensure that the truth be known. Because every Muslim, not just the extremist, speaks for Islam!