Middle East studies in the News
With Friends Like Esposito…. [on John Esposito]
by Alathea Faraday
When a terrorist organization associated with millions of radicals declares war on our country, we might expect that our enemies will spread deceitful propoganda while our friends will put forward the most truthful information possible to aid us in understanding what we're up against. Right now, it's crucial we understand who the radical Muslims are, what they believe, what motivates them, and how many there are. It does not help for Western scholars and commentators to deceive us about these important topics.
As a case in point, John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed have coauthored the book, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, which reports on world-wide polling of Muslims done by Gallup. Gallup's polling is described by Esposito and Mogahed as "six years of research and more than 50,000 interviews representing 1.3 billion Muslims who reside in more than 35 nations that are predominantly Muslim or have sizable Muslim populations. Representing more than 90% of the world's Muslim community, this poll is the largest, most comprehensive study of its kind."
What Is a Radical?
At a luncheon hosted by the Washington Institute, Dalia Mogahed made some interesting admissions. To be brief, it appears Esposito and Mogahed have cooked the numbers. To determine who was a Muslim radical, they used responses to two questions from Gallup's polling. To be considered radical, a Muslim would need to answer both questions in a "radical" manner. They would have to say the 9/11 attacks were "completely justified" and they would need to have an unfavorable view of the US.
However, it appears the authors changed their criteria for what constitutes a radical from their original plan, in a way that skewed the data to create the appearance of less radicalism. In an article published before the book was released, they explain their criteria for who is a radical and who is a moderate:
"Note: Respondents who said 9/11 was unjustified (1 or 2 on a 5-point scale, where 1 is totally unjustified and 5 is completely justified) are classified as moderates. Respondents who said 9/11 was justified (4 or 5 on the same scale) are classified as radicals."
Of course, this means the 3's would be neither radical nor moderate, which is unexplained, but that's not the worst of it.
In the recent Washington Institute luncheon, Mogahed tells another story. For the book, only those who said the attacks were "completely justified" (the 5's on the 5-point scale) are classified as radicals, which accounts for 7% of the Muslims surveyed. Those who said the attacks were "largely justified" (the 4's on the 5-point scale) are now classified as moderates. They accounted for another 6.5%. Another 23.1% said the attacks were "in some way justified". These are, presumably, the 3's. So, altogether, 36.6% thought the attacks were justified to some degree. Of these, 13.5% (176 million people) would have been called "radical" by their original definition, and only 7% (91 million people) by their final definition. None of this 36.6% would have been considered "moderate" by their original definition, and 29.6% (385 million people) by their new definition.
Even Mogahed, co-author, admits at the luncheon this is not accurate: "Yes, we can say that a Four is not that moderate . . . I don't know. . . .You are writing a book, you are trying to come up with terminology people can understand. . . . You know, maybe it wasn't the most technically accurate way of doing this, but this is how we made our cluster-based analysis." This is an astonishing admission from a co-author.
Here are the numbers (as best I can know them) in chart form. I have not found any report of the distinction between 1's and 2's, so I'll lump them together as Esposito and Mogahed did in their earlier article:
What About Undecided Muslims?
Since Esposito and Mogahed did not provide complete polling data in their book, and some information is also missing from the luncheon report, there are still some unknowns. Normally, polling data includes some percentage of respondants who don't know or are undecided. Where are these people accounted for in this study? Are they left out of the numbers altogether? Or have the authors assumed that those who haven't made up their mind about this question are all "moderate"? Because we do know the numbers have been cooked in other ways to create the appearance of fewer radicals and more moderates, it's possible that either the 1's or 2's are actually undecided, yet are counted as "moderate". This is pure speculation, of course. It would be helpful if we knew exactly how the 1's and 2's responded to the question, and how many there were.
Evidently, although Esposito and Mogahed have reported a specific percentage of radicals (7%), they have not reported anywhere the actual percentage of people they call "moderates". The closest they come is a statement that "about 9 in 10 Muslims are moderates" (p. 97). The media has been assuming that everyone not counted as radical is moderate, which would be 93%. But because the undecided Muslims are not accounted for, we can't make this assumption.
It would also be very interesting to know what percentage of persons approached by pollsters refused to participate at all. It would be a very different scenario if it was 5% or if it was 50%. It's quite possible there could be a higher percentage of "radicals" among the non-responders than among the responders.
What About Peaceful Islamists: Aren't They Also Radical?
Here are some things most sane Western people would consider to be "radical" under ordinary circumstances:
However, all of the above could describe a Muslim, and he could hate the US to boot, yet he would still be considered "moderate" by Esposito and Mogahed, so long as he only thought the 9/11 attacks were "largely justified" (but not "completely justified"). Of course, there are Muslims who do not have any of the views listed above, but those who have several of these radical views should certainly be considered "radical".
Here are some additional inaccuracies in the book, pointed out in The Weekly Standard:
"Take the very definition of ‘Islam.' From Karen Armstrong to Bernard Lewis–and that's a pretty broad range–virtually every scholar of note (and many who aren't) has translated the term ‘Islam' as ‘submission to God.' But ‘submission' evidently sounds off-putting to the American ear, so Esposito and Mogahed offer a different, more melodious translation–'a strong commitment to God'–that has a ring to it of everything but accuracy."
"Twice… they cite as convincing evidence for their argument poll data from ‘the ten most populous majority Muslim countries,' which they then list as including Jordan and Lebanon, tiny states that don't even rank in the top 25 of Muslim majority countries. Twice they say their 10 specially polled countries collectively comprise 80 percent of the world Muslim population; in fact, the figure is barely 60 percent.
Here's a description by Hillel Fradkin of the lack of specificity in the book:
"So who does speak for Islam? Apparently, Esposito and Mogahed do. For the book does not actually present the poll. It provides a very small and partial account of the responses to some questions, but fails to include even one table or chart of data. It does not even provide a clear list of the questions that were asked. The appendix, where one might expect to find questionnaires, charts, and tables, provides only a short narrative discussion of Gallup's sampling techniques and general mode of operation."
What Is Esposito's Agenda?
John Esposito's bio is worth reading. He clearly has the credentials to indicate a supreme mastery of his subject, and he is one of the most influential experts on Islam today. He knows what he's talking about. Therefore I cannot escape the conclusion that the obvious flaws in his reporting of Islam indicate not honest mistakes, but deliberate deception to further an agenda. In fact, his agenda is not well-hidden.
In an excerpt of their book, Esposito and Mogahed write:
"Did Muslims react so strongly [to the Mohammed cartoons] because they did not understand or believe in freedom of speech? Gallup's data, which demonstrate Muslim admiration for Western liberty and freedom of speech, indicate otherwise. The core issues of this apparent clash, or ‘culture war,' are not democracy and freedom of expression, but faith, identity, respect (or lack of it), and public humiliation. As France's Grand Rabbi Joseph Sitruk observed in The Associated Press in the midst of the cartoon controversy: ‘We gain nothing by lowering religions, humiliating them and making caricatures of them. It's a lack of honesty and respect.' He further noted that freedom of expression ‘is not a right without limits.'
This is not a neutral statement, but one reflecting bias against freedom of expression. Evidently, the authors favor letting Musims decide what non-Muslims can or can't say about Islam. Since Islam has a political side to it, this is equivalent to letting communists decide what can or can't be said about communism. This has already been tried, with unfavorable results.
Another excerpt reveals another bias. This one addresses the fact that in most Muslim countries, a majority want Sharia to be at least one source of law: "Ironically, we don't have to look far from home to find a significant number of people who want religion as a source of law. In the United States, a 2006 Gallup Poll indicates that a majority of Americans want the Bible as a source of legislation."
This implies equivalence between American Christians who want the Bible as a source of law, and Muslims wanting Sharia as a source of law. Anyone making such an equivalence would need to account for the following facts:
These facts indicate that, regardless of Esposito's ability to cook numbers, there is a vast gulf between the current state of Christianity and Islam. All of the examples above are examples of Sharia. There are also other indications of Esposito's agenda.
John Esposito is the founding director of the Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, which has received "$20 million of funding from Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal", as noted in Martin Kramer's Sandbox Blog. Are the Saudis getting their money's worth?
It's understandable that our enemies would paint a deceptive picture of Islam and of the Muslim world. But what's John Esposito's excuse?
Disclaimer: I have not read the book in question, and am relying on reviews here, as well as excerpts published by the authors. If I have made any error resulting in any inaccuracy, I welcome corrections, so long as page numbers (or links) and quotes are included.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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