As well as being Professor of Religion and International Affairs and of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University in Washington DC, John Esposito is also founding director of that University's Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
On the strength of these credentials, one might be tempted to suppose not only that Professor Esposito is an expert in Islam but also concerned to foster better understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims.
Perhaps, because these credentials of his project such an ostensibly benign and informed image of him that Gallup Organisation chose to appoint Professor Esposito to interpret for it the data it has gathered from a world-wode survey of predominantly Muslim countries as part of its World Poll.
This latter poll is an opinion survey which the Gallup web-site modestly describes as an ‘historical undertaking …to audit the well-being of the globe for the next hundred years'.
No less modest is Gallup's revelation on the same web-site that, as starting point for its World Poll, it has chosen to conduct ‘a study representing the hopes, dreams and fears of a billion Muslims'.
This survey of Muslim opinion world-wide is under the direction of Gallup's Muslim Studies director, a Ms Dalia Mogahed. One of her key areas of interest, according to the Gallup web-site, is ‘the depth of misunderstanding regarding religion and government between the Western and Islamic cultures'. Clearly, Ms Mogahed must be another person concerned to promote better understanding and relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, one might also be tempted to suppose.
Professor Esposito and Ms Mogahed were both quoted at some length in yesterday's Times in a news report by its religion correspondent, Ruth Gledhill, about the interim results of that Gallup survey of Muslim opinion world-wide.
What a travesty of good reporting that account turned out to be.
Under the head-line ‘Anti-American feelings soar as Muslim society is Radicalised by War on Terror', Ms Gledhill's news report about the surveys, which, incidentally, were undertaken in 2001, 2005 and 2006, begins with the bald assertion that: ‘The War on Terror has radicalised Muslims around the world to unprecedented levels of anti-American feeling.'
By way of illustrating the depths of alienation within the Muslim world the War on Terror has supposedly produced, Ms Gledhill reports that seven per cent of the 10,000 Muslims surveyed by Gallup in ten different, yet predominantly Muslim countries considered the events of 9/11 to have been "completely justified".
That is only a small minority of Muslims, one be tempted to think, until one remembers that, with a reputed world-wide Ummah of some one billion members, seven per cent of it weighs in at around 70 million Muslims world-wide who share this appalling opinion about September 11th.
Ms Gledhill goes on to report that the Gallup findings have led those involved there in the project to question conventional western opinion that the War Against Terror will only be won when ‘the Islamic world rejects radicalism'. She reports the Gallup researchers as claiming to the contrary that what the survey shows is that ‘Muslim radicals have more in common with their moderate brethren than is often assumed'. She then quotes Professor Esposito and Ms Mogahed as having stated that, whereas western pundits and politicians ‘often charge that religious fervour triggers radical and violent views…, the data say otherwise. There is no significant difference in religiosity between moderates and radicals.'
Ms Gledhill concludes her report by quoting a third Gallup researcher associated with the project. This is a Ms Genieve Abdo who is reported to have said about the results of the survey: ‘We have to assume that … Islamic parties and movements [such as Hamas] that are coming to power are popular and have a large constituency.'
Clearly, the message for the West that the Gallup researchers claim is contained in the results of the survey of Muslim opinion is that Western action against Islamist terror organisations has only served to harden Muslim opinion against the West and make Muslims more radical and sympathetic towards the likes of Al Qaeda. Such a claim carries the clear implication that, if the West wishes to improve its standing in the eyes of Muslims world-wide and reduce the threat of Islamist terror, it needs to back off from confronting the Islamists militarily, as it has been doing ever since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Aghanistan in late 2001.
The thesis that the West has brought about Muslim hostility towards it by its own militancy towards Muslims is not new. Nor is it made particularly convincing by the evidence allegedly adduced on its behalf by the survey.
It is certainly not new, having been purveyed by Muslim quasi-apologists for bin Laden as early as 2002. Thus, for example, in a book published in that same year entitled Bin Laden, Islam and America's "War on Terrorism" , the Lebanese-born American academic As'ad Abukhaklil claims that:
‘What Americans must understand is that all rhetorical devices of the [Bush] administration evaporate in the face of civilian Muslims killed by U.S. bombs… To a large degree, the forces that drive followers of figures like bin Laden into being are the death and suffering of people, directly or indirectly, by the United States and allies it dominates. Changing these policies… would create a context for peace and security which cannot be achieved through military campaigns.' (pp.84-5)
This thesis is made no more intellectually compelling by the results of the Gallup survey than, as we have seen, it is a novel one. To claim it to be derivable from the increased levels of Muslim antipathy towards America and the West allegedly revealed by the survey seems a classic case of the fallacy post hoc, propter hoc: Because something follows something else in time, the later event must have been caused by the earlier one.
If Muslim attitudes towards the West have hardened since George Bush and Tony Blair declared war on terror in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, there is no reason to think they have done so because of the action these western leaders took in the name of carrying that war to those whom they perceive to be the West's enemy. The worldwide radicalisation of Muslim opinion may well have occurred anyway. Moreover, even if it would not have done, there is no reason to think that the West had any other or better alternative, after that fateful day, than to confront and defeat the jihadists, as it is currently seeking to do.
Over and above the inherent weakness of the way that the findings of the Gallup survey have been interpreted as reported by the Times, there are several aspects about its report about these findings and their interpretation that are profoundly disturbing, given the report to have been filed by that newspaper's religion correspondent.
It is incontrovertible that, ever since 1979. there has been a steady radicalisation of Muslim opinion and attitudes worldwide. Much of it has been deliberately whipped up through Saudi-funded Wahhabi-oriented mosques and madrassas that have been established since that time, in south Asia in particular and in the Muslim world more generally. Some of this Saudi-money has also found its way into support for Islamist terror organisations, as has some into endowing Wahhabi-friendly centres of Islamic studies in western Universities, as well as funding other very extreme Muslim lobby groups throughout the western world.
We are not talking small potatoes here. In his absolutely must-read book published last year entitled God's Terroroists: The Wahhabi Cult and the Hidden Roots of Modern Jihad, historian Charles Allen notes that ‘it has been said that since 1979 the Wahhabi Establishment has committed an estimated seventy billion dollars to Islamist missionary work, "ranging from the funding of some 10,000 madrassas in Pakistan to the construction of thousands of mosques and seminaries and community centers all over the Muslim and Western worlds"'. (p. 277)
Among the most generous and active of these Saudi Wahhabist benefactors in the West during this time has been Prince Alwaleed bin Talel. Among the several centres for Islamic Studies in western universities for whose creation his largesse has been responsible one is at Harvard University to whom he gave $20 million for purposes of its construction. Another is at Georgetown University to whom he gave another $20 million. Upon receipt of that money, Georgetown changed the name of its former centre of Islamic Studies to the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talil Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
Guess who is the director of that Centre? Yes, none other than John Esposito, the man who claims the Gallup survey findings show that America has brought Muslim hatred upon itself by its hostile activities against Islamist terrorists.
This Prince Alwaleed is the same Saudi Prince whose proffered gift of $10 million to the Twin Towers Fund for victims of 9/11 in 2001 the then New York Mayor Rudolph Guilliani refused because, at the same time as its offer, the Prince had also urged the US to re-examine its Middle East policies and ‘adopt a more balanced stance towards the Palestinian cause'.
It is also the same Prince Alwaleed who contributed $27 million to a Saudi-government-organised telethon broadcast on April 1 2002. This raised over $109 million, ostensibly in support of the families of Palestinian suicide-bombers and towards re-building infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza destroyed by the Israelis in their anti-terror campaign. According to a report about the telethon posted on the Free Republic website, however, documents siezed by the Israelis from the West Bank and Gaza since then ‘clearly show', that ‘ it was considered as "blood money", used by Hamas as an enticement to murder by providing a guaranteed income to the families of the murderers'.
According to that same report: ‘The telethon was hosted by a prominent Saudi-government cleric … who took the opportunity of the live television coverage to harangue an audience at a Riyah mosque against America'. He is quoted as having said on that occasion: ‘ I am against America until this life ends, until the Day of Judgment…. She is the root of all evils and wickedness on Earth.'
This publicly aired anti-American diatribe, broadcast across the Muslim world, was delivered, to repeat, in April 2002. It was by no means unusual either then or since.
For example, in June 2002, Fox News reported that a Saudi television station ‘beamed world-wide to hundreds of millions of Muslims' had broadcast an address by the imam of the Mosque at Mecca in which, after calling Jews ‘pigs and monkeys', had gone on to state that: ‘The idol worshipping Hindus indulge in their open hatred against our brothers and sanctities in Muslim Kashmir… Their course is supported by the advocates of credit and worshippers of the Cross, as well as those who are infatuated with them and influenced by their rotten ideas and poisonous culture among the advocates of secularism and Westernisation.'
The point is that, ever since 9/11 and even before then, the Muslim world has been undergoing a process of radicalisation that has had precious little to do with Western counter-terrorism, as suggested by the Gallup survey and which the Times correspondent seems to have swallowed absolutely uncritically, without so much as a hint to her readers that those conducting this research and interpreting its results might have a vested interest in spinning its findings in a certain way.
If it is down to humble bloggers such as I to uncover the truth about such matters rather than professional mainstream journalists, then all I can say is that, apart from signalling the end of a once great newspaper, this fact does not bode well for those committed to engaging in the battle of ideas in the war against Islamist terror.
Oh, by the way, it was reported yesterday on the Atlas Shrugs website that Prince Alwaleed has just donated $50 million to the American Muslim lobby group CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. In some way, CAIR is very similar in the USA in terms of the image it projects there to our own MCB here. It claims to speak for all Muslims in the country in which it is based, but has very slender credentials for so doing. Meanwhile, like MCB, CAIR espouses some very immoderate views. In the case of CAIR, they run to its having campaigned in October 1988 against a Los Angeles billboard that had described Osama bin Laden as "the sworn enemy" and which CAIR claimed to be "offensive to Muslims". It deemed the conviction of the perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing as "a travesty of justice" and called the conviction of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman a "hate-crime", among many other such extremist statements. Prince Alwaleed can hardly be unaware of the extremist outlook of the organisation to which he has just reportedly given $50 million.
As I said at the start, with friends like the Prince and the Professor whom he bankrolls, who needs enemies?