John Esposito is the leading voice today for those who think the likes of Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis make far too much of the religious and cultural differences between the West and the Islamic world.
Esposito, the founding director of Georgetown University's Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, has written over thirty books on Islam. The latest is Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think which he co-authored with Dalia Mogahed, executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. The book draws on an extensive and wide-ranging six-year effort by Gallup to poll and interview tens of thousands of Muslims in over thirty-five countries with Muslim majorities or substantial minorities, which the authors claim represents "more than 90 percent of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims."
In a devastating review of the book in the Weekly Standard, Robert Satloff poses what might seem to be a rather straightforward question: How many of these 1.3 billion Muslims might fairly be labeled "radicals? The question is rather straightforward but the answers are rather slippery.
Esposito and Mogahed claimed that only 7 percent of Muslims are really radicals – or at least, "politically radicalized," as the authors prefer to call them – because only 7 percent of those polled told Gallup that the 9/11 attacks were "completely justified." Who Speaks for Muslims tries to convince readers that the other 93 percent are "moderate" folks like the rest of us, so we shouldn't pay any head to alarmist concerns about the Muslim world.
Satloff finds it odd that "neither the text nor the appendix includes the full data to a single question from any survey taken by Gallup over the entire six-year period of its World Poll initiative." After investigating things for himself, he noticed a 2005 issue of Foreign Policy, in which Esposito and Mogahed reveal that Gallup sought a response to Muslim views of the 9/11 attacks ranging along a scale of one to five, with "ones" saying that the 9/11 attacks were "totally unjustified" and "fives" responding that they were "completely justified." Responses in the middle ranged from saying the 9/11 attacks were "partly," "somewhat," or "largely" justified.
It turns out that 6.5 percent told Gallup that 9/11 was "largely justified." According to Esposito and Mogahed, these folks are "moderates," along with another 23.1 percent of respondents—300 million Muslims—who told pollsters the attacks were in some way justified.
Satloff notes that in the earlier Foreign Policy article, the authors had labeled as "radical" not only the Fives (7 percent) but also the Fours who told the pollsters that the 9/11 attacks were "largely justified" (6.5 percent). But in the book, only the Fives got the label "politically radicalized," and the Fours who said the attacks were "largely justified" got lumped with the moderates.
When pressed to explain this at a public event sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where Satloff serves as Executive Director, Mogahed responded:
Yes, we lumped these two [Fours and Fives] and did our analysis. When we had enough data to really see when things broke away, here's what we found: Fives looked very different from the Fours, and Ones through Fours looked similar….And so the Fives looked very different; they broke, they clustered away, and Ones through Fours clustered together. And that is how we decided to break them apart and decided how we were to define "politically radicalized" for our research.
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.
So, according to Esposito and Mogahed, a Muslim who thinks 9/11 was "largely justified" has more in common with a Muslim who thinks 9/11 was "totally unjustified" than he does with a Muslim who thinks 9/11 was "completely justified." Satloff respond:
Mogahed publicly admitted they knew certain people weren't moderates but they still termed them so. She and Esposito cooked the books and dumbed down the text. Apparently, by the authors' own test, there are not 91 million radicals in Muslim societies but almost twice that number…. To paraphrase Mogahed, maybe it wasn't the most technically accurate way of doing this, but their neat solution seems to have been to redefine 78 million people off the rolls of radicals.
Esposito has a funny notion of moderate; he also has a funny notion of peace. In his book Islam: The Straight Path, he tells us that Muslim expansion resulted "not only from armed conquest" but also from offering other communities what he calls "the two peaceful options." The first is conversion—"full membership in the Muslim community, with its rights and duties" —and the other is "acceptance of Muslim rule as ‘protected' people and payment of a poll tax."
So, if conquering Muslims say, "two other options: either convert to Islam or experience subjugation and Dhimmitude" Esposito would say they're acting peacefully. To me, that sounds as peaceful as the infamous "offer you can't refuse": If you don't like either option, you're in tough luck.
Mogaded said their decision to limit the term "politically radicalized" because the "fives" who said 9/11 was completely justified "looked distinctly different from the Fours." I suppose so, but it's also true that the mugger who sticks a gun in your back and says, "Your money or your life," looks distinctly different from one who just shoots without asking. Certainly neither are peaceable or moderate.
No doubt an offer of subjugation and Dhimmitude is less reprehensible than death. And those who call the 9/11 attacks "largely justified" are less reprehensible than those who consider it "completely justified." But if Esposito and Mogaded mean to tell us who speaks for Islam, the vocal distinction between these two groups at least bears a mention.