While on the debating circuit pounding atheists--a pastime I am really getting to enjoy--I have just started reading Dalia Mogahed and John Esposito's Who Speaks for Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think. It's one of the first books to put some real data behind a much-disputed question.
For several years now liberal and conservative pundits have been pontificating about the Muslim world, usually without a shred of data. I was amused last year to cross swords with some of my fellow conservatives like Scott Johnson and Victor Davis Hanson. These ideologues seem of the opinion that the average Muslim is a crazed polygamist who is ready to blow himself up. No surprise: this is supposedly what Muslims all learn in the school where they read nothing but the Koran! Only pundits who have no exposure to Muslim countries, Muslim history and Muslim people can go on like this.
For such gurus, Islam itself is the problem and nothing short of an Islamic Reformation headed by ex-Muslims like Hirsi Ali and will show the Muslim world where it has gone wrong over the past five centuries. I admire Ali and sympathize with her hardships, but how likely is it that Muslims will follow a woman who the author of a book titled Infidel? In Christianity, the Reformation was led by a devout Martin Luther and not by skeptics and freethinkers like Hume or Voltaire.
Practical difficulties aside, we often forget the simple fact that Islam has been around for 1300 years and Islamic terrorism has been around for a few decades. Yes, one can find isolated instances in Islamic history of fanatical groups like the Assassins, but these are hardly typical of the Islamic regimes that have ruled for centuries. The intelligent questions to ask are, what is it about Islam today that has made it an incubator of radicalism and terrorism? And second, what do most Muslims really think about the West?
Fortunately there is an increasing body of reliable data on Muslim beliefs. One source is the World Values Survey, which has the benefit of tracking opinions over a period of decades. Another is the Gallup surveys which are now under the aegis of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, a group headed by Mogahed. Esposito is one of the most respected American authorities on Islam. I am only getting into their book, but here I offer my own hypothesis, and then I'm going to find out if their data vindicate it.