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Who Speaks For Islam

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Who Speaks for Islam, written by John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed, is one of the most important books on the War on Terror. In the seven years since 9/11, we have been subjected to all kinds of ignorant pontification--much of it from the left, but some also from the right--on "why they hate us." This book, written by a leading scholar of Islam and the head of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, brings a wealth of real data to bear on this important subject.


The book is full of fascinating data on Islamic radicalism, on Muslim support for democracy, on the role of women, and on the values of Western popular culture. At first glance the results seem confusing: An overwhelming majority of Muslims rejects 9/11 style terrorism but a significant number of Muslims support the Palestine suicide bombers. Huge majorities of Muslims support democracy but reject the Western understanding of rights and liberty. In fact, a substantial majority of Muslims--including Muslim women--support some form of sharia or Islamic holy law. Most Muslim women want equal rights but even champions of those rights emphatically reject Western-style feminism.

What's going on here? Esposito and Mogahed argue that traditional Muslims, who make up the bulk of Muslims in every Muslim country, strongly identify with the Western principles of rule of law, self-government, and religious toleration. In fact, their main critique of America is that, as they see it, America backs secular dictators in the Muslim world who deny to Muslims the rights that are taken for granted by Americans. Many Muslims who back Hamas do so because they see the group as fighting for Muslim self-rule.

On the other hand, Muslims reject what may be termed 1960s liberalism. They reject the shamelessness and frequent depravity of American popular culture. They reject the type of feminism that relinquishes the home in favor of careers. They are resolutely anti-abortion. They consider homosexual marriage to be an abomination. Rather than import these "alternative lifestyles" into their society, Muslims want to live according to their own traditional values and elect their own governments that will defend Muslim interests.


Esposito and Mogahed shrewdly note that the values of traditional Muslims worldwide are very similar to the values of traditional Jews and Christians in the West. For instance, only around 15 percent of Muslims in Europe consider homosexuality "morally acceptable." That's way below the figures for the general public in Britain, France and Germany. But when conservative and religious Europeans and Americans are polled, it turns out that the percentage of people who are fine with homosexuality is about the same as that of the traditional Muslims.

Yes, I could say that I predicted all this in my book The Enemy at Home. But the great contribution of Esposito and Mogahed is to put a mountain of data behind these conclusions. Over six years their group has conducted tens of thousands of face-to-face surveys of Muslims in more than 35 countries making what they rightly call "the largest, most comprehensive study of contemporary Muslims ever done."

This book is a huge embarrassment to some conservatives who, based on no data and very little familiarity with the Muslim world, have been portraying Muslims as violent theocrats who reject modern science, modern democracy and modern capitalism and spend most of their day performing honor killings and genital mutilations. This portrait of the Muslim world is about as accurate as that of a Muslim who believes that typical Americans live their daily lives according to the values of "Natural Born Killers" and "Brokeback Mountain."


What can we conclude from this book? First, that the values of the cultural left are an important source in alienating Muslims worldwide. Second, that Muslims don't reject modernity or the West: rather, they embrace what may be termed "1950s America" while rejecting the libertine values of the 1960s. Third, America can build alliances with traditional Muslims by showing them the face of traditional America, so that they see that Hollywood values aren't necessarily American values. Finally, left-wing groups like International Planned Parenthood and Amnesty International should stop pushing feminism, gay marriage and libertine values in the Muslim world.

Pundits like Chalmers Johnson love to say that American intervention in Iraq and elsewhere has produced a "blowback" of terrorism from the House of Islam. Wrong! It is in Iraq that America is allowing an elected Muslim government to rule according to Muslim interests and Muslim values. Iraq is the only country in the Middle East where the Muslim population actually chose its own rulers. Iraq is not the problem. Rather, it is the values of the cultural left, and the cultural imperialism that seeks to impose those values on reluctant Muslims, that is the real source of Muslim rage, and the best recruiting tool of the radical Muslims.


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