Review: Who Speaks For Islam?–What a Billion Muslims Really Think

4 Star, Religion & Politics of Religion

Who SpeaksMuslim 101, Excellent Overview and Starting Point, May 4, 2008

John L. Esposito

This book nose-dived to a three and even a two as I was confronted with what appeared to be a Saudi-USA sponsored propaganda piece that did not properly consider India (largest Muslim population after Indonesia) and that addressed what Muslims thought without being explicit about US misbehavior, what I think of as Dick “Not the Virgin” Cheney’s “immaculate conception” of the most amoral, costly, and destructive global war in our history. Bless him–had he not taken the Republic over a cliff and into insolvency, the two thirds of the voters who have tuned out the two party spoils system (“you pay, we’ll make it legal to steal”) would not be coming back into 2008 steaming mad and with both feet.

However, I persisted, and ultimately this book settled at a four. What I found was a series of offerings that allow this book to be a very fine “Muslim 101 Lite” for the general public. I totally admire the reviewer that has listed more in-depth works for consideration and have urged him to edit the review to use the Amazon feature that allows links to the pages for each of those books.

I also detect a real disconnect in that the book lists all Muslim countries up front, but the fine print says the survey only covered the 10 predominantly Muslim countries, and that list specifically excludes India, which has the second largest Muslim population after Indonesia, and in my mind that discredits the study by perhaps 20%.

Highlight provided early on by the authors:

+ Muslims do not see West as monolithic (and also see distinctions between Americans, America, US Government, US military, and the bellicose presence of US forces in their countries). I found this also in a Strategic Communication survey across the 27 countries in the US Central Command Area

+ Muslim majority, and especially women, want jobs, development, opportunity, not jihad and certainly not US occupation or corruption

+ Muslim silent majority rejects attacks on civilians (but I would say the book does not do as well as it could on showing that they also feel USA “deserved” 9-11–regardless of let it happen or made it happen allegations). Today the USS Cole belligerents got a free pass and we are reminded that it was Bill Clinton that took Madeline Albright’s advice to ignore the attacks on Khobar Towers (Iran), two Embassies (al-Qaeda?) and the USS Cole (al-Qaeda?).

+ Religious moderates are in the majority, consider democracy a FOREIGN concept, and look to find ways to accommodate faith, family, and state without their being exclusive or compartmented. One could even say moderate Muslims are pre-disposed to be holistic!

+ The one thing the West could do to improve relations with Muslims is to show more respect and press for more understanding (in both directions).

+ Majority favor religious law as a source of legislation, but do not want clerics to have a direct role in drafting the constitution (I am reminded of how Israel went too far toward extremism when it yielded to its religious extremists–and of course Israel used the tactic of terrorism against the British to good effect, and ignored Gandhi’s observation that “Palestine is to the Palestinians as France is to the French.”)

+ My valuation of this book takes a definite leap upwards as I appreciate three facts that come together:

– Within the limits of prostitution toward those who pay their bills, the Gallup book does a good job–but I have BLAND in one section–of raising hard truths that those in power have no interest in, but could be helpful to voters.

– Each section has little gray boxes worth a look.

– Each section ends with key points summarized.

+ The book ultimately loses one star because it does not cite many books for context and when it does, tends to go with the discredited Fukiyama and the discredited Blair. This is an undergraduate reading that needs several more layers of study, and hence I recommend the other books suggested by an earlier reviewer.

+ I am totally absorbed by the book’s account of how the Pope, with the best of intentions and relying on his top “experts,” made many mistakes in his speech attempting to reconcile with Islam, and was so told by over 100 Muslim scholars. This drives home both the limits of experts embedded with any leadership figure, and the importance of multicultural appreciative inquiry. The three candidates for President of the USA today are out of touch with citizens and out of touch with reality because they are giving stump speeches instead of leading nation-wide conversations on the ten high level threats to humanity outlined in A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility–Report of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change and the twelve policies that must be recovered from the special interests that hijacked them to steal from the many for the benefit of the few. See also The Global Class War: How America’s Bipartisan Elite Lost Our Future – and What It Will Take to Win It Back

+ The book does cite Professor Pape’s Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism and adds primary research to the effect that the radicalized are not poor or illiterate, but rather educated and moderately well-off. This was my own finding in 1976 when I did my first Master’s thesis on the prediction of revolution. The book astounds me in noting that while only 7% of the Muslim population is radicalized, this number is NINETY ONE MILLION. The book also documents the plain fact that the primary motivation for suicidal terrorism is almost invariably FOREIGN OCCUPATION.

+ Page 84 lists the Muslim perceptions surveyed has of the USA, we learn that they are:

– Ruthless (68%)

– Scientifically & technologically advanced (68%)

– Aggressive (66%)

– Conceited (65%)

– Morally decadent (64%)

The book does a very good job of addressing how the civil rights conflict is closer to the Muslim-Christian-Jewish conflict, calling this a clash of cultures (to which I would add, a clash of economic corruption and predatory looting versus commonwealth exploitation by, of, and for indigenous peoples) and specifically discounting the clash of civilizations as the model. Readers interested in the whole question of belief systems can find the Technical Preface by Robert Garigue free online or at Information Operations: All Information, All Languages, All the Time.

The book does well at portraying Muslims world-wide as feeling under siege from the USA, and concludes from its primary research that Muslim anger is based on US foreign policy and its effect on their own peace and development. This is not rocket science, but I assure you, Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Madeline Albright, Condi Rice, even Strobe Talbott–they are NEVER going to come to grips with the fact that US foreign policy today is lunatic, out of control, costly, and totally out of touch with how to wage peace at one third of the cost of war. See for example Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World’s Last Dictators by 2025

The book ends on a note that suggests that both Muslims and Christians deeply want and need more erespect and understanding at a public diplomacy level, but the book is also quite specific in noting how US public diplomacy (and I would add, Strategic Communication) is completely out of touch with reality. You can no longer manufacture consent or use propaganda to mislead the majority of the world. As Joe Trippi points out, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything–Trippi is a genius, but I would note that we have moved one step beyond–cell phones, not the Internet, are the primary intellectual, emotional, cultural, and asymmetric warfare tool of choice today, one reason why the National Security Agency is freaking out–they cannot build a computer that weights next to nothing, runs on almost no energy, and can do petaflop calculations per second–the human brain (these are the last three words in Jim Bamford’s book, Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency. US intelligence is “inside out and upside down” as I explained in Forbes ASAP, and desperately needs a draconian redirection of funding from the %60B we spend on the 4% we can steal, to rebalancing the use of all national powers and especially education, rule of law, and infrastructure here at home, and public diplomacy as well as open source or public intelligence that can exploit all information in all languages all the time.

I liked the details on the survey that are included in the appendix.

On balance, the book does a good job within the constraints of funding, US management, and the need to pander moderately to an Administration that has no regard for reality at the White House level (our flag officers and top civil servants and some political appointees such as the Secretary of Defense have rediscovered their integrity and are fighting a holding action for all of us here at home).

I would like to see two new surveys: one of all the countries they missed, and one of India alone, ideally done in partnership with the government of India. I regard India, Malaysia, and Turkey as well as Indonesia as major success stories, and the US Government does not seem to be ready to recognize that these four countries can and should be major partners in offering peace and development instead of corruption, occupation, and exploitation, to all Muslims everywhere.

Three other books within my limit of ten:
Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror
The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (Vintage)
Web of Deceit: The History of Western complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush