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Many people in the West quite confidently discuss Muslim attitudes on the basis of no real acquaintance with either the Islamic world or actual Muslims.
So I’m going to recommend a book:
Several years ago, the Gallup organization undertook an enormous, multi-country survey of the Islamic world, the largest ever done. The results of that survey are reported and discussed in John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think (2007). The book has been out for a while, but I don’t sense that realities on the ground are likely to have changed all that much in the intervening years.
Who Speaks for Islam? is an excellent resource, and an easy read, for those who actually want to understand the contemporary Muslim world. Permit me to tempt you with a few items drawn from just two pages (182-183) of the book:
- Gallup found no statistically significant difference between the attitudes of men and women toward shari‘a or religious law.
- No significant difference could be detected in levels of personal piety between the majority, who condemn terrorism, and the fringe minority who endorse it. This plainly suggests that it isn’t Islam, as such, that generates terrorism.
- Those who approve of terrorism admire Western freedom as much as the moderate majority do.
- Admirers of democracy in the Muslim world tend to be both better educated and more religious than those who don’t admire democracy.
- Is poverty a key driver behind support for terrorism? No.
- Is illiteracy a major factor behind positive attitudes toward terrorism? No.
- Is hopelessness a prime generator of support for terrorism? No.
- Is religious fanaticism a principal stimulus to endorsement of terrorism? No.
- The proportion of those in the population of the Muslim world who are comfortable with attacks aimed at civilians was in the single digits in almost all countries surveyed — and was essentially the same proportion that survey data indicate for the population of the United States.
Those who are fond of their prejudices and stereotypes and who wish to retain them should avoid this book like the plague. It would not be good for them.
I hope, though, that anybody who wishes to buy the book — or, for that matter, anything else that’s available via Amazon.com — will do so through AmazonSmile. Really. This is an absolute no-brainer. Even if you don’t select the Interpreter Foundation as the recipient of Amazon’s gifts, please sign up with AmazonSmile and select some appropriate charity.