Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Whitewashing what Muslims think

Martin Kramer looks at a book we've mentioned a couple of times, and now makes me almost regret ordering it:
Professor John L. Esposito runs a slick operation at Georgetown with $20 million of funding from Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. The shared agenda of these two is to make us all feel guilty for having wondered, after 9/11, about Saudis, Muslims, and the contemporary teaching of Islam. Esposito now has a new book (with co-author Dalia Mogahed, who runs something called the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies), bearing the pretentious title Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think. It's based on gleanings from the Gallup World Poll.

The core argument of the book is that only 7 percent of Muslims are "politically radicalized," and that "about 9 in 10 Muslims are moderate." On what does this factoid rest? The authors explain (pp. 69-70):
According to the Gallup Poll, 7% of respondents think that the 9/11 attacks were "completely" justified and view the United States unfavorably.... the 7%, whom we'll call "the politically radicalized" because of their radical political orientation... are a potential source for recruitment or support for terrorist groups.
So an essential precondition for being "politically radicalized" is to believe that 9/11 was "completely" justified. The pool of support is only 7%. Don't you feel relieved?

Yet a year and a half ago, Esposito and Mogahed used a different definition of "radical," in interpreting respondents' answers to Gallup's 9/11 question. In November 2006, they gave this definition:
Respondents who said 9/11 was unjustified (1 or 2 on a 5-point scale, where 1 is totally unjustified and 5 is completely justified) are classified as moderates. Respondents who said 9/11 was justified (4 or 5 on the same scale) are classified as radicals.
Wait a minute.... In 2006, then, these same authors defined "radicals" not only as Muslims who thought 9/11 was "completely justified" (5 on their scale), but those who thought it was largely justified (4 on their scale).

So for their new book, they've drastically narrowed their own definition of "radical," to get to that 7% figure. And they've also spread the impression in the media that the other 93% are "moderates." In 2006, their "moderates" included only Muslims who thought 9/11 was "totally" or largely unjustified (who answered 1 or 2 on a 5-point scale, where 1 is "totally unjustified"). But what about Muslims who answered with 3 or 4? Well, they weren't "moderates" by 2006 standards. The 3's were neither "moderates" nor "radicals," and the 4's were "radicals." But this year, they've all been upgraded to "moderate" class, because they didn't "completely justify" 9/11. Whether they largely justified it, or half-justified it, they're all "moderates" now.

Because there's no hard data in their book, just these percentages, the authors are directly responsible for the confusion they've created.
Kramer makes the same point that I made in the initial press release for this book.

The entire reason I ordered the book was to get the raw numbers of the poll, and to see how many Muslims considered 9/11 somewhat justified - a much more important number! I suspected that the authors - both quite sympathetic to Muslims - were cooking the numbers, and I have already shown that they are dishonest in how they present the findings that they published before the book was released.

When the book shows up I'm sure I will have other things to write about.