Two prestigious Western magazines — Foreign Policy in the United States and Prospect in Britain — asked their readers to choose which among the world's 100 public intellectuals deserved the top honours.Wow, the top ten intellectuals are all Muslim? Is it coincidence, does it reflect Islamic intellectual superiority, or does it mean something else?
Over 500,000 people cast their votes via the internet. The results published this July were surprising. The first ten names on the list were Muslims, from countries as diverse as Turkey, Bangladesh, Egypt, Pakistan, Iran and Uganda.
Heading the list was the Turkish Sufi scholar, Fethullah Gülen. He was followed — in order of voters' preference — by Muhammad Yunus, the microfinancier from Bangladesh; Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Egyptian cleric who hosts the popular “Sharia and Life” TV programme on Al-Jazeera in Qatar; the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk; the Pakistani lawyer and politician Aitzaz Ahsan; the Egyptian television preacher Amr Khaled; the Iranian religious theorist Abdolkarim Soroush; the Islamic philosopher Tariq Ramadan; the Ugandan cultural anthropologist Mahmood Mamdani; and the Iranian lawyer and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi.
One only needs to look at Foreign Affairs magazine to see the answer:
Rankings are an inherently dangerous business. Whether offering a hierarchy of countries, cities, or colleges, any such list—at least any such list worth compiling—is likely to generate a fair amount of debate. In the last issue, when we asked readers to vote for their picks of the world’s top public intellectuals, we imagined many people would want to make their opinions known. But no one expected the avalanche of voters who came forward. During nearly four weeks of voting, more than 500,000 people came to ForeignPolicy.com to cast ballots.Zaman, the Turkish newspaper that promoted the contest so heavily, has a circulation of 700,000, far more than the number of votes cast, which means that this list was essentially a list of intellectuals chosen by Muslims. (And Noam Chomsky was #11.)
Such an outpouring reveals something unique about the power of the men and women we chose to rank. They were included on our initial list of 100 in large part because of the influence of their ideas. But part of being a “public intellectual” is also having a talent for communicating with a wide and diverse public. This skill is certainly an asset for some who find themselves in the list’s top ranks. For example, a number of intellectuals—including Aitzaz Ahsan, Noam Chomsky, Michael Ignatieff, and Amr Khaled—mounted voting drives by promoting the list on their Web sites. Others issued press releases or gave interviews to local newspapers. Press coverage profiling these intellectuals appeared around the world, with stories running in Canada, India, Indonesia, Qatar, Spain, and elsewhere.
No one spread the word as effectively as the man who tops the list. In early May, the Top 100 list was mentioned on the front page of Zaman, a Turkish daily newspaper closely aligned with Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. Within hours, votes in his favor began to pour in. His supporters—typically educated, upwardly mobile Muslims—were eager to cast ballots not only for their champion but for other Muslims in the Top 100. Thanks to this groundswell, the top 10 public intellectuals in this year’s reader poll are all Muslim. The ideas for which they are known, particularly concerning Islam, differ significantly. It’s clear that, in this case, identity politics carried the day.
Like all online polls, this one reflects nothing. It is striking that people who are supposedly "intellectual" would lobby for votes so cravenly; this reflects not intellect but egoism.
But as usual, idiots will use this "poll" as reason to push their own political agendas.