The Gallup World Polls: What 1.3 Billion Muslims Really Think

The blogosphere is rife with discussion of the release of Geert Wilder’s (boring) new film ‘Fitna.’ The less said about this film, the better, but luckily, on the evolution blog, I like to offer an alternative point of view, and cover issues that don’t always receive the press attention that they should do. 🙂 So excuse me, whilst I skip right past the tedious topic of yet another deliberately offensive propaganda piece and move onto a topic that is rather more factual and statistical in nature. 😉

I briefly mentioned the Gallup World Polls in a previous post, but I think it would be interesting to look at a selection of the results in more detail. The Gallup Poll of the Muslim World is the most in-depth study of the Muslim world, so if you really want to know what the majority of Muslims think, this is perhaps the most definitive and comprehensive research work to examine. The study (PDF) encompasses six years of research, and respondents were polled about a variety of issues. Extremism, Islam and the West and women’s rights were just some of the issues that respondents were invited to comment on.

A key objective of this poll was to capture the voices of the silent majority, rather than the perhaps, shall we say, outspoken opinions that we are used to seeing in the daily press coverage. 😉

However, I would like to stress that I am not excusing the Muslim world of any guilt. No matter how many polls there are, the truth is that there is a proportion of Muslims who protest over cartoons but say remain silent over cases such as that of Mukhtaran Bibi. They may be a minority, yes, but nevertheless, there are still needs to be a broader focus on the issue of human rights. What I am saying, however, is the image of Muslims portrayed by mediocre publications such as The (ghastly) Daily Mail and the (atrocious) Express are fallacious and only create further divisions in society.

The Gallup site contains summary reports of the findings of the poll, and I’m going to summarise some key points from each of the reports.

Islam & Democracy (PDF)

In sharp contrast to the “Us vs. Them,” “Islam vs. the West,” Samuel Huntingdon “Clash of Civilisations” myth that some Muslims and people in the West seek to perpetuate, the Gallup poll showed that Americans and Muslims share many of the same values. For example, the polls showed that most Muslims embraced the values of freedom of speech:

Substantial majorities in all nations surveyed — the highest being 99% in Lebanon, 94% in Egypt, 92% in Iran, and 91% in Morocco — said that if they were drafting a constitution for a new country, they would guarantee freedom of speech, defined as “allowing all citizens to express their opinions on political, social, and economic issues of the day.”

Gallup poll: Islam and Democracy

In Reponse to “Muslims don’t care about improving relationships with us”

Despite 58% of Americans believing that Muslims don’t care about improving relationships with the West, a minority (ranging from 10%-37%) said that this was true. In addition, only 11% of Americans said that reaching a better understanding between Muslims and the West was a low priority.The data shows that there is great disparity between the perceptions of the groups, as both sides want to improve relations, whilst believing that the opposing side believes the opposite.

On Extremism

Currently, 33% (PDF) of Americans believe that Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims. However, the Gallup poll data showed that just 7% of the respondents polled across 10 countries made up the ‘radical extremist’ faction.

However, interestingly, the political radicals were on average, better educated and more affluent than the moderates. This is rather worrying, but on the other hand, given that one might expect the opposite, it may indicate that the perception that the roots of extremism lie in lack of education or a poor economic situation, is most likely a gross over-simplification.

This post covers just a few of the Gallup World polls statistics, but for more information, you can visit the Gallup website, or indeed, take a look at John L. Esposito’s Who Speaks For Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think.

As an aside, if you’re interested in a critical analysis of the (dreadfully boring) Fitna, (which I decided to watch-the longest 20 or so minutes of my life), the Washington Post has a good feature article explaining why Fitna “is such a bore that it has only given freedom of expression a bad name.” 🙂

To conclude, I would like to stress that there is no doubt that there is a long way to go toward improving relations between Muslims and the West. Clearly, there are gross misconceptions on both sides, but these polls show that there is some hope for the future, that the bleak picture of despair and hopelessness painted by Western media outlets is perhaps a little far off.

Muslims and non-Muslims alike must strive to be more open-minded, build relationships and strive towards a more peaceful future, where people of all faiths and backgrounds can live together, side by side.


The New Enlightenment: The Role of Women in Muslim Reformation

First, of all, apologies for the long gap in blogging; work commitments as well as general laziness are my less than adequate excuses. Having said that, last week, I attended a lecture by Professor Madhavi Sunder, who is a leading scholar in the field of legal regulation of culture. Her lecture was deeply insightful and thought provoking, so in that respect, a week to reflect on the conclusions of the talk was most welcome.

In 2006, Sunder was awarded a Carnegie Corporation scholarship, to support her writing a new book entitled “The New Enlightenment: How Muslim Women are Bringing Religion Out of the Dark Ages.” Sunder is a thoughtful and engaging speaker and a passionate advocate of human rights. It was refreshing to hear her views on Islam because her work is mainly aimed towards a Western audience. It seeks to dispel the myths that Islam is incompatible with the Western lifestyle and refutes the Samuel Huntingdon model of the clash of civilisations. However, primarily, Sunder’s work focuses on changing the established mindset of Muslim women to secure equal rights and freedoms.

During the talk, Sunder clarified the lecture’s title, explaining that she is not suggesting that Islam itself that is in the “dark ages,” but rather how the religion is perceived, interpreted and indeed practiced in many parts of the world.

First of all, it is important to establish how the “old enlightenment” differs from the “new enlightenment.” The old enlightenment entailed taking cultural practice and religion out of the domains of the law, so that people pursue liberty and equality in the public sphere, i.e. our pursuit of freedom exists outside the realms of religion or culture. However, this does not always prevent the violation of human rights in the private sphere; Sunder conceptualises the New Enlightenment as the right of women to seek liberty, freedom and equal rights not only in the public spheres of society and law, but also in the private spheres of family, culture, and within religion.

Sunder also cited the recent Gallup World Poll, which asked Muslims across the world what they think of education, democracy, religion and culture. The findings of this poll are to be published shortly in a book entitled “Who Speaks for Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think.” The book, written by Dalia Mogahed and John L. Esposito compiles six years of research and more than 50,000 interviews, representing some 1.3 billion Muslims in 35 nations, that are either predominantly Muslim or have sizeable Muslim populations.

The research is thorough and extensive, but some highlights include that when asked about what they admire about the West, Muslims frequently cited political freedom, liberty, fair judicial systems, and freedom of speech. Muslims were also asked to critique their own societies; extremism and inadequate adherence to Islamic teachings were cited as their top grievances. Furthermore, between 82% and 99% of Muslims (varying by country) wanted freedom of speech as part of their constitution.

In their report of extremism, a key finding of the Gallup poll was that both moderate and radical Muslims affirmed religiousity, through stating that religion was an important part of their lives, or through attendance of religious services. Thus, despite the difference in the politics of both groups, it seems that clear that to be against terrorism does not necessitate abandonment of religious beliefs. This supports my assertion that the roots of terrorism do not lie in Islam itself, but rather it stems from its (incorrect) interpretation.

It is interesting to note that whilst 33% of US citizens (at least, perhaps more) believe that Islam encourages violence, the radical group represented just 7% of the total Muslims polled. Whilst I would argue that even 7% is too much, this means that 93% of the world’s Muslims are moderates, dispelling the myth that the majority of Muslims are against the West.

But, I digress. The results of the poll make for interesting reading, and I would highly recommend that you check out the findings for yourself. However, the overall conclusion of the poll debunks the myth that the majority of Muslims support terrorism. Rather, the research suggests that there is no battle for the hearts and minds of the Muslim world; rather the majority of Muslims want liberty and embrace democratic values.

The problem does not lie in convincing Muslims of a democratic, egalitarian vision, as this is the sort of constitution that the vast majority seeks. However, the problem lies in operationalising these rights, such that Muslims countries have human rights alongside their religious rights and freedom to practice their faith. Madhavi Sunder says:

“Islam is stereotyped as regressive, anti-modern, anti-Western and incompatible with democracy. Too often, the media ignore those people doing the much harder work of exposing Islam’s modern side.”

In other words, religion is not the dark sphere that the West perceives it to be. Muslims have a desire for human rights and freedoms within religion and culture, and this is the essence of the modern enlightenment.

Readers of this blog have asked me about the right of people to leave Islam, and this is indeed one of the basic human rights that must be attained in every nation across the world. With regards to this restriction, Sunder also quoted John Locke’s letter on tolerance:

“No man by nature is bound unto any particular church or sect, but every one joins himself voluntarily to that society in which he believes he has found that profession and worship which is truly acceptable to God.”

I would assert that this restriction is not imposed by Islam itself, but rather by interpreters of its laws. Indeed, there are many verses in the Quran supporting this:

2:256 “There is no compulsion in religion”

16:82 “But if they turn away from you, (O Prophet remember that) your only duty is a clear delivery of the Message (entrusted to you).”

88:21, 22; also see 24:54
“And so, (O Prophet!) exhort them your task is only to exhort; you cannot compel them to believe.”

And this reconstructivist approach was the essence of Sunder’s lecture. For centuries, Muslim women have had their rights violated by patriarchal societies who impose the belief that their abuse of human rights comes from a higher power. Sunder argues that Muslim women must take a critical, textual approach, where they are encouraged to examine the Quranic verses for themselves and challenge the widely held beliefs about the text.

The reality is, that there is no conflict between Western democracy and the practice of religion.

With regards to Sharia law, Sunder argues that whilst the laws of Islam might be divinely guided, they were recorded by men and thus have a historical and temporal basis. Now, whether you believe the laws are divinely guided or not is irrelevant; the vision of new enlightenment is a world where Muslim women do not have to abandon their faith in order to pursue freedom.

The point being, that there is inherent flexibility in these laws to interpret them for the modern era. However, the patriarchal society means that many Muslim women simply do not realise that they have a choice within the religion. Just one of the groups working to change the mindset of Muslim women includes Sisters In Islam (SIS). Their mission statement is well worth reading, but here is a short extract:

“We uphold the revolutionary spirit of Islam, a religion which uplifted the status of women when it was revealed 1400 years ago. We believe that Islam does not endorse the oppression of women and denial of their basic rights of equality and human dignity. We are deeply saddened that religion has been used to justify cultural practices and values that regard women as inferior and subordinate to men and we believe that this has been made possible because men have had exclusive control over the interpretation of the text of the Qur’an.”

Such organisations work with women on the ground to operationalise the liberties and rights of women. SIS works with women to create dialogue about the intepretation of the Quran and challenge their beliefs about what the religion states. They help women to realise that religion, in part, is a human creation, enabling women to separate that which is divinely guided from that which is part of human construction, to redefine and reconstruct the interpretation of Islam.

This reconstructivist approach enables democracy and freedom both within the private realm as well as the public realm, since women are empowered to make autonomous decisions.

After the lecture, I had the opportunity to ask Madhavi about her views of Irshad Manji’s Project Ijtihad. The key point is that human rights and injustices are not challenged because they come from a tradition or history within Islam but becaue every human being has the right to assert and challenge injustice. In that way, it is a universal message for all women who have had cultural patriarchy and injustice imposed on them. Some may call it Ijtihad, whilst others assert that we must attain basic human rights, not because Islam says so, but on the basis of our universal humanity. However, one could argue that the end goal is the same.

I really appreciated Madhavi Sunder’s approach and the lecture was deeply inspirational and refreshing. It challenged the notion that secularism is the only solution to securing rights in the Muslim world. Clearly, given the importance Muslims ascribe to their religion, securalism and abandoning faith, whether in the public or the private sphere is not a viable solution.

The lecture gave me much to think about, and was a welcome change from the bleak picture painted by traditional media outlets, who talk about the deep conflict between Islam and the West and leave me with a sense of hopelessness and despondency. Organisations such as Sisters in Islam are a beacon of light and hope in this dark era. Change will take time, it always does, but with the good work of women such as Zainah Anwar, perhaps we will see the New Enlightenment take shape, challenge traditional ideas about women’s rights in Islam and attain the freedoms and liberties that the Muslim world so greatly desires.

The Gallup Poll reports are available as free downloads from the website of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.
“Who Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think” is now available from Amazon

As always, please feel free to add your comments.

Is the Orange Prize for Fiction Sexist?

The Orange Prize for Fiction is exclusively awarded to women for contributions to literature. According to Orange, the reason for this is:

When setting up the prize, we wanted to celebrate women’s critical views as well as their writing. And it makes an interesting point of difference with other prizes.

The Times today reported that celebrated author, A.S. Byatt has denounced the prize, saying that “Such a prize was never needed.” Indeed, both A.S. Byatt and Booker prize (actually called the Man Booker Prize, but both men and women are equally eligible!) winner, Anita Brookner have declined offers to enter their books for the Orange prize.

Byatt has a point. Positive discrimination is just that, discrimination. Putting the word “positive” in front of it does not make it a good thing! 😉

The Orange prize does no favours for either men or women. As John Sutherland says: “ghettoising women writers did them more harm them good.”

Feminism was always about asserting equal rights, and being judged on an equal footing with men. Setting up a separate prize for women is not only outdated, it is also extremely patronising. In the modern era, and in a meritocracy, men and women should be judged equally, based on talent, not gender.

For example, the 2005 prize was awarded to Lionel Shriver‘s “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” which is one of my favourite books. I would highly recommend it, and anyone who has read it knows that it stands on its own merits and does not need to be commended simply because its author is female.

If we want to celebrate women’s fiction, the way to do it would be to judge their writing according to a universal standard. I can only imagine the backlash if there was a separate prize exclusively for men. It seems ironic that in the 19th century, female authors such as the Brontë sisters had to write under male pseudonyms to compete with their male counterparts, and yet in 2008, such discrimination (“positive” or otherwise!) still exists.

8 Random Things About Me

I was recently challenged to take part in the “8 random things about me” meme by fellow blogger dungeekin, so here goes nothing. There’s so much that I want to do in life, so I’d like to think that this will be a lot more interesting in a few years time, but here goes nothing. 🙂

1. Jane Eyre is my favourite book of all time.
When you love reading, it’s difficult to choose just one favourite book, but I think mine would have to be Jane Eyre. I read it when I was about 12 and I’d like to believe that it deeply influenced my ideas of feminism (does that sound pretentious? It was supposed to!). 😉 Jane’s character challenged traditional role of women in the 19th century, but beyond that, Charlotte Bronte’s writing is just beautiful and timeless. Last year, I went to see the Shared Experience Theatre Company production of it in the West End, which was excellent. However, I think the 1944 Orson Welles film with Joan Fontaine is probably the best movie version, definitely worth checking out.

2. I once played a Chinese laundry worker in the school play.
Acting was never my forte, but when I was 11, I had a small part in our school production of Bugsy Malone, which was both the first and last time I was on the stage. I had one line, (“Chinese rice and noodles”), so not exactly classical Mandarin Chinese, but nevertheless, it was great fun. The less said about my acting skills, the better.

3. I grew up listening to Michael Jackson, and I knew all along that he would be proven innocent.
I first heard Thriller when I was two, and even back then, I knew he was a legend. Liking Michael Jackson never made me one of the cool kids at school, not that that’s necessarily a bad thing! 🙂 I never get bored of his music, and yes, I’m one of those crazy people who supported MJ throughout the bad times… think I’ll stop here before I get too sycophantic… 😉

4. I love Japanese food
Ah, sushi and bento. I usually get sushi cravings at least once a week, and salmon hand rolls are great way to get those essential omega-3s and 6s into your diet. I also love miso; not only is it ridiculously healthy, it tastes great and is a great alternative to coffee. Wagamamas is also fabulous; last year they were awarded the prize for the most popular restaurant in the 2007 Zagat survey.

5. I will always watch the following films every time that they’re on:

  • Mrs Doubtfire
  • Big
  • Father of the Bride
  • Groundhog Day
  • Mean Girls (was debating whether this one was too embarrassing to admit…)

I’ve already listed my favourite films on my About page, but everyone has guilty pleasure films that they never tire of. In my defence, I liked Mean Girls before Lynsey Lohan went all crazy, although admittedly, that’s rather a poor excuse by any standards.

6. I love Banksy.
I liked Banksy back when City traders weren’t buying his art. I like Bansky and street art in general because it’s subversive and unpretentious. There’s also something to be said for the freedom of expression that graffiti art represents; not only can anyone appreciate street art, but at the same time, it’s an art form open to anyone, as you don’t need a gallery or even widespread recognition to display your work. 🙂

7. Whatever happens, you’ll always see me wearing a scarf.
I love scarves. No matter if it’s boiling hot or freezing cold, I’ll always be wearing one. My favourite scarf is my Palestinian one (Keffiyeh is the technical term), and not just because it makes look a little more emo, but also because it symbolises Palestinian solidarity.

Well, this isn’t called 8 *random* things for nothing.

8. Sarcasm is my friend.
I really don’t believe those people who say that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. Rather, sarcasm is beautiful; the highest form of humour on my opinion. I love sarcasm because it means that you always win in an argument; there’s no way you can debate with a sarcastic person. 😉 And yes, I’m known for my sarcasm, but it’s one of those things that you can’t over-do, otherwise it loses its impact.

Well that’s me done. To continue this meme, I’m nominating my fellow Truemorist, Twitter buddy and friend, Neenz, so be sure to check out her excellent blog about life in beautiful Hawaii.

Update: I’m also nominating a couple of other bloggers for this meme: verso aka Banana Lee Fishbones (real name Kelly; the short story: I helped her out when she was looking for novelty Guantanamo Bay clothing) and also Jenn, who writes one of my favourite blogs: LifeInYour20s, which is definitely worth checking for all twenty-somethings! 🙂

Yesterday was National Grammar Day

I really should have written this post yesterday, but somehow I inadvertently forgot. Sacrilege. No worries, it’s never too late in the day to honour grammar.

For those who don’t know, I have a deep, dark secret. In the same way that other people love sports or movies, I love grammar. There, I said it.

Good grammar makes me happy. For me, incorrect spelling is at the nadir of all unforgivable sins. Errors such as confusing “your” with “you’re” and they’re with “their” make me cringe. I also adore semi-colons; it’s not quite a comma and it’s not quite a full-stop. Genius.

It’s not the mistakes that I have a problem with as much as the attitude that correct spelling or grammar does not matter. It does matter, because once we let standards fall, it’s only a matter of time before we start communicating like Ali G or Vicky Pollard. As Malcolm X famously said:

“If we don’t stand for something, we may fall for anything.”

I used to think I was alone in this obsession with punctuation, until I discovered GrammarBlog. In fact, I was even featured once as a whistle-blower of sorts.

To honour grammar at its finest hour, I give you some of the most indispensable language-related links available on the Internet.

  • GrammarBlog: Naming and shaming examples of poor grammar. As their tag line states: “We’re not neurotic, just correct.”
  • GrammarGirl: Because even grammar bullies have occasional lapses, GrammarGirl provides essential quick and dirty tips. Perfect for when you’re not sure if it’s appropriate to use “while” or “whilst.”
  • Stephen Fry: What can I say Stephen Fry that hasn’t been said already? His “blessays” are simply joyous to read for any language aficionado.
  • Will Self: Journalist, author, satirist; one of the greatest writers of our time.
  • Literally, A Weblog: If there’s one common mistake I despise above all others, it’s the misuse of “literally.” For goodness’ sake, if it’s a metaphor, then literally cannot be used, because literally has to be used when the example is literal. You would think that this is self-explanatory, but evidently not.
  • Grammar Facebook groups: there are many, but just some of the ones I belong to include:
    • “So What If I’m a Grammar Nazi?”
    • “I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar”
    • “The Semicolon Appreciation Society” (N.B. This is an American group; really “semicolon” should be hyphenated, but I’ll let that one pass this time.)

That’s the shortlist.

Don’t forget to send in your examples of grammar errors to GrammarBlog, and if you have any favourite grammar sites, I’d love to hear about them. You can also proudly announce your love for language by purchasing a T-shirt from GrammarGirl’s online store.

Fellow grammar bullies, I salute you. Perhaps by working together, we can help to eradicate poor spelling and grammar.

Ok. Now that I have confessed about my love for grammar, I’m probably going to find that my English has deteriorated. Alas, cruel irony! No matter though; the aim of life is self-improvement: if I have inadvertently made some mistakes in the above post, I would love to hear about it.

UPDATE: I missed a closing bracket! None of are perfect. We can all help each other in this continuing struggle to polish our langwidge skills, innit.

A Reminder of the Ugly Side of Blogging

Opinions are like butts. Everyone has one.

Yesterday, I Truemored the case of Paul Tilley, an advertising executive from Chicago who recently committed suicide. Rumours are rife that the suicide attempt may have been linked to malicious, anonymous posts from the blogosphere that referenced Tilley’s management style.

We will never truly know what drove Tilley to take his own life, and in this difficult time, it’s easy to shift blame and find a scapegoat. However, I assert that regardless of the reasons behind Tilley’s suicide, there is an important lesson here about responsible blogging. As blogging rapidly proliferates, there will inevitably be similar cases in the future.

New media represents the zenith of democracy, as the Internet epitomises the liberty of free press, empowering the masses and allowing anyone to voice their opinion. Citizen journalism is revolutionising traditional media, and Truemors is the quintessential example of this rapidly evolving phenomenon.

Whilst the democratisation of information is undeniably an encouraging trend that we should all embrace (Would I be writing this if I didn’t believe that?!), nevertheless, I think it’s important not to dismiss the ugly side of blogging in an off-hand manner.

One of the key differences between traditional and new media is accountability. Whereas bloggers are free to write whatever they please, newspapers and television stations are at least accountable for the views that they portray. In addition, there are basic quality standards, which mean that writers cannot simply write whatever they want with blatant disregard for other people.

Even still, the consequences of living under the watchful eye of the paparazzi can be devastating, as the recent death of the young actor, Heath Ledger clearly demonstrates. The celebrity gossip columns time and time demonstrate the cruel irony of fame: it can elevate you to the height of success, but it can also destroy you.

Consider then, the power of blogging, which can push ordinary people into the spotlight, even when they don’t seek notoriety.

This is why I think that bloggers need to be responsible. I don’t advocate censorship
or regulation of the blogosphere, as this would completely defeat its objective. However, I do think that blogging is a powerful medium, and as my favourite super hero likes to reiterate: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

The typically libertarian view would probably hold that people should be able to write whatever they want and other people should just be able to handle it. This is fine if we were living in a bubble, perhaps in a world without cause and effect. The undeniable truth is, our choices in life, and subsequently, our behaviours and actions have a profound effect on the people around us.

The justification of what basically amounts to cyber-bullying, also blatantly disregards the notion that the most powerful in society have a responsibility towards the most vulnerable. Sure, we all handle things differently, but surely, we cannot dismiss people who may be adversely affected by what we write. I agree that that in this new media age, all of us perhaps need to be a bit thicker-skinned, but bloggers themselves also need to be responsible and think about the consequences of what they write.

These bloggers were also anonymous. To some extent, all of us hide behind our online identities, our Facebook profiles, and our instant message platforms. However, I think that where possible*, bloggers need to adopt an open and honest approach.

I include myself in this view, by the way. I was personally reminded of the need for responsible blogging, when I dismissed Irshad Manji’s book as perhaps “mediocre,” without having actually read it …

So I think that responsible blogging is something that all of us who partake in the blogosphere need to work towards, perhaps by creating some sort of responsible blogging manifesto. 🙂 If there are any bloggers who are reading this and feel the same way, perhaps we should form a consortium of like-minded people.

In English literature class, I was fortunate enough to study J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, and as I write this, I am reminded of a quote from its central character:

We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.

My thoughts are with Paul Tilley’s family and friends at this difficult time.

Photo credit: on Flickr

Monday is Valley Zen Day!

I love Mondays and Valley Zen’s interviews with VC, Tim Draper, are definitely one of the reasons why. If you haven’t checked out Drue Kataoka and Bill Fenwick’s new blog yet, you definitely should.

Drue is a Master Sumi-e artist and her insights into life in Silicon Valley are unique, as she uses her Zen perspective to examine the intersection between art and technology. The interviews with Tim Draper are irreverent and humourous, but also provide some important lessons, not only for entrepreneurship but also for life.

This week’s episode is here, where Tim talks about the highs and lows of entrepreneurship, and we see Drue checking out art in the men’s bathroom. 🙂

The first and second episodes are here, in case you missed them the first time around. I’m really looking forward to next week’s episode, where we see Tim doing a Samurai flip! 😉

You should also check out Drue’s interview with Guy Kawasaki right before the launch of Alltop.

Also, whilst I’m on the subject of Samurai and Alltop, you should check out Guy’s story over on Podtech about the analogy of the old Samurai (Guy) and the young Samurai (Jeremiah Owyang). 😉

Personal Response from Irshad Manji

First of all, some background. A while ago, I wrote about Rowan Williams’ comments about introducing Sharia law into the UK. Whilst I was doing some research for this blog post, I read Irshad Manji’s comments about the issue, and was pleased to find that I share her point of view. I decided to let Irshad know my thoughts my emailing her directly:

Hi Irshad, I am a regular reader of your blog, and thought I would send you a quick note to say that I like what you are doing here. I don’t agree with everything that you write, but I like that you challenge existing viewpoints and create dialogue. At the very least, you give people something to think about. I think your approach is refreshing, because as a British Muslim, I feel the media only gives a voice to fringe elements: either those who vehemently oppose the West, or to Muslims who vehemently oppose Islam. Like the saying: “they kept the shell but forgot the essence,” I think people forget that the essence of true Islam is to bring us closer to God through our shared sense of humanity, truth, and justice. I have read your writings on your blog (although admittedly, I’ve not read your book yet) and in my humble opinion, I think that you are sincere and really believe what you write; i.e. You don’t do it just to create controversy. I just started my own blog, partly because I was frustrated with how the media writes about Islam. We know that we have a lot of crazy people in our religion, but for my part, I’ve never met any of these types of extreme Muslims. Most people I know are just like other Westerners. At the same time, I think as Muslims, we can’t just blame the media, we need to incorporate a greater degree of reflection and look to the problems within our own community. If we take the first steps to demonstrate that we want to integrate ourselves with the West, then surely greater rights and equality will follow, inshallah. I also wrote about Rowan Williams comments before I read your opinion about his statement, and I found that your opinion to be similar to my own. I write about everything, not just religion, but I thought you might be interested in reading about my comments on Sharia law: Yours sincerely, Aliya Zaidi

Later on, I wrote a rather mixed response to Irshad Manji’s interview with David Frost. Today, I received a personal response from Irshad herself:

Dear Aliya, Salaam alaykum. Thank you very much for your message. I appreciate you taking the time to write and share your thoughts. Because of all the work on my plate, it’s taken me a while to respond to you. Perhaps that’s for the best because I’ve just visited your blog and am very confused (let me be more honest — disappointed) by your assumptions in regards to my work. This is not an attack on you; it’s a candid explanation of why it’s important to read, as the first word of revelation to the Prophet advised, **before** you proceed to judge the author as “mediocre.” You say below that you have not read my book. But in your blog you criticize as hypocritical my “staunch defense of Israel.” Yet if you haven’t read my book, how do you know what I say about Israel, Palestine, the two occupations that must end and why we Muslims can’t blame all of our ills on this regional conflict? If you’re basing your analysis on what others have said or written, how is this any less “simplistic” than what you accuse my worldview of being? Above all, what would you think if I proceeded to analyze the Quran without having read it? Wouldn’t you dismiss my work out of hand? In all sincerity, don’t you think that’s what you’ve done here? As I say Aliya, I’m not looking to be contentious. I appreciate your ambivalence toward me and my work. You have every right to be ambivalent — even hostile. But doesn’t it behoove you to educate yourself before judging? I leave you with these questions. Perhaps you’ll find it in your heart to post my entire response, inshallah. I look forward to hearing back. In peace, Irshad

I really appreciate that Irshad took time out of her busy schedule to respond personally. First of all, I’d like to say that I really do like what Irshad is doing. I think it’s refreshing to analyse and challenge conventional beliefs, and I agree with her sentiments that Muslims need to be self-critical. At the very basic level, she asks difficult questions, which make people, think about why they believe certain things. Fundamentally, she creates dialogue and discussion, which I definitely appreciate. At the same time, when I read something, I have to try and be objective and see the wood for the trees, as it were. I have visited Irshad’s site many times to read what her opinion on various issues, and get an alternative point of view. Although I have not read her book, my “assumptions” are based on her blog, her interviews with the media, clips of her new film, and transcripts of her speeches. With respect to Irshad’s point being confused: let me say that by no means have I formed an absolute opinion on her writing. I agree with her on some issues but not others. Simply put, I’m learning all the time and have not made up my mind about her yet. I base my opinion on what I have read so far, but I’m definitely open to being convinced. I humbly concede that yes, I need to read Irshad’s book, but nevertheless, I defend my position based on what I have read that’s been quoted from Irshad herself. If that’s wrong or misleading, then sure, I’d love to be hear another point of view on that. Here is my response to Irshad.

But in your blog you criticize as hypocritical my “staunch defense of Israel.” Yet if you haven’t read my book, how do you know what I say about Israel, Palestine, the two occupations that must end and why we Muslims can’t blame all of our ills on this regional conflict?

My references are: Linda Belanger’s article Jewish Post & News Q News From Occupied Palestine Article from The Times, written by Irshad herself. I agree with Irshad that Muslims cannot blame all their ills on Palestine. However, I am deeply disturbed by the fact that Irshad has said that she is impressed with Israel’s “democracy” and “freedom of expression.” I ask her, what does she think of Mordechai Vanunu, who was imprisoned by the Israeli government? What about Israel’s policies that forbid Palestinians who are married to Israelis from living in Israel? It just seems to me, that there are a lot of inconsistencies with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You could argue that Israel has freedoms the Muslim world does not, but surely we have to take into account that Israel receives some $3 billion in US aid every year? As Amartya Sen explained in his book, “Development As Freedom,” economic freedoms bring political freedoms. Israel, however, has a bit of a head start, with the most powerful nation in the world propping them up. As Malcolm X said: “They cripple the bird’s wing and then condemn it for not flying as a fast as they.” Malcolm X actually said this in direct reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My problem is not that Irshad criticizes Muslims, but that she does not criticize Zionism or Israel at all. Surely, nothing is ever black and white, to criticize one party but not the other seems to me to be rather perplexing. With reference to The Times article, I agree that Muslims need to speak out against crimes committed by Muslims in the name of Islam. But, truth and justice is absolute. We should not side with people just because they are Muslim, but similarly we should not only criticize our own brethren. Rather, we should speak out against oppression wherever it occurs, and if that includes Zionism, then so be it.

Wouldn’t you dismiss my work out of hand?

I’d like to reiterate at this point, that I have not dismissed Irshad’s work “out of hand.” I humbly concede that I need to read her book, but at the same time, I’ve been reading what she has written for quite a while now. I really want to believe Irshad is sincere, and that’s why I have given the benefit of the doubt so far. At the same time, it is important to have some degree of cynicism. Everyone has their own agenda; that’s human nature. It would be highly foolish of me to simply take everything that she has said on good faith; that is why my approach is to try and analyse different points of view as much as I can. As a strong believe in the diversity of ideas, I love hearing alternative points of view, as they always bring up questions. I am constantly undertaking analysis and truth be told, I haven’t made up my mind about her work. But it definitely raises questions. My favorite Muslim authors and journalists include Tariq Ramadan and Ziauddin Sardar. If I’m truthful, Irshad, I like Tariq Ramadan’s approach because he is not afraid to criticize Muslims, but at the same time, he believes that Islam is not incompatible with the West. Zia is not afraid to criticize Salman Rushdie either. This is another issue that I find perplexing and have not found a satisfactory answer to. By no means, do I agree with the fatwa against Rushdie, but at the same time, I believe we have to condemn his views. Irshad, it’s one thing to be against his fatwa, quite another to befriend him. I do believe that the Muslim reaction to such provocation is highly damaging, but I think we should also criticize Rushdie‘s views, which at the end of the day, are tantamount to lies and slander. Rushdie’s views are part of a wider set of misconceptions about Islam, which we need to address. I agree that the victim mentality is dangerous. Many people are equally critical of moderate Muslims are much as extremists, and it is partly for this reason, that I started a blog. However, can we really completely ignore the media bias? Like it or not, it has a role to play, and I can cite many examples of this, but one in particular:

  • Tariq Ramadan, a moderate Muslim, is not given a voice. Rather, the media chooses to report on Muslims that neither you, or I have most likely ever met: i.e. the other 95%. Furthermore, he is discredited as being part of the Muslim Brotherhood, banned from entering the US, and lies are spread about him being a supporter of extremism. Justice? Surely, we have to speak out against this, too.

As I say Aliya, I’m not looking to be contentious. I appreciate your ambivalence toward me and my work. You have every right to be ambivalent — even hostile. But doesn’t it behoove you to educate yourself before judging?

I am not passing judgment or nor am I hostile; as I have said, I am constantly changing and re-defining my views. Irshad, if you want to send me a copy of your book, sure, I’d love to read it! 🙂 I’m not hostile, because I sincerely do like a lot of what Irshad has written. It’s just I’m critical of her position on other issues, and I am trying to weigh up both sides of the argument. On one hand, I admire Irshad because I think it’s refreshing that she has not turned away from Islam despite her earlier experiences. However, the cynic in me, asks would I have really paid attention to Irshad’s views, had she condemned Islam (itself, as opposed to Muslims) outrightly? Probably not. The fact that she refers to herself as a faithful Muslim is what gives her some credibility, unlike someone like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who calls herself an ex-Muslim, or Rushdie. I’ll end this rather long post here, but in conclusion: I give Irshad the benefit of the doubt, that she is truly sincere. I really want to believe it. However, that does not mean that I won’t question her position on certain issues. And, I’m open to having my mind changed. My email response to Irshad:

Hi Irshad, I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to reply to my email. I’m sorry that you were disappointed by my blog. It’s just that I sincerely agree with you on some points, such as Rowan Williams’ comments but not on other issues. I appreciate that I need to read your book, but I base my opinions on what I have read so far, some of it from your own blog, articles and transcripts of your speeches. Also I humbly concede that I need to read your book, but wouldn’t it be foolish not to read articles from other sources before forming a complete opinion? That being said, I have posted your response on my blog, as well as some of my own thoughts. By no means have I formed a complete opinion on your work. I’m open to being convinced. May I say, I hope that you continue doing what you’re doing. It’s refreshing to have another voice raising these sorts of issues and creating dialogue. You have given me a lot to think about, and the fact that I disagree with you on certain issues does not mean I will condemn all of your work in an off-hand manner. Disagreement is good and surely the essence of your message. Sincerely, Aliya

Do you think I’m being too cynical? What do you think of Irshad Manji’s work? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I made it into Alltop’s Twitterati!

It’s been a busy week in evolutionlondon-land, and I’ve been away for a week, so let’s catch up.

For anyone who hasn’t yet entered Twitterland, the latest of Guy Kawasaki‘s Alltop sites is Twitterati: a collection of feeds from approximately sixty of Twitter’s top Posters Tweeters Twitter-ers.

A while ago, I twittered twitted tweeted (only half-jokingly! 😉 ) that no matter how long it would take (40 years, 50 years …) one of my goals would be to make it into Alltop’s Egos section. (I have the ego, healthy or otherwise already!) Well, I’ve still got a while to go to achieving that, I was rather surprised to find I made it to the Alltop Twitterati! Apparently, you can’t be featured if you ask to be added yourself, so I don’t know who put the request in, but thanks! It’s heartening to know that the total crap unique insights I write about are interesting to someone out there! 🙂

Twitter is great for many things, but the interesting thing about Alltop is that all suggestions for the sites came from Twitter-ers. It’s very democratic, and a highly efficient way of tapping into lead users. Companies could learn from the Alltop story: Twitter is a cheap and convenient way to poll a bunch of well-informed people. Forrester analyst, Jeremiah Owyang, has also used Twitter as a quick polling tool.

The sites you contribute to probably say a lot about you – I contributed to the Design, Religion and Music sections (check the Acknowledgements, if you don’t believe me!). I guess this means I’ve been “kawasakied.” 😉

As an aside, Irshad Manji sent me a personal response, just today, in fact. This warrants a separate blog post in itself, but whilst I’m on the subject of Alltop, I’d like to assure Ms Manji, that I’m not hostile to her writings; in fact, it was me who suggested to Guy that Irshad’s blog be included on the Religion section of Alltop. I am sometimes critical of her position on certain issues, but rest assured, I will address these points directly in a follow-up post.

In other news, I turned 24 last Sunday, and I just bought shoes, in case you’re interested. Since I’m now part of the Twitterati, evidently, someone out there does. 😉

Photo credit: Laughing Squid on Flickr.