Who speaks for Islam?


Some things are more important than vacations, so here is a quick pointer to a new book: Who Speaks for Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think. It is based on a large scale Gallup study following 911.

For more information, here is a MPR interview with one of the authors, an article by and a Counterpunch interview with the other author, a summary of the findings, and a brief BBC story.

From the Georgetown University review:

[…] Based on more than 50,000 interviews conducted between 2001 and 2007 with residents of more than 35 nations that are predominantly Muslim or have sizable Muslim populations, the poll surveyed more than 90% of the world’s Muslim community, making it the largest, most comprehensive study of its kind.

The research suggests that conflict between Muslims and the West is not inevitable and, in fact, is more about policy than principles. “However,” caution Esposito and Mogahed, “until and unless decision makers listen directly to the people and gain an accurate understanding of this conflict, extremists on all sides will continue to gain ground.” […]

Some of the key findings of the research include:

  • Muslims and Americans are equally likely to reject attacks on civilians as morally unjustifiable.
  • Large majorities of Muslims would guarantee free speech if it were up to them to write a new constitution and they say religious leaders should have no direct role in drafting that constitution.
  • Muslims around the world say that what they least admire about the West is its perceived moral decay and breakdown of traditional values — the same answers that Americans themselves give when asked this question.
  • When asked about their dreams for the future, Muslims say they want better jobs and security, not conflict and violence.
  • Muslims say the most important thing Westerners can do to improve relations with their societies is to change their negative views toward Muslims and respect Islam.

We need someone to see our shadow in, and when we as a group can find a shared object, then even better. Having someone agree with us helps us not having to question our assumptions, and not notice that we are caught up in a shadow projection.

For the western world today, Muslims and Islam is the favorite shadow object. And with it follows the usual dehumanization and justification for dispensing with ethics and laws, for setting up prison camps, for engaging in torture and war. The irony is that whenever we are caught up in collective shadow projections in this way, we ourselves end up doing what we see in the Other. We become the monsters.

This is why these types of studies are so important. It helps us find a more nuanced and realistic picture of the “other”, which in turn makes it more difficult to get caught up in the more extreme effects of collective shadow projections.

The more clear we are – the more we find and own in ourselves what we see in the wider world – the more sane our actions tend to be. In this case, it means that we can still deal with people engaging in harmful actions, using whatever means seem appropriate, and whether these are Muslims or not. Yet, we do it less out of fear and desire for revenge, and more out of a sense of taking care of all of us. We are more likely find ways of doing it that is ethical and lawful. And we don’t vilify a whole group of people in the process.

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