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Just Like Us! Really?

Gallup says only 7 percent of the world's Muslims are political radicals. Yet 36 percent think the 9/11 attacks were in some way justified.

May 12, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 33 • By ROBERT SATLOFF
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Or take the authors' cavalier attitude to the word "many." How many is many? Thirty percent of the vote won't get Hillary Clinton nominated for president, but it would be a lot if the subject were how many Americans cheat on their taxes or beat their wives. At the very least, one might expect a book based on polling data to be filled with numbers. This one isn't. Instead, page after page of Who Speaks for Islam? contains such useless and unsourced references as "many respondents cite" this or "many Muslims see" that.

Or take the authors' apparent indifference to facts. Twice, for example, they cite as convincing evidence for their argument poll data from "the ten most populous majority Muslim countries," which they then list as including Jordan and Lebanon, tiny states that don't even rank in the top 25 of Muslim majority countries. Twice they say their 10 specially polled countries collectively comprise 80 percent of the world Muslim population; in fact, the figure is barely 60 percent.

These problems would not matter much if the book gave readers the opportunity to review the poll data on which Esposito and Mogahed base their judgments. Alas, that is not the case. Neither the text nor the appendix includes the full data to a single question from any survey taken by Gallup over the entire six-year period of its World Poll initiative. We, the readers, either have to pay more than $20,000 to Gallup to gain access to its proprietary research or have to rely on the good faith of the authors.

Or, more accurately, we have to rely on Gallup's good name--the "integrity, trust and independence" cited above. Public comments by Mogahed at a luncheon I hosted at the Washington Institute on April 17 show exactly what that is worth.

Here's the context: As the event was about to close, Mogahed was pressed to explain the book's central claim that radicals constitute 7 percent of the world's Muslim population. A questioner focused on the critical distinction between the 7 percent of respondents who said the 9/11 attacks were "completely justified" and the other 93 percent. How many of those 93 percent, Mogahed was asked, actually answered that the attacks were "partly," "somewhat," or even "largely" justified? Were those people truly moderates?

In her answer, transcribed below, Mogahed refers in pollster code to numbers ascribed to the five possible answers to the poll question about justifying 9/11. Although she and Esposito never discuss the details of this question in their book, they did expound on them in a 2006 article in Foreign Policy magazine, which described a five-point scale in which "Ones" are respondents who said 9/11 was "totally unjustified" and "Fives" those who said the attacks were "completely justified."

In that article, she and Esposito wrote: "Respondents who said 9/11 was justified (4 or 5 on the same scale) are classified as radical." In the book they wrote two years later, they redefined "radical" to comprise a much smaller group--only the Fives. But in her luncheon remarks, Mogahed admitted that many of the "moderates" she and Esposito celebrated really aren't so moderate after all.

MOGAHED: I can't off the top of my head [recall the data], but we are going to be putting some of those findings in our [updated] book and our website.

To clarify a couple of things about the book--the book is not a hard-covered polling report. The book is a book about the modern Muslim world that used its polling to inform its analysis. So that's important: It's meant for a general audience, and it's not meant to be a polling report. One very important reason why is because Gallup is selling subscriptions to its data. We are a for-profit company; we are not Pew. We are Gallup. So this isn't about .  .  . it was not meant for the data to be free since we paid $20 million to collect [the data] .  .  . that we paid all on our own. So just to clarify that  .  .  .  

So, how did we come up with the word "politically radicalized" that we unfortunately used in the book? Here's why: because people who were Fives, people who said 9/11 was justified, looked distinctly different from the Fours  .  .  .  At first, before we had enough data to do sort of a cluster analysis, we lumped the Fours and Fives together because that was our best judgment.

QUESTIONER: And what percent was that?

MOGAHED: I seriously don't remember but I think it was in the range of 7 to 8 percent [actually, 6.5 percent].

QUESTIONER: So it's seven Fours and seven Fives?