The bimonthly U.S. international affairs journal Foreign Policy has just published a survey of the world’s top 20 public intellectuals and the first 10 are all Muslims. They are certainly an interesting group of men (and one woman) but the journal’s editors are not convinced they all belong on top. In their introduction in the July/August issue, they wrote:“Rankings are an inherently dangerous business.” It turns out that some candidates ran publicity campaigns on their web sites, in interviews or in reports in media friendly to them. So intellectuals who many other intellectuals might have put at the top — say Noam Chomsky or Richard Dawkins — landed only in the second 10 or in a much more mixed list of post-poll write-ins.
“No one spread the word as effectively as the man who tops the list,” the introduction said. “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.”
Still, the results are interesting. Fethullah Gülen, pictured at right by his website announcing the survey result, heads a network of schools and media that is probably the world’s largest moderate Muslim movement. He may be one of the most influential Muslims that non-Muslims have never heard of. We ran a feature about himjust last month.
Second was Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi economist who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for the microcredit project run by his Grameen Bank. So he’s not an unknown and he’s here for his secular work rather than anything religious.
Four other Muslim religious personalities made the top 10 — Youssef al-Qaradawi (3), the spiritual head of the Muslim Brotherhood and weekly preacher on al-Jazeera satellite television, Amr Khaled (6), a popular Egyptian television preacher, Abdolkarim Soroush (7 — pictured at left), an Iranian reformist theologian and Tariq Ramadan (8), the Swiss-born scholar popular among young European Muslims. Soroush, who is much more philosopher than activist, is probably the only one we have not written much about.
Several top-tenners besides Yunus made the list for their secular work. Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish novelist who won the 2006 Nobel Prize for literature, came in fourth. Next was Aitzaz Ahsan (pictured below), the Lahore lawyer whose lawyers’ protest movement is possibly the strongest voice of secular civil society in Pakistan. Ninth and tenth places went to Ugandan-born cultural anthropologist Mahmood Mamdani and Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian human rights lawyer who won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize.
What do you think of this survey? Do you think these 10 are the world’s top public intellectuals? If not, who would you nominate?