The Most Influential Muslim at the White House?

Lee Smith has a piece up at Tablet about a woman he calls the most influential person influencing the White House on Muslim matters, Dalia Mogahed. She is the director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, and sits on the White House's faith-based advisory council, and she was the only person at the Aspen Ideas Festival in hejab. Lee argues that Mogahed is well-meaning but naive about the importance of showing "respect" to the Muslim world:

"Respect" may be the Obama Administration's keyword for dealing with the Muslim world, but one might argue that there is nothing respectful about lying through our teeth to a substantial part of humanity and pretending to admire culturally ingrained behavior and practices that we in fact deplore. Nor is there anything kind and decent about imagining that Muslims are so childish as to be duped by our mendacity. Muslims in the Middle East are well aware of the tragedy of their situation as members of a society in which innovation, education, and personal liberties are on the decline and violent radicalism is on the rise. That is the reason for their anger and despair.

Lee suggests rather strongly that in her polling work, Mogahed systematically underplays the levels of extremism among Muslims. But you should read the whole thing. Because both Lee and Dalia are friends of mine (Goldblog is a uniter, not a divider), I asked Dalia to respond to some of Lee's points, and she did, in this e-mail below (complete with charts).

Though I am flattered at being called more influential than Denis Ross and Secretary Clinton, Mr. Smith uses a lot of embellishment in this article, including his description of my position.  My access to the White House is no greater than any other member of the White House Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, a group whose one year term ended 3 weeks ago. I disagree with some of the opinions in Mr. Lee Smiths's piece, but I see two main factual issues requiring a response.  First, the definition of politically radicalized used in Who Speaks for Islam, and second, the idea that "respect" as an approach is disengenuous and ineffective.
 
On the first issue: Had Mr. Smith asked me about this issue in our hour long phone call 2 days ago, or done the most rudimentary research http://www.gallup.com/press/108457/Frequently-Asked-Questions.aspx, he would have found the empirical evidence for our decision on how to define the extremist fringe. The decision as to where to break out the "politically radicalized" from the rest was data-driven. It was based on several analyses of where the data clustered for a natural breaking point. The analyses showed that the people who responded with a "5" (completely justifiable) to the question on the justifiability of 9/11 as a group were distinctly different from the groups who responded with a "1", "2", "3" or "4." The graphic below provides an illustrative example: It shows the percentage of people in each of the 5 groups who said "sacrificing one's life for a cause one believes in" is completely justifiable. The group that responded to the 9/11 question with a "5" look distinctly different from the groups that responded with a "1" to "4."

 

 

Events of Sept 11th in USA, that is, the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon


%

1

55.4

2

11.8

3

11.3

4

6.5


The term "moderate" is more of a placeholder label than a value judgment. It is similar to calling one clustering in the data "group A" and another "group B." We simply used labels that a broad audience can easily understand and remember. Some have also asked how we can call someone a "radical" simply because they thought 9/11 was justified and actually had not *done* anything. The idea here is not that we are judging who or what a "moderate" or "radical" is, but rather assigning labels to statistical groups that we clearly define.

The 7% with extremist views in Muslim societies are similar in proportion (no statistical difference) to the 6% of the American public who report they believe that targeting and killing civilians is "completely justified."  In both cases, these groups are the extremists "cheering section", not an organized network of would-be terrorists.  

Who Speaks for Islam is a Gallup Press publication, which means that it had to meet Gallup's standards of objectivity and scientific rigor.  Gallup is a for-profit company which relies on its brand image of non-partisanship and integrity to stay in business.  It would be hard to find a reason for Gallup to deliberately put its business model at risk by reporting inaccurate or "whitewashed" analysis.  The book did not "set out to prove that the vast majority of the world's Muslims are moderate by nature."  The book set out to showcase data in a readable way, regardless of what that data proved or disproved.

On the second issue:  Muslims around the world are not waiting for Obama or anyone else to pretend to respect aspects of their societies that they themselves abhor.  But like all people, Muslim men and women want to be engaged as equal human beings.  The Cairo speech clearly outlines the issues in Muslim societies that Muslims themselves say need to be fixed, from a deficit in education and innovation to a lack of gendar justice.  The issue is that Islam should not be scapegoated for these issues.  When Martin Luther King demanded that Africa Americans be respected as equals, he was referring to a recognition of a common humanity, not a dismissal of any problems the community is facing.  President Obama frequently addresses the problem of fatherless families that plagues the black community disproportionately.  Yet, clearly, he still regards the African American community as equally deserving of respect. It is possible, indeed crucial, to show respect for a community while honestly raising the challenges that community faces.  It was in fact this candor that many said they admired about the Cairo address.

Presented by

Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

Saving the Bees

Honeybees contribute more than $15 billion to the U.S. economy. A short documentary considers how desperate beekeepers are trying to keep their hives alive.

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Global

From This Author

Just In