Lee Smith vs. Dalia Mogahed, Cont'd

Lee Smith sent Goldblog the following response to Dalia Mogahed's response to his original post. Enough with the responses, already, I know, but everyone (well, almost everyone) gets a turn on Goldblog. This feud concerns, in essence, whether Dalia Mogahed, the leading pollster of Muslim attitudes (and someone who both advises President Obama and endorses his outreach to the Muslim world) downplays Muslim radicalism:

Thanks to Jeffrey Goldberg for his invitation to respond, and turning Goldblog into a model of what engagement really ought to be: not just one side listening to other, but both engaged with each other's ideas and making a case for them (ed. note: Aw, shucks). Accordingly, thanks most of all to Dalia Mogahed who, as she notes, gave me an hour of her time last week for the interview, and here again gives generously of her time in order to engage the article and my arguments.

Regarding the Gallup poll that led to her book Who Speaks For Islam?, Ms. Mogahed writes that the term "moderate" is more a placeholder than a value judgment, but in this context, "moderate" is not value neutral, but is rather part of the highly charged political vocabulary that we've used over the last several years to describe relations between the US and the Muslim world. Perhaps she and her co-author John Esposito did not, as I wrote, intend to "prove that the vast majority of the world's Muslims are moderate by nature"; however, both their choice of questions and the decisions they made in clustering respondents can serve no other purpose than to define what they think moderate means in reference to how Americans perceive the concept. The book is an entry in that debate, and accordingly some of her audience is going to disagree with how some of her findings are packaged, as I do.

As for the radical side of the spectrum, I do not believe that there are 91 million would-be terrorists in the Muslim world, but a cheering section of that size makes it difficult for American policymakers to be heard in the region, regardless of how much respect they convey for Muslims and their beliefs. I argued in article is that it was unwise to pretend we admire things about the Muslim world that we do not find admirable.  Ms Mogahed writes that Muslims wish to be engaged as equal human beings, and for a recognition of their common humanity, both of which are perfectly unobjectionable, even as it suggests that this would mark a change in past practice - in particular, a departure from the attitudes of President Obama's predecessor. That Bush was somehow anti-Muslim is a popular theme, in the Muslim world as well as the US, but since President Bush never showed that he did not respect Muslims and because it is impossible to look into a man's heart to know whether or not he is sincere about the feelings he conveys publicly, we are left with the physical evidence; in the case of policymakers, this comes down to the policies they advocate and implement. For example, democracy promotion and human rights were central to the last administration's regional policy, whereas these do not seem to play any role in the policy of this administration.  So, who shows more respect for the common humanity of Muslims? The last president, who spoke out against human rights violations in Egypt, or the current president, who went to Egypt to complain about French laws regarding the headscarf? We can debate the merits of George Bush's decision to promote democracy in the region and in Iraq above all, and elsewhere I have questioned the wisdom of that choice, but the fact remains that under Bush's command thousands of American servicemen and women shed their blood so that, among other things, the lives of millions of Iraqi Muslims were no longer subject to the whims of a dictator. Ms Mogahed's findings suggest that the US is unpopular in the Muslim world because, among other reasons, of the Iraq War; however, I am quite certain that were she to limit respondents to Iraqi Shia and Iraqi Kurds she would obtain a very different sampling. In effect, the difference seems to be that President Obama is interested in the common humanity of the Muslim world, whereas the last commander-in-chief staked his presidency, the national security of the United States, and the lives of American military and diplomatic personnel on his faith in the humanity of Muslim human beings.

I am very glad this discussion is getting attention elsewhere, even as some of the attention is ill-informed. For instance, MJ Rosenberg says of my Tablet article that it is a "racist attack" and that I am "famous for this type" of  "Islamophobic neocon claptrap." I guess I didn't know that, but you can't control what you're known for. For instance, in pro-Syrian regime and pro-Hezbollah circles in the Levant I am best known as a Hariri stooge, that is to say, an advocate on behalf of Lebanon's March 14 movement, a broad cross-sectarian pro-democracy coalition - Sunnis, Druze, Christians as well as independent Shia not aligned with Hezbollah - under the leadership of now Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Sunni Muslim. There's no reason for Mr. Rosenberg to know of my political activism in the region, and since he is yet another tiresome commentator on the Middle East who seems to understand the region only in terms of Jews vs. Muslims, it's likely he's never heard of March 14. Nonetheless, noble souls like Mr Rosenberg will have to reckon with the fact that it is precisely because President Obama regards the region as an indiscriminate mass of Muslims whose friendship we must eagerly court that informed his decision to reach out to regional actors that the Bush administration had isolated, like Syria. As soon as our Lebanese allies registered the direction in which Washington policy was moving, they were compelled to submit to Damascus, leaving the US without a Lebanese ally, and Beirut without a pro-democracy movement. It is surpassingly strange that a feel-good policy like President Obama's anodyne outreach to the Muslim world has left so many Muslims worse off than they were two years ago.