“Muslims” versus “Americans”?

I just ran across a book put out by the Gallup press last year, titled Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, by researchers John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed. Gallup did tens of thousands of interviews with people in 35 predominantly or significantly Muslim countries, asking them an array of questions about their views of the West and Islam. Here is a bit of the Gallup summary of their findings:

Muslims around the world do not see the West as monolithic. They criticize or celebrate countries based on their politics, not based on their culture or religion.

All their points in the Gallup summary are presented as “counterintuitive discoveries.” And rather uncritically too. The Western bias even in this “liberal” analysis is obvious. It does not take much familiarity with the non-Western media online to know this in advance. Mainly for Westerners would this “duh” conclusion be “counterintuitive.”

In addition, the U.S./Western bias leaps out at the reader in the major part of the summary that accents Western “concerns” about Islam:

When asked to describe their dreams for the future, Muslims don’t mention fighting in a jihad, but rather getting a better job. . . . Muslims and Americans are equally likely to reject attacks on civilians as morally unjustified. . . . Those who condone acts of terrorism are a minority and are no more likely to be religious than the rest of the population. . . .

Again, this is not really counterintuitive for people living in these countries, or indeed I suspect in most of the non-Western world. Featuring this Western obsession over “jihad” in a major survey tells us much more about Western stereotyping of non-Western Muslims than it does about the latter (billion) citizens of planet Earth.

The summary adds this:

What Muslims around the world say they most admire about the West is its technology and its democracy — the same two top responses given by Americans when asked the same question.. . . . What Muslims around the world say they least admire about the West is its perceived moral decay and breakdown of traditional values — the same responses given by Americans when posed the same question.

The strong and ethnocentric dichotomy throughout the summary is very revealing. There is the odd phrasing the Gallup folks use a couple of times: “Muslims and Americans.” And they carry out this dichotomy in describing (unmodified) “Muslims” and “Americans” as having similar values and views, but again without making it clear that millions of Muslims are indeed Americans. Apparently it does not occur to them that one can be both Muslim and American, all across the U.S.

The ethnocentrism and ignorance about Muslims, including U.S. Muslims, in the U.S. is indeed staggering. Maybe the naïve survey does move in the direction of seeing Muslims everywhere as human beings? As the summary notes:

Muslims around the world say that the one thing the West can do to improve relations with their societies is to moderate their views toward Muslims and respect Islam.

Indeed. And do a little research and reading.