Top Ten

by wjw on July 16, 2008

A few years back, Prospect Magazine inaugurated a yearly poll to name the world’s top public intellectuals. Basically, you type in a name and click. This year, the results were surprising.

Who are the world’s top ten intellectuals? A bunch of Islamic guys you probably never heard of, led by Turkey’s Fethullah Gulen. The first Westerner is Noam Chomsky at #11, followed by Al Gore, Islamic scholar Bernard Lewis, and Umberto Eco.

This is good news. That Islamic scholars, and intellectuals with an Islamic background (like, say, Orhan Pamuk), are conducting an energetic dialog about the meaning of Islam in the modern world, is also good news. And that Gulen came in first is even better news.

Gulen is a modern, humanist, liberal cleric with a background in Sufism. He opposes terrorism as anti-Islamic. He is pro-democracy and pro-science (he even publishes a science magazine). He’s got a loosely-knit organization of 5 million people, and owns hospitals, broadcast stations, and 500 elite schools. If you’re in an Islamic country, and some young person comes up to you and offers to help or translate, the odds are pretty good that he’s a product of one of Gulen’s academies.

In short, if you’ve got to have a faith, this is the sort of faith to have.

The other nine names in the top ten include three Nobel winners, some very respectable clerics, teachers, jurists, one novelist, a number of exiles, and only one guy who actually supports suicide bombing. Rather too many of them can’t seem to get visas to visit the States.

People from Islamic countries seem to have participated enthusiastically in the poll, perhaps all the more eagerly because so many are denied the use of the ballot box at home. Though the system was open to abuse, Prospect claims the poll was not hacked.

So— a magazine actually consulted the public in naming public intellectuals. It may not make that mistake again, but we can hope that it will.

JW Johnson July 18, 2008 at 12:20 am

Why aren’t you on here WJW? Your a pretty smart guy imo. . . .

Can I get that signed copy of Implied Spaces now?

Ok then. How about if you just sign the copy I just bought if I ever happen to meet you in real life?

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