The Money Quote about the Poll results:
No one spread the word as effectively as the man who tops the list. 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 GÃ¼len. Within hours, votes in his favor began to pour in. His supportersâ€”typically educated, upwardly mobile Muslimsâ€”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 yearâ€™s reader poll are all Muslim. The ideas for which they are known, particularly concerning Islam, differ significantly. Itâ€™s clear that, in this case, identity politics carried the day.
When I read the poll results (without first reading the above paragraph) I was nearly apoplectic that someone described as a muslim Televangelist was rated higher than Richard Dawkins, and that Al Gore was on it at all… phew. I was up in arms over it, at least emotionally.
This is one of those times when one has to examine their personal prejudices and determine if your reaction is to the “Islam” or to the “Religious” part of it. Did I react badly because the top ten are foreign and unknown to me or because they are overwhelmingly Muslim? This is a troubling line of questioning, isn’t it? I guess if you are conservative and wrong, the answers are easy here, but when you are a thinking liberal who has to examine the whole list and determine what you think of it, the answers aren’t as easy.
It seems that the top ten list is made up of religious personalities, akin to the list being full of American Televangelists and the Pope. This kind of framing, in my mind, puts to rest any queasiness I have about the list and of course the fact that it was made via open public gaming of the poll makes it even less troubling. Imagine if Free Republic and Stormfront had come out in force to vote on the list? I imagine that personal politics would color it there too.
So, in the end. Am I being racist in my reaction to this list. Most likely, there is certainly a strong xenophobic bent in my initial reaction that can’t be passed of as me immediately noting the religious trappings of the top ten, but I went on and read the list and tried to gain a better understanding of how it came about and used reason over emotion to judge it. I think that is the best we can hope for, that reason is our fallback plan when we think our emotions are overwhelming us.
Also, Stephen Colbert is the “write in” winner. I think we can put this list to bed as “typical web poll garbage” and sleep easier for it, or at least congratulate the voting public for having their voice heard.