Prospect and the Sufis

Since you ask, I haven’t seen the new conservative intellectual magazine Schwerpunkt. I did, on the other hand, notice the current Prospect – not one of my usual reads, as it generally comes across as New Labour at prayer.

Well, Prospect was running a poll to determine the world’s leading intellectual. They last did this in 2005, when good old Noam Chomsky won, prompting a bit of consternation amongst the liberals and leading directly to the Grauniad’s infamous hoax interview with Chomsky. So Prospect might have been expecting trouble when they ran this again.

The results are in and, as it happens, all of the top ten are Muslims. The runaway winner is Turkish Sufi cleric Fethullah Gülen, whose followers number in the millions and who has close links to the ruling AK Party, although he’s not very famous outside Turkey. Runner up is Bangladeshi microfinancier and Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, followed by top Islamic theologian Sheikh Qaradawi. Not that I’m having a go at any of these characters – and Tariq Ramadan, certainly, would have been one of my picks – but this is all rather curious.

So curious, in fact, that Prospect has had to run an explanatory note. You remember a few years ago when the BBC World Service ran a poll to find the best record of all time, and imaginative Irish lobbying won it for the Wolfe Tones? It seems something similar happened this time. The poll got mentioned in a mass-circulation Turkish paper with links to the Gülen movement, and those Turkish votes just flooded in. Presumably this boosted the other Muslim contenders.

The white blokes don’t even begin to make a showing until number 11, where our old friend Noam pops up, followed by Al Gore. And at 13 we find eminent Orientalist Bernard Lewis. I suppose, although Bernard is both eminent and influential, the Turkish vote couldn’t have hurt in his case, as he has close ties to the Ankara establishment, and his contortions over the Armenian genocide have come in handy for Turkish nationalists over the years.

You know, what struck me most was a little juxtaposition. In my newsagent, the latest Prospect was plonked down right next to ailing lads’ mag Zoo, which is apparently having a big boobs poll. I didn’t have the heart to pick up Zoo, so I can’t tell you whether its discerning readers judged Lucy, Sophie or Saskia to have the world’s best outsize knockers. But maybe something along those lines could be Prospect‘s next poll. God knows, it might save them some embarrassment, as these highfalutin intellectual polls always seem to come back and bite them.


  1. Irish Mark P said,

    June 28, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    As somebody just said to me “at least there’d be some women in that one”. Unlike the Prospect poll, which had I think 3 women in the top 50.

  2. ejh said,

    June 28, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Isn’t there another story this tells us, which is that not many people actually read Prospect?

  3. johng said,

    June 28, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    Thats the trouble with global civil society. As with actual civil society it only works if you exclude most of the population.

  4. Doug said,

    June 30, 2008 at 10:51 am

    Bernard Lewis at number 13! Clearly the pro-imperialist pro-Zionist lobby is alive and well. Lewis rather infamously refused to criticise/condemn the classic piece of Zionist historical jusitification/lies/bullshit concocted by Joan Peters (the title of the book escapes me – age catching up with me).

  5. ejh said,

    June 30, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    From Time Immemorial

  6. rote kapelle said,

    June 30, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    Fethullah was probably put up by the same rather well-organised operation you tend to get in Turkey.

    At the turn of the century, Time magazine (I think) put up a Man Of The Century competition, and there was a huge campaign on in Turkey to have Kemal Ataturk named, with thousands of people sending his name in.

  7. Bob said,

    July 7, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    That pesky Zionist lobby, they sure do control the world eh Doug. Even managed to nobble Prospect, and the entire Turkish population…

    In fact, I think Lewis’ refusal to describe the Armenian genocide by its proper name is probably, as the post suggests, more likely to be the real reason. (Although Orhan Pamuk bravely takes a different view from Lewis.)

    By the way, I think the list is quite cool. Iranian dissidents and feminists, Pakistani democrats – a much more globally meaningful list than the usual charmed circle of privileged white elite pundits.

    (Although the inclusion of Noam Chomsky and the theocrat Qaradawi undermines its somewhat.)

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