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The Top Public Intellectuals
July 3, 2008 10:17 AM   Subscribe

Prospect/Foreign Policy release their list of the world's top public intellectuals(full list). Number 1? The Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen.

The rest of the top 10? The microfinancier Muhammad Yunus, the cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the writer Orhan Pamuk, the politician Aitzaz Ahsan, the evangelist Amr Khaled, the philosopher Abdolkarim Soroush, the philosopher Tariq Ramadan, the cultural theorist Mahmood Mamdani and activist Shirin Ebadi. Sense a theme? Yes, all Muslims.
This is a striking turnabout from the 2005 poll topped by Chomsky, Eco and Dawkins.
What happened? Prospect Magazine explains. The Turkish newspaper Zaman weighs in. The UK's Independent is outraged. Fethulah Gulen defends himself.
posted by vacapinta (51 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Muhammad Yunus is great.
posted by RufusW at 10:24 AM on July 3, 2008


I'm happy that Zaman did that. Goes to show you that somewhere in the world, someone still appreciates intellectual nationalism. Here in Boston, a voting alert will only go up if one of the Red Sox is short in the All-Star balloting.
posted by jsavimbi at 10:27 AM on July 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


How did Steven Colbert not win?
posted by delmoi at 10:29 AM on July 3, 2008 [5 favorites]


Hah, Colbert was the top Write-in Candidate. Okay.
posted by delmoi at 10:31 AM on July 3, 2008


Looks like Arundhati Roy got the boot. And Al Gore is the world's 12th 'top' public intellectual. Huh.
posted by ageispolis at 10:31 AM on July 3, 2008


Apparently jsavimbi doesn't believe that David Ortiz is one of the world's top public intellectuals. Go back to NY, Yankee fan!
posted by Banky_Edwards at 10:35 AM on July 3, 2008


Friedman?!?!? Fucking guy thinks the world is flat.
posted by vito90 at 10:36 AM on July 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Well, that's internet democracy for you. You can't weight for western arrogance!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:36 AM on July 3, 2008 [9 favorites]


...the chief characteristic of the Gülen movement is identified as not seeking to subvert modern secular states but rather encouraging practicing Muslims to use to the fullest the opportunities those countries offer.

So it would seem that was put into practice here; the followers of the movement took full advantage of an on-line poll.

Who can complain about that? Taking full advantage of our opportunities is something we all should be doing.
posted by never used baby shoes at 10:37 AM on July 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Translation: another group learns online poll stacking from the school of Ron Paul. The lesson about the actual value of stacking online polls (also from the school of Ron Paul) remains unlearned.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:38 AM on July 3, 2008 [7 favorites]


WTF? Clearly this list is flawed since I was not contacted where to send my application in advance.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:38 AM on July 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Using anonymous internet voting for choosing "The World's Top Intellectuals" is ridiculous to begin with.
posted by rocket88 at 10:39 AM on July 3, 2008 [5 favorites]


The UK's Independent is outraged.

That's a slightly misleading way of putting it. More like an author who, famously, hates blogging, user generated content, Wikipedia, online polls, &c. is using the story to bolster his ongoing campaign against anything that smells even faintly of 'Web 2.0'. On a weblog, ironically, not in the newspaper.
posted by jack_mo at 10:40 AM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's sickening, if not entirely surprising, how few women there are on the list.
posted by Morpeth at 10:47 AM on July 3, 2008


Go back to NY, Yankee fan!

That's a stabbin'.
posted by jsavimbi at 10:49 AM on July 3, 2008


They pick the top intellectuals with a broken poll of the general public? Irony much?

They have an International Intellectual reality show where all contestants get up and extemporize on a topic of the judge's choosing. Last man standing takes it.
posted by DU at 10:50 AM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Interview about Fethullah Gulen
posted by parmanparman at 10:53 AM on July 3, 2008


The Independent's arrogance is particularly amusing. Apparently the poll is only "supposedly" democratic even though its the type of "of open democratic polling, in which any Tom, Dick or Mohammed can vote anonymously" I guess it didn't work because their guy didn't win. Maybe Andrew Keen should move to Zimbabwe, I hear their democratic polls are rigged.
posted by Parallax.Error at 10:56 AM on July 3, 2008


Just proves that we need to devote more billions to fighting Islamo-fascist cyber-warfare, including more surveillance of Americans
posted by orthogonality at 10:58 AM on July 3, 2008


Isn't that just an Unsolicited Finger to the West's Anus.
posted by srboisvert at 10:58 AM on July 3, 2008


"At one point Al Gore was on course to add the top intellectual gong to his Nobel peace prize and Oscar. "

Al Gore: "Oh, hey, Prospect. That's a really nice honor you got there. Did you make it yourself? No, really. I like it. See, I'm going to put it right here on the refridgerator. No, I won't put it next to the Nobel or the Oscar. They're locked away where I can't see them. I want to see your award every day. Because it's that special. Because you're special."
posted by Eideteker at 11:00 AM on July 3, 2008 [9 favorites]


Somehow I can't imagine Prospect publishing a picture of Fethullah Gulen on its cover and annointing the liberal Muslim as the world's top public intellectual.

This arrogant fuck right here, huh?

I'm confused: in a contest that seems intended to portray political trends (yay Al Gore, the great intellectual?), doesn't the work of a "Liberal Muslim" represent enough Western benefitting, cultural underdog credits to cancel out the standing Anti-Muslim racism demerits?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:02 AM on July 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's sickening, if not entirely surprising, how few women there are on the list.

Bloody typical I'd say. And obviously incorrect.
posted by three blind mice at 11:05 AM on July 3, 2008


I'm very disappointed that a Metafilter movement to vote me the top intellectual never materialized.

I am no longer on speaking terms with the rest of you.
posted by oddman at 11:11 AM on July 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'd nominate Dame Edna.
posted by binturong at 11:16 AM on July 3, 2008


I think this is great. I know that the question, "who is the greatest intellectual?" is about as ridiculous as the question, "who is the greatest guitarist," but I still think it's great.





Erratum: Pat Martino is the greatest guitarist.
posted by Mister_A at 11:30 AM on July 3, 2008


Meh. Strike "racism" and insert "bias." I know Islam isn't a race, d'oh! but "bias" just doesn't sting right.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:30 AM on July 3, 2008


a poll like ours was simple to hijack

How exactly was this hijacking the poll?
posted by arcticwoman at 11:35 AM on July 3, 2008


All them Turks voting for that Turkish guy, that's how. They's muslims!!!!
posted by Mister_A at 11:37 AM on July 3, 2008


Oh, so when they said "The World's Top Public Intellectuals" they meant "The World's Top Public Intellectuals" (as voted by Western, non-Muslim, internet connected, Prospect readers)? Makes sense to me.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:42 AM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sounds like a rational way to judge intellectual merit.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:42 AM on July 3, 2008


I'd like to think that this shows that people in Turkye care about their intellectual image in the world. And that it's an attempt at constructive interaction with the west.

On a more negative note it reminds me of nationalistic Turkish rallies being organised in Germany for Germans of Turkish descent where they're incited to basically stay Turks in exile instead of identifying with being German.

And yes; the notion 'greatest intellectual' is totally an accolade by a specific cultural group. So the notion of a world-wide 'greatest intellectual' is impossible because of worldwide cultural differences.
posted by jouke at 11:43 AM on July 3, 2008


Yes, that was a terrible choice of words, arcticwoman. Other than that, the poll piece was fairly even-handed. Here is the Prospect piece on Gülen. I haven't read it yet.
posted by Mister_A at 11:48 AM on July 3, 2008


Translation: another group learns online poll stacking from the school of Ron Paul. The lesson about the actual value of stacking online polls (also from the school of Ron Paul) remains unlearned.

I may be interpreting a plate of beans here, but the lessons are totally different. The Ron Paul phenomenon showed that you could get a libertarian bloc of techies to raise buttloads of money really efficiently on the Internet. That fundraising probably helped knock the wind out of some of the other Republican dropouts from the race, such as Giuliani and Romney. In fact, McCain was a weak campaigner, and he might not have emerged as the GOP victor if his militarism hadn't allowed to him emerge as some sort of anti-Ron Paul. Unfortunately for Ron Paul, the electoral value of stacking these online polls is practically nil, unless your followers happened to be geographically dispersed in the states with the important primaries and caucuses.

As for the Turks who hacked the Foreign Policy poll of public intellectuals, it suggests that there's a significant bloc of liberal-minded, non-fundamentalist Muslims who really want some intellectual recognition. Given the state of the U.S. foreign policy quagmire in a certain Middle Eastern Muslim country, this demand for intellectual respect is probably something we should pay attention to.
posted by jonp72 at 11:59 AM on July 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


I thought Cory Doctorow was the world's top public intellectual ... and he's been translated into Turkish!
posted by lukemeister at 12:18 PM on July 3, 2008


You can't weight for western arrogance!

I also can't weight for it to end!

BOO-YEAH!
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:28 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


When Time asked its readers to vote online for their person of the century in 1999, the blitz of support for Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was so overwhelming that at one point he was leading Bob Dylan in the “artist and entertainer” category.

Well, you gotta admit his cover of "All Along the Minaret" kicked ass.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:11 PM on July 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Oh, and your favorite Islamic intellectual picked by the general public over the internet sucks.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:12 PM on July 3, 2008


Oh, so when they said "The World's Top Public Intellectuals" they meant "The World's Top Public Intellectuals" (as voted by Western, non-Muslim, internet connected, Prospect readers)? Makes sense to me... sounds like a rational way to judge intellectual merit.

You're right. The best way to remedy the many flaws of this particular method of ranking "public intellectuals" would be to poll people who spend the entirety of their waking hours fetching water or herding sheep in remote villages, disconnected from the world. Because those people probably have really strong, well-founded opinions about the relative merits of public intellectuals.
posted by Kwantsar at 1:37 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


You're totally right. Anyone who doesn't live in the US, Canada, or GB must be some sort of savage living in a mud hut. Or maybe my point was that online polls are not statistically representative or even logical ways of deciding "World's Top" anything.
posted by arcticwoman at 1:54 PM on July 3, 2008


Someone should have notified the chans and we could have had Anonymous as The World's Top Intellectual. Anonymous' moral arguments on the fundamental invalidity of forgetfulness and forgiveness are fascinating.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:38 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I call bullshit too, we're talking about people involved in public policy debates or such. If you really rank people by "intellectualness" or ranked intellectuals by impact, then you'd see almost nothing but scientists and engineers. Well, I suppose Muhammad Yunus might still make the list if your going by impact, not intellectualness. Also, How many of these Turkish authors can really hold a candle to Aziz Nesin?
posted by jeffburdges at 4:56 PM on July 3, 2008


As long as Christopher Hitchens is nowhere near the top ten anymore, I think it's a definite improvement.

There is a difference between someone who is an intellectual, like Noam Chomsky, and someone who is merely persistantly argumentative in their advocacy of inhumane behavior, such as Christopher Hitchens, Wm. F. Buckley, etc.

A true intellectual wouldn't argue in favor of and try to justify amoral "might equals right" arguments, because it would be abundantly clear from history just what sorts of horrors that leads to *AND* the excessive price that must be paid in the court of public opinion.

I find it amusing and telling that Hitchens, who once accused Amnesty International of supporting the terrorists and being anti-American by opposing Guantanamo, only required a few pathetic seconds worth of a simulated waterboarding session to say "Hey! That's TORTURE!!!"

Bull. Christopher Hitchens has never been -- and presumably never will be -- tortured in his lifetime. He had just the smallest taste of the suffering he so strongly advocated for on numerous unnamed people worldwide, many of whom, frankly, were innocent.

You cannot truely be an amoral intellectual, because it doesn't really take that much intelligence to realise that in order for your ideas to be relevant in this world, they have to take people's emotions into account... and if your arguments start to veer into Swiftian "eat the Irish" territory... or Bushian "with us or against us" territory... you *DESERVE* to have your opinions shunned and ignored.

That is not to say that there aren't situations in life where some must suffer or die "for the greater good", but the "might equals right" mindset and the horrors it unleashes are increasingly coming up against immediate worldwide public opinion and condemnation that invariably makes the conflict worse.

Intellectuals should *ALL* understand this phenomena by now... Gandhi most certainly did.

And most certainly, the people who have apparently voted for the "top intellectuals", both this year and prior, don't reliably know this, and are, presumably, just as foolish as most of their neighbors.
posted by markkraft at 5:26 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


"I thought Cory Doctorow was the world's top public intellectual ..."

I know Cory, and think he's a pretty nice, interesting guy... but he's most certainly not the world's top intellectual.

It seems to me that a true intellectual should know a lot about how to really *LIVE*... and from my experience, that's not Cory.

Hopping redeyes without much in the way of real roots and searching constantly and painfully for the next WiFi hotspot is no way to live... and I would hope that he would agree with that sentiment, even though I see no end to such an existence for him anytime soon.
posted by markkraft at 5:44 PM on July 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


As for the Turks who hacked the Foreign Policy poll of public intellectuals, it suggests that there's a significant bloc of liberal-minded, non-fundamentalist Muslims who really want some intellectual recognition.

And who just happened to propel Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Tariq Ramadan into the top 10. Tee hee.
posted by Krrrlson at 7:38 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sure, but what have these guys (and I notice 9 of the top 10 are men - OMG BOYZONE WAS THIS POLL CONDUCTED BY METAFILTER?) done for me lately?
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:48 PM on July 3, 2008


The last link is not Gulen defending himself; it is written by Muhammed Çetin. It's a good read though:
Could it be that a certain view of the Muslim world as "backward," "downtrodden," and "stuck in the Middle Ages" is being challenged? The results show that the Muslim world is not on the wrong side of the great "digital divide." It has embraced this branch of modernity with zeal and competence. It is clear from these results that Muslims will gladly, enthusiastically and fearlessly participate in all kinds of open voting, given half a chance. This is not the time for onlookers and poll organizers to lurch into a half-baked conspiracy theory and refuse to heed what the Muslim world is telling them: that the people prefer peaceful and even democratic influences and are eager participants in all kinds of civil society activities.
posted by BinGregory at 10:55 PM on July 3, 2008


jonp72
I may be interpreting a plate of beans here, but the lessons are totally different.
No, you just completely misunderstood Krrrlson's point.

He was referring to the fact that up until the primaries began, and even during them up to Super Tuesday, Paul supporters would hammer online polls and skew them to show him winning Republican races everywhere by eleventybillion percent, then tout them as showing how strong Paul was. Fortunately, reality set in eventually. The lesson is that pulling that kind of poll-stacking and inflating your guy doesn't make your guy stronger, it makes the polls useless and can even undermine what you're going for. The same thing happened here; regardless of how great an intellectual these ten people are, by dumping votes in the poll was rendered useless and might even weaken respect for these people outside of their bases. To those saying it's just democracy, in a literal sense it is, but it would be nice if all of the candidates did this (from the explanation article): One of our candidates, Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev, was gracious enough to alert us to the fact that one of his country’s top newspapers was encouraging readers to support him, and to urge us to discount any votes for him from Bulgarian email addresses. But the campaign failed to rouse the Bulgarians.

Also:
In fact, McCain was a weak campaigner, and he might not have emerged as the GOP victor if his militarism hadn't allowed to him emerge as some sort of anti-Ron Paul.
::rolls eyes::
The Paul spin is getting more contorted all the time.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:36 AM on July 4, 2008


That last jab at the "chinese information ministry" in the Prospect article is pitiful. Hahaha, wait till the hundreds of millions in China show up and 'hijack' our poll!
1. The chinese government probably does not feel responsible for any person of chinese descent the magazine decides to mention.
2. If it happens it will more likely be a grass-roots effort by netizens.
3. Since this survey is so obviously flawed anyway, they decided not to bother.
posted by monocot at 4:53 PM on July 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


What a waste of time... and I paid money for this!
posted by nonanon at 9:08 PM on July 4, 2008


Foreign Policy adopts irs version of the American Idol selection process. The laughable, dissonant results are out.
posted by abakua at 2:17 PM on July 5, 2008


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