Of the top ten, all ten are Muslims and write about Islamic issues.
The twenty-first century will be profoundly shaped by developments in the Islamic world, but I think this result overeggs the pudding, as the British would say. A product of ballot-box stuffing perhaps?
Foreign Policy admitted as much in its summary of the results:
…A number of intellectuals—including Aitzaz Ahsan, Noam Chomsky, Michael Ignatieff, and Amr Khaled—mounted voting drives by promoting the list on their Web sites. Others issued press releases or gave interviews to local newspapers. Press coverage profiling these intellectuals appeared around the world, with stories running in Canada, India, Indonesia, Qatar, Spain, and elsewhere.
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 Gülen. Within hours, votes in his favor began to pour in. His supporters—typically educated, upwardly mobile Muslims—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 year’s reader poll are all Muslim.
In any case, this confirms my readers’ suspicions that this vote was a pointless exercise. I’m inclined to agree, and not just because of the absence of a single Japanese from the list of nominees (although Foreign Policy‘s Minxin Pei insisted that Funabashi Yoichi should have made the list). It’s interesting that despite the much-vaunted rise of (East) Asia, the only East Asian in the top twenty is from India (Amartya Sen), whose credentials as an East Asian country some might question despite its membership in the East Asia Summit.
What does this list tell us aside from which intellectuals are best at mobilizing their supporters? (There’s something about the combination of “intellectuals” and “mobilizing their supporters” that doesn’t sit right with me.)