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Political scientist Samuel Huntington depicted a clash of civilizations between the West and the House of Islam in his controversial book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, which received new life after 9/11. Huntington and his admirers portrayed Muslim countries as incorrigibly illiberal and anti-Western, a view that has spread beyond the academy.

A major theme of the New Atheism is that fanaticism is intrinsic not only to Islam but to all of the Abrahamic religions. Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, writes that "we are not at war with terrorism, we are at war with Islam." And in her book Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali argues that only by turning against Islam and embracing Western secularism can Muslims—especially Muslim women—discover the blessings of freedom.

Certainly one could find anecdotal evidence (such as honor killings or Islamic groups cheering terrorist attacks) to argue that Muslims are enemies of modernity, liberalism, and freedom. But are these horror stories representative?

A wealth of data presents a different picture. Much of this data is summarized in John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed's Who Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think (see "Islam According to Gallup," CT, Nov. 2008, page 38).

Surveys of the world's Muslims find that most Muslims support democracy and freedom. Indeed, many Muslims complain that they are ruled by Western-supported secular despots who deny people their right to self-government. Most Muslims also support scientific advancements and seek more prosperity through free markets and global trade. However one reads the Qur'an or the historical record of Islam, no one familiar with this data can call contemporary Muslims enemies of modernity. ...

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July 2009

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