In a world dominated by media celebrities little space is left for intellectuals. Undergraduate students multiple-choice their way through the great lights of the academic past: Freud, Marx, Heidegger, Derrida, Foucault and the list goes on. But who among the living tops the list of brain savy heroes? Foreign Policy held a referendum for four weeks earlier this year in which 500,000 people responded. The idea was to create a list of the world’s top 100 intellectuals. But surprise, the list would seem more a result of who was motivated to respond than anything else. Write down your top three (or at least think about three prominent living intellectuals) and compare to the Foreign Policy list.

Here goes the top ten (and David Letterman did not make this list):

1 Fethullah Gülen
2 Muhammad Yunus
3 Yusuf Al-Qaradawi
4 Orhan Pamuk
5 Aitzaz Ahsan
6 Amr Khaled
7 Abdolkarim Soroush
8 Tariq Ramadan
9 Mahmood Mamdani
10 Shirin Ebadi

Do you notice anything that these individuals have in common? Yes, they are all Muslims and only a couple would even be recognizable by most readers of the journal. The next ten bring up some familiar names:

11 Noam Chomsky
12 Al Gore
13 Bernard Lewis
14 Umberto Eco
15 Ayaan Hirsi Ali
16 Amartya Sen
17 Fareed Zakaria
18 Garry Kasparov
19 Richard Dawkins
20 Mario Vargas Llosa

In this democratic quasi-Cosmopolitan approach to defining the reigning intellectual giants, a dissident Dutch-havened Somali who once posed naked with Quranic calligraphy on her body outshines Richard Dawkins, author of a book against God. Poor Bernard Lewis, the Princeton don who speculated about “What Went Wrong? after 9/11, loses out to Al Gore, who managed to lose a chad-flawed electoral college vote while winning the popular vote.

My point is not to disparage any of these top twenty individuals, although some appear here for notoriety rather than intellectual acumen or critical scholarship. Scientists get short shrift, as E. O. Wilson weighs in at #39, below Pope Benedict XVI (#32) and Steven Pinker must be chagrined to lose out at a disappointing #37. Even Richard Posner, who has his own list, barely makes this one at #84. If you look at the male/female ratio, it is hard to see how feminism has had any impact at all.

The most obvious question is why Foreign Policy bothered to publish this list? There can be no margin of error, since the criteria depend on mouse clicks and networking. What a world we live in where Yusuf Qaradawi, a religious figure who keeps to tradition while comfortably housed in the contemporary architectural shangri-la of Qatar, is voted the bronze medal. The irony is that a respectable journal with conservative overtones has been hoodwinked by a savy generation of internet advocates who happen to vote Muslim. If Islam is not the world’s fastest growing religion, it surely has a leg up in the online poll wars.

Now does Foreign Policy have the courage to do another poll, this one on the world’s top dunces. At least the list will be almost entirely political figures for a change.

Daniel Martin Varisco