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article imageThe Most Influential Intellectuals in the World and Why You Should Care

By David Silverberg     Jul 7, 2008 in World
Who are the cultural and political brainiacs? Who is ushering in ideas that have rippled overseas? Learn about the top intellectuals in the world, and find out the importance of influential people such as Gulen, Gore and Kasparov.
Digital Journal -- One is fighting the police state of Putin's Russia. Another renounces the deplorable conditions Muslim women face. And yet another is the polarizing religious leader causing a raucous in secular Turkey. These are the top intellectuals according to Foreign Policy magazine, which asked readers to vote on the most influential public figures in the world. Around 500,000 votes later, Foreign Policy compiled a top 20 list. The magazine discovered the majority of the idea mavericks were Muslim.
Why? The magazine stated: "The ideas for which they are known, particularly concerning Islam, differ significantly. It’s clear that, in this case, identity politics carried the day."
Below is a summary of several public intellectuals that will continue to reshape their respective causes. You might not agree with their politics but it's hard to ignore the power they wield.
Fethullah Gülen
Rising from secular Turkey is Fethullah Gülen, a leader of one of the most dynamic religious movements in Turkey. He preaches a religion filled with moderate Islam practices, an idea countering the secular order dominating the country. Supposedly, he has millions of followers hanging on his every word. But he's a strong polarizing figure; Foreign Policy said he "is both revered and reviled in his native Turkey" and Gülen was forced to flee his homeland in 1999 to settle in the U.S.
Last week, he was acquitted of the charge of undermining the secular Republic in Turkey, but it is unclear whether he will return to Turkey.
Muhammad Yunus
The economics world has their own superstar. Muhammad Yunus won the 2006 Nobel Prize for proving how offering small loans to poor nations could be profitable. This Bangladesh-based microfinancier started a bank that has loaned $7 billion in tiny amounts to 7 million borrowers. Around 97 per cent of those loans have been repaid.
His ideas sparked a "micro-loaning" trend that has spider-webbed across the world. There are 100 million microborrowers around the world, according to Time. And even the name of his book has a decidedly altruistic slant: Creating a World Without Poverty.
Muhammad Yunus
Muhammad Yunus is a Nobel Prize-winning microfinancier who has helped millions of Third World citizens
By eschipul
Aitzaz Ahsan
He's been called Pakistan's best hope for democracy. He could also be called the world's best known activist lawyer. Aitzaz Ahsan has constantly rallied against President Pervez Musharraf’s rule in Pakistan, telling journalists "Paksitan's political system will remain compromised so long as the country lacks an independent judiciary." He's been arrested several times for his protests against the governing party, but he's not letting Musharraf's strongarm tactics deter him: he's a member of the Pakistan Peoples Party, formerly led by Benazir Bhutto, and he is adamant he will continue pressuring Musharraf as long as he can.
Garry Kasparov
You might know him as a chess champion but Russia knows him as a political dissident. And Vladimir Putin would probably call him the largest thorn in his side. Garry Kasparov has logically laid out the reasons for opposing the Russian government -- press intimidation, an unfair election, the widening gap between the rich and poor, and undermining democratic institutions created after the Soviet Union's collapse.
He is tireless in his attacks against Putin. In December, he said he had to withdraw his bid for presidential candidacy because "his political movement had been unable to rent a hall in Moscow for a nominating convention," the New York Times reported. Like Ahsan, Kasparov is accustomed to getting arrested but even when jailed intermittently, his voice will still ring loudly throughout Russia and the world.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
She's public enemy number one for Muslim extremists, but Ayaan Hirsi Ali wouldn't have it any other way. She has waged a personal crusade to stand up for the rights of Muslim women worldwide -- she helped write the film Submission, which renounced the subjugation of Muslim women; she revealed all in her book Infidel; and has been vocal in pronouncing a link between Muslim extremist and terrorism. Somali-born Ali has received numerous death threats and has since moved to the U.S. to work for a conservative think tank.
She has been dubbed a female Salman Rushie for her acidic comments criticizing the Islam faith. And since she is now in a form of hiding in the U.S., her arguments aren't reaching the people she so desperately wants to help.
Mario Vargas Llosa
Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, 72, has always believed "in literature’s power to expose the injustice and tyranny of dictatorships, while providing moving defenses of free speech and individual liberty," as Foreign Policy wrote. He is Latin America's most significant novelist, and some say his fiction and essays have impacted international audiences. He follows staunch neoliberal views, even attempting to nab the Peruvian presidency in 1990. His books have been called revolutionary -- particularly The War of the End of the World -- and he continues to explore political themes in his work.
His forthcoming book will focus on Irish patriot Roger Casement, lauded for lambasting rights abuses in Congo. He told AFP: ""In his diaries he reported on authentic atrocities, atrocities involving crimes that are still hidden by the British secret service."
Al Gore
Al Gore
Al Gore
One of the few American intellectuals listed in Foreign Policy's list, Al Gore is no stranger to winning acclaim for his ambitious activism. Climate change has been on his radar for decades, and losing the 2000 presidential race has only emboldened him to reach people hungry for sound environmental policies. He recently endorsed Barack Obama, saying "For America to lead the world through the dangers we’re facing, to seize the opportunities before us, we’ve got to have new leadership." He's not showing any bitterness left by his 2000 loss; instead, he's using his celeb status -- and his popularity runoff from An Inconvenient Truth -- to help Obama reach the White House to enact the change so often tossed around in political rhetoric.
More about Gore, Intellectual, Gulen
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