Cre­at­ing to­day’s ji­hadist

From Rushdie book-burn­ing to loss of lib­erty and life.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - book­world@wash­post.com Mau­reen Freely is a pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity ofWar­wick and the trans­la­tor of five books by the Turk­ish nov­el­ist and No­bel lau­re­ate Orhan Pa­muk.

FROM FATWA TO JI­HAD The Rushdie Af­fair and Its Af­ter­math By Ke­nan Ma­lik Melville House. 266 pp. $25

In the open­ing pages of this dense but fas­ci­nat­ing polemic, Ke­nan Ma­lik de­scribes how the fatwa against Sal­man Rushdie changed his life. The In­dian-born son of a Hindu mother and a Mus­lim fa­ther, Ma­lik had grown up in Bri­tain amid “Paki-bash­ers” and the racist Na­tional Front. It was racism that had driven him into far­left pol­i­tics as a stu­dent, but it was the En­light­en­ment ideals of equal­ity and so­cial jus­tice that he took with him when he grad­u­ated. Ma­lik be­came a re­search psy­chol­o­gist and oc­ca­sional jour­nal­ist with a com­mit­ment to ac­tivism.

In Jan­uary 1989, he was shocked when 1,000 Mus­lims marched through the north­ern city of Brad­ford and cer­e­mo­ni­ally burned a copy of Sal­manRushdie’s novel “ The Sa­tanic Verses” in front of a po­lice sta­tion. Al­most overnight, he writes, the im­age of that burn­ing book be­came an in­ter­na­tional “icon of the rage of Is­lam.” Yet it made no sense to Ma­lik, who had or­ga­nized anti-racist protests in Brad­ford three years ear­lier. Where had the rage come from? And why was it dressed in re­li­gious cloth­ing?

He re­ceived his first an­swer from a manMa­lik iden­ti­fies only as Has­san, a for­mer Trot­skyite and an ac­quain­tance who had be­come dis­af­fected with the “white left” and with the fear­ful and ob­se­quiousMus­lims of their fa­thers’ gen­er­a­tion. Has­san sawa “need to de­fend our dig­nity as Mus­lims” so that no one—“racist or Rushdie” — could tram­ple on it. Has­san had be­come an “er­rand boy to the mul­lahs,” Ma­lik writes, “in­spired by book­burn­ers, will­ing to shed blood for a thou­sand-year-old fa­ble that he had never be­lieved in.” In the chap­ters that fol­low, Ma­lik charts the cir­cuitous route by which Has­san and so many oth­ers found so­lace in a vir­u­lently anti-Western, po­lit­i­cal Is­lam that bore lit­tle re­la­tion to the faith of their im­mi­grant par­ents, for whom re­li­gion was “deeply embed­ded [but] never all-con­sum­ing,” ex­press­ing “a re­la­tion­ship with God, not a sacro­sanct pub­lic iden­tity.” If Bri­tain now has a prob­lem with home­grown sui­cide bombers, it is, he as­serts, be­cause of poli­cies that have not only im­peded in­te­gra­tion but have taught an en­tire gen­er­a­tion of im­mi­grants that they are not truly Bri­tish, that they do not — and never will— be­long.

Ma­lik looks fa­vor­ably upon the United States, which in his view sees it­self as a nation of im­mi­grants and so of­fers a pos­i­tive nar­ra­tive for new­com­ers. Bri­tain, how­ever, has kept im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties sep­a­rate. Rather than ad­dress im­mi­grants di­rectly, it has handed them over to the care of self-ap­pointed com­mu­nity lead­ers who use their po­si­tions to en­rich them­selves and push a con­ser­va­tive re­li­gious agenda. It is they who have cre­ated a breed­ing ground for Is­lamist fun­da­men­tal­ism.

Ma­lik ar­gues that ji­had as we un­der­stand it is a thor­oughly mod­ern con­cept, forged not just in the moun­tains of Afghanistan but in Western cities. He shows howthe me­dia and the wizards of geopol­i­tics stoked the fire from the out­set, with the book-burn­ers of Brad­ford be­com­ing pawns in a power strug­gle be­tween Iran and Saudi Ara­bia. Each had been in­vest­ing am­bi­tiously in or­ga­ni­za­tions in Bri­tain and else­where to pro­mote its own ex­treme brand of Is­lam.

Though by is­su­ing a fatwa the Ay­a­tol­lah Khome­ini got the up­per hand in the Rushdie con­tro­versy, Bri­tain’s Mus­lims did not take or­ders from any imam or ay­a­tol­lah. The bomber­swho­took part in the co­or­di­nated attacks on London’s trans­porta­tion sys­tem in 2005 were in­flu­enced by al-Qaeda and the Tal­iban. But, Ma­lik says, they were full ofWestern nar­cis­sism — mid­dle-class, en­ti­tled, dis­in­clined to deny them­selves mod­ern plea­sures. Their ease with con­tem­po­rary mores cut them off from Is­lamic tra­di­tions. “ To­day’s ji­hadist does not sub­mit him­self to the will of the col­lec­tive,” Ma­lik writes. “Only through death do ji­hadists join their imag­ined com­mu­nity.”

Af­ter be­gin­ning his story with a book-burn­ing, Ma­lik ends it with the bomb­ing nearly 20 years later of the London pub­lisher of Sherry Jones’s “Jewel ofMe­d­ina,” a novel about the prophet Muham­mad’s youngest wife. The Rushdie book-burn­ing in 1989 sparked in­tense de­bate over the reach of free ex­pres­sion, es­pe­cially when it of­fends re­li­gious sen­si­tiv­i­ties. By the time of the 2008 bomb­ing, how­ever, it was gen­er­ally ac­cepted that free speech must take into ac­count Bri­tain’s many di­verse re­li­gions — which sounds likes a move to­ward greater tol­er­ance and in­te­gra­tion.

But in Bri­tain the is­sue is more com­pli­cated than that. The nation lacks an equiv­a­lent of the First Amend­ment, and though it has a tra­di­tion of free ex­pres­sion, there is no clear le­gal de­fense for it. Since 2008, it has been il­le­gal to in­cite re­li­gious or racial ha­tred. Be­cause the law is vaguely worded, it can be used against any­one who crit­i­cizes re­li­gion in the pub­lic do­main. Bri­tain’s un­elected Mus­lim lead­ers were among those who pro­posed the law, and they con­tinue to have a pow­er­ful in­flu­ence on the def­i­ni­tion of re­li­gious ha­tred, both in the courts and in the me­dia.

Few writ­ers have un­tan­gled the para­doxes and un­in­tended con­se­quences of po­lit­i­cal Is­lam as deftly asMa­lik does here. But in the end his real sub­ject is not Is­lam. It is Bri­tain’s mis­man­age­ment of im­mi­gra­tion and how this has led to the weak­en­ing of its pur­chase on En­light­en­ment val­ues and, most par­tic­u­larly, free ex­pres­sion. Though con­fined to the Bri­tish case, the book of­fers a cau­tion­ary tale that will speak to ev­ery­one concerned about the world­wide ero­sion of civil and­hu­man­rights af­ter Sept. 11, 2001.

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