March 13, 2013 § 2 Comments
My book on the history of moral thought is all but complete (yay!). Hopefully, blogging will be back to normal next week. In the meantime, here is another old book review plucked from the vaults, this one of Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on a Revolution in Europe. It was first published in New Humanist in July 2009. For more discussion of the myths about immigration, multiculturalism and Islam, see my Milton K Wong lecture, which is in two parts.
In his classic 1920 book The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy, the American historian, political theorist and anti-immigration activist Theodore Lothrop Stoddard warned of the coming collapse of white civilization under a ‘swarm’ of ‘colored’ people. Whites had already been driven out of their ancestral homeland in the Caucasus. The land ‘which in the dawn of history was predominantly white man’s country, is today racially brown man’s land in which white blood survives only as vestigial traces of vanishing significance’. And ‘If this portion of Asia, the former seat of mighty white empires and possibly the very homeland of the white race itself, should have so entirely changed its ethnic character’, Stoddard asked, ‘what assurance can the most impressive political panorama give us that the present world order may not swiftly and utterly pass away?’
Stoddard was worried, too, by the prospect of a resurgent Islam. ‘In so far as he is Christianized, the negro’s savage instincts will be restrained and he will be predisposed to acquiesce in white tutelage’, he wrote. ‘In so far as he is Islamized, the negro’s warlike propensities will be inflamed, and he will be used as the tool of Arab Pan-Islamism seeking to drive the white man from Africa and make the continent its very own.’ To protect Europe and America from a similar fate, Western nations had to ensure that ‘the rising tide of color finds itself walled in by white dikes debarring it from many a promised land which it would fain deluge with its dusky waves.’ « Read the rest of this entry »
September 26, 2012 § 58 Comments
Salman Rushdie’s memoir, Joseph Anton, has hit the bookshelves just as the world has become embroiled in a new controversy over Islamic sensibilities. The extraordinary violence unleashed across the Muslim world by Innocence of Muslims, an obscure US-made video, has left many bewildered and perplexed.
Rushdie was, of course, at the centre of the most famous confrontation over the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad. The publication in 1988 of his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, launched a worldwide campaign against the supposed blasphemies in the book, culminating in the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa on 14 February 1989 condemning Rushdie to death, and forcing him into hiding for a decade.
Joseph Anton is Rushdie’s account of the fatwa and the years that followed. So, what does the battle over The Satanic Verses tell us about the current controversy over The Innocence of Muslims? « Read the rest of this entry »
September 16, 2012 § 5 Comments
Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton is published tomorrow. (Joseph Anton, for those who don’t know, was the name that Rushdie adopted during his years in hiding, a name borrowed from two of his favourite writers, Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekov.) Joseph Anton is not simply a memoir; it is a vital piece of social history. It is Rushdie’s first real account of the years under the shadow of the fatwa, the story from the inside of a changing world.
I will review the book next week. In the meantime, here are four interviews from my book From Fatwa to Jihad which explored the Rushdie affair and its legacy, and in that sense treads across some of the same ground as Joseph Anton, though peering in from the outside, as it were, rather than narrating from the inside. (And, yes, I know, this is the second batch this week of extracts from the book; think of these interviews as complementing the previous extracts.) The interviews (some of them slightly shortened from the original) are with four people intimately involved in the life of Joseph Anton: Peter Mayer, CEO of Penguin at the time of the fatwa; Sher Azam, chairman of the Bradford Council of Mosques at the time, in an interview I conducted shortly after he helped torch Rushdie’s novel in an infamous demonstration in Bradford in January 1989; William Nygaard, the Norwegian publisher of The Satanic Verses, who was shot and left for dead; and Rushdie’s close friend, the novelist Hanif Kureishi. « Read the rest of this entry »
September 14, 2012 § 11 Comments
One thing should be clear. The violence across the Muslim world in response to an American anti-Islamic film has nothing to do with that film. Yes, The Innocence of Muslims is a risibly crude diatribe against Islam. But this obscure film that barely anyone had seen till last week is no more the source of the current violence than God is the source of the Qur’an.
The details of the rioting in Benghazi that killed the US ambassador and sparked the current crisis still remain unclear. What is clear, however, is that the violence is being driven less by religious fury than by political calculation. In Libya, Egypt and elsewhere, the crisis is being fostered by hardline Islamists in an attempt to seize the political initiative in a period of transition and turmoil. The film is almost incidental to this process. The real struggle is not between Muslims and non-Muslims, but between different shades of Islamists, between hardline factions and more mainstream ones. The insurrections that transformed much the Arab world over the past year have created a new terrain for the battle between Muslim factions for political supremacy. But the struggle itself is nothing new. The same tensions fuelled the confrontations over The Satanic Verses and the Danish cartoons. I have long argued that both were primarily political rather than religious conflicts. I am publishing here two edited extracts from my book From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and its Legacy which describes the development of both conflicts. « Read the rest of this entry »
June 21, 2012 § 2 Comments
Everything has gone from the world,
The world has become empty again.
Everything has gone from the world,
I don’t see anything now.
All that I see is
They don’t accept us as humans,
They don’t accept us as animals either.
And, as they would say,
Humans have two dimensions.
Humanity and animality,
We are out of both of them today.
So begins Samiullah Khalid Sahak’s poem Humanity. It is a poem about the pitilessness of war and of its destruction of human sensibility, indeed of human identity. It is also a poem by a supporter of the Taliban.
May 28, 2012 Comments Off
Back in March I published a review of DV8′s extraordinary show Can We Talk About This?. I was both positive and critical of the show. It was I wrote, ‘unmissable theatre’, both ‘thought provoking and gut-wrenching, food for mind and heart’ and ‘the kind of bold, polemical spectacle that the theatre so badly needs’. Its weakness, I suggested, was as a polemic:
The ambition of the show, and its willingness to stomp all over the debate, is its great strength; its unwillingness to be more nuanced about whose boots are stomping where is its great weakness.
LLoyd Newson, the founder of DV8 and the director, choreographer and creative drive behind the show (and one of the panelists at last weekend’s Brighton Festival debate on free speech) has responded to my review. Lloyd is famous for never reading reviews of his work, so I am honoured that he should not only have read my review but responded to it. I am publishing that response here in full. As you might expect, I disagree with Lloyd’s disagreements, particularly about the show’s depictions of Ray Honeyford and Geert Wilders. I don’t, however, want to turn this into a drawn-out debate, especially as I am both a friend and an admirer of Lloyd’s work, and I very much agree with him about free speech. So I’m happy for Lloyd to have the last word. I am, however, interested in what others think, especially those who have seen the show. So do join in the discussion.
Kenan Malik was one of roughly 50 people I interviewed for DV8’s verbatim theatre production, Can We Talk About This?, a work about Islam, multiculturalism and free speech. Having seen the production at the National Theatre in London, he reviewed it on his blog. This put me in a difficult position because I have only read one review of my own work since the late 1980s. At that period of my life I had a compulsion to reply to critics whose reviews I disagreed with, but as I’m not a natural writer it took me an inordinate amount of time to pen a reply and I came to the conclusion that my energy was better spent making work, rather than writing letters. However, as Kenan was kind enough to agree to be interviewed for Can We Talk About This? and is someone whose intellect and book From Fatwa to Jihad I admire, I felt obliged to read his review and predictably, despite myself, have fashioned a response. « Read the rest of this entry »
March 18, 2012 § 6 Comments
Actually, I seem to have been talking about this for much of the past two decades; ‘this’ being free speech, multiculturalism, Islam, Islamism, the issues at the heart of DV8’s extraordinary new show Can We Talk About This? now playing at London’s National Theatre. Lloyd Newsom’s company has, for more than quarter of a century, blurred the lines between dance and theatre as a way of, in the company’s own words, ‘reinvesting dance with meaning, particularly where this has been lost through formalised techniques’. It has always tackled controversial and difficult subjects, but the latest is likely to be the most challenging yet.
I was one of a host of people whom Lloyd Newsom interviewed in preparation for the show. I finally got to see the finished product on Friday. It was a strange experience having my words spoken back to me from the stage. The whole show is stitched together through other people’s voices, voices taken from those various interviews, and from interviews and debates on TV and on stage, including a spat between Shirley Williams and Christopher Hitchens on BBC’s Question Time and Jeremy Paxman mediating between Anjem Choudhury and Maajid Nawaz on Newsnight. You experience it in the audience as a tapestry of ideas, always moving and whirling like a dancer’s ribbon, but which builds up thread by thread, layer by layer, into a tightly woven, almost inescapable, argument. The voices are not recordings; every word comes out of the mouths of the dancers, which adds to the sense of perpetual motion. Their ability to dance and talk at the same time still leaves me breathless and bewildered.
The show opens, as most of those in the audience must have known, with a cast member demanding of the spectators ‘Do you feel morally superior to the Taliban?’ It’s a nod to Martin Amis who asked that same question to a hostile audience in a notorious debate at London’s ICA, back in 2007. It is hardly the most sophisticated of questions. Yet its very unsophistication reveals so starkly the spectre haunting the liberal moral swamp. Had the audience been asked ‘Do you feel morally superior to the BNP?’, or even ‘Do you feel morally superior to David Cameron?’, I have no doubt that a forest of hands would have been raised. As it happened only a handful were willing to admit that their values might have been a mite more elevated that those of the Taliban. « Read the rest of this entry »