Five Islam in the West
This section deals primarily with books about Muslims living in Western countries, and the problems posed both for Muslims as minorities and for the host communities, especially in Europe. These essays were written before the atrocities in Oslo and the island of Utoya in Norway committed by Anders Behring Breivik, a right-wing extremist, who killed 77 people in the course of a terrorist rampage in July 2011. It is clear, however, that Breivik - whose victims were all Norwegians, and most of them young Social Democrats at their summer camp - was influenced in part by the anti-Muslim rhetoric issuing from right-wing commentators such as Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes and Pamela Geller in the USA, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Bat Ye’or (Giselle Littman) and Melanie Phillips in Britain. All these writers - most of whom have denounced the Utoya massacre in the most unequivocal terms - subscribe to variants of the thesis that Europe is sleepwalking into cultural disaster or (in the case of Phillips) enabling Islamist terrorists to gain a foothold.
The first of these articles, ‘The Big Muslim Problem’, exposes the critique of Christopher Caldwell, a more nuanced voice than those of Spencer, Pipes, Wilders and Phillips, but one that basically sings to the same tune. I juxtapose this with the high-minded rhetoric of Tariq Ramadan, whom I challenge for failing to address the specific charges of evasiveness and ‘double talk’ levelled at him by his critics. Moving across the Atlantic, I contrast Daniel Pipes’ hysterical approach to the dangers posed by Muslims with the much more measured and empirically- based studies of Yvonne Haddad and other genuine scholars. The piece concludes with the perfect antidote to Islamophobia, Robert Dannin’s Black Pilgrimage to Islam - a book that explains how conversion to Islam serves the legions of African- Americans who find themselves caught up in the USA’s disgraceful prison system.
The remaining articles celebrate two important books published in the 1990s, by Philip Lewis and Olivier Roy. Roy is a prolific scholar, an expert on Afghanistan and Central Asia, and his critique of political Islam as an inept and incoherent ideology has never been refuted. Though my endorsement of his thesis may seem premature at a time when Islamists are making gains at the polls in Tunisia and Egypt, I am minded to stick to my guns: the fact that Islamists in Tunisia - and to a lesser degree Egypt - are looking to the Turkish model is suggestive of an evolution away from Islamism and towards institutional forms of constitutional democracy, where parties with Islamic roots find themselves locked into rule-based, organised systems of power. If this transpires (and perhaps I am being over-optimistic) the older Islamist project of a ‘state ruled by God', along the lines suggested by Sayyid Qutb in his writings, may be moribund, if not yet actually dead. This part of the book also includes a retrospective look at the Rushdie Affair 20 years after the publication of The Satanic Verses galvanised Britain’s Muslims into action, and ‘Made in the USA’, an essay suggesting that the bizarre theology of the Nation of Islam is rather more American than Islamic.