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From Fatwa to Jihad

Kenan Malik

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To purchase From Fatwa to Jihad

Title: From Fatwa to Jihad
Author: Kenan Malik
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2009
Length: 223 pages
Availability: From Fatwa to Jihad - US
From Fatwa to Jihad - UK
From Fatwa to Jihad - Canada
From Fatwa to Jihad - India
  • UK subtitle: The Rushdie Affair and its Legacy
  • US subtitle: The Rushdie Affair and its Aftermath

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Our Assessment:

B : solid, sobering look at the aftermath of the Rushdie/The Satanic Verses-affair

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Foreign Affairs . 5-6/2011 Andrew Moravcsik
The Independent A 10/4/2009 Lisa Appignanesi
Independent on Sunday . 7/2/2010 Lesley McDowell
New Humanist . 3-4/2009 Lindsay Johns
Sunday Times B+ 5/4/2009 Bryan Appleyard
The Telegraph . 7/5/2009 Nicholas Blincoe
The Washington Post . 6/1/2011 Maureen Freely

  From the Reviews:
  • "It is not just a sociocultural critique but also a personal memoir by an Indian-born, British-raised research psychologist and journalist who has toiled in the trenches of the culture wars." - Andrew Moravcsik, Foreign Affairs

  • "Malik's book is a riveting political history of contemporary Britain and the changes that have taken place over the last 30 years. (...) In tracing the legacy of the Rushdie Affair into our post-9/11 present, Malik marries the attributes of a clear-eyed investigative journalist and a sensitive political analyst. (...) Impeccably researched, brimming with detail, yet razor-sharp in its argument, this book provokes a necessary re-examination. It demands, particularly, to be read by faint-hearted politicians and all those worried by the ongoing erosion of our liberties." - Lisa Appignanesi, The Independent

  • "The legacy of the incident, Kenan Malik contends in this cogently argued and approachable polemic, is the current fearfulness of any expression that may insult Islam, coupled with a contrasting suspicion or fear of Islam itself." - Lesley McDowell, Independent on Sunday

  • "From Fatwa to Jihad is a powerful critique of both Islamic fundamentalism and Britain's multicultural policy." - Lindsay Johns, New Humanist

  • "From Fatwa to Jihad sags in its last third. Up to then, Malik does a terrific job of making points through stories; after that he descends into mere argument. This narrows his focus when it should be broadened. It also means that he effectively evades the biggest issue of all." - Bryan Appleyard, Sunday Times

  • "From Fatwa to Jihad attempts to extract a message but leaves me as confused as ever: I see conflict everywhere, but few signs of understanding. If this sounds pessimistic, at least Malik’s book proves that conflict rarely leads to enlightenment." - Nicholas Blincoe, The Telegraph

  • "Few writers have untangled the paradoxes and unintended consequences of political Islam as deftly as Malik does here. But in the end his real subject is not Islam. It is Britain's mismanagement of immigration and the way in which this has led to the weakening of its purchase on Enlightenment values and, most particularly, free expression." - Maureen Freely, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       From Fatwa to Jihad considers the disturbing narrowing of free speech and the attendant consequences of this in -- in particular -- Western Europe over the past two decades, and the role the controversies surrounding The Satanic Verses and then the Danish cartoons (published in Jyllands-Posten in 2005) have played in this. For Malik, these two controversies had little to do with what the fuss was ostensibly all about -- insults to Islam -- but rather were politically motivated, serving (very successfully) to advance the profile and agendas of specific interest groups that are hardly representative of those they often claim to represent. In addition, Malik argues that reactions, especially by governments (especially the British government) meant to foster 'multiculturalism' and tolerance have instead resulted in a further fragmentation of society, and made for an additional incentive for individuals and groups to define themselves in narrow terms of otherness and separateness.
       As Malik notes, both The Satanic Verses and the Danish cartoons did not immediately lead to violent overreaction: it took quite a while, in each case, to carefully stoke the fires before a small number of opponents had managed to fan the flames in just the right way to make for the conflagrations that followed. In both cases, reckless generalizations prevailed over whatever substance there was to any complaints: The Satanic Verses was often condemned before it was read and in the case of the cartoons in Jyllands-Posten, Malik repeatedly notes the irony that many American and British publications refused to republish them even though one of the first newspapers to republish some of them (in a highly critical article about them) was the Egyptian newspaper El Fagr -- something which was not condemned locally, much less protested against. El Fagr did what any good news-provider should: give their readers as much information about the matter as possible (even as they roundly condemned the cartoons); meanwhile, in a case that came too late to be included in Malik's book (including, disappointingly, the newer US edition ...) Yale University Press shamefully refused to print the cartoons even in Jytte Klausen's (academic) book about the cartoons, The Cartoons that Shook the World. (Malik has commented on this elsewhere -- including in conjunction with the Index of Censorship's mind-boggling, self-castrating decision not to publish the cartoons to go along with their interview with Jytte Klausen about Yale University Press' decision not print the cartoons in the book -- the ultimate example (to date ...) of what Malik is concerned about.)
       Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa against Salman Rushdie was a turning- and rallying point; the reactions to it, especially by European governments, suggested that such intemperate actions were a great way to get attention -- and to get one's way. And, as Malik shows, many have continued to play right into the hands of the small but very vociferous extremist minority:

In the twenty years since the fatwa, Western politicians have continued to show greater willingness to lecture Muslims about the importance of liberty, freedom and democracy than to defend such values in practice. Indeed, the responses of Western nations first to the fatwa and subsequently to jihad have helped undermine civil liberties, erode freedom of speech and weaken democracy.
       A few years later, when the Danish cartoons were all the rage, there was no need for a fatwa:
Western liberals had become much more attuned to Islamist sensitivities and less willing to challenge them. They had, in the post-Rushdie world, effectively internalized the fatwa.
       Indeed, while:
Rushdie's critics lost the battle in the sense that they never managed to stop the publication of The Satanic Verses. But they won the war by pounding into the liberal consciousness the belief that to give offence was a morally despicable act.
       Of course, once one starts down that slippery slope it quickly gets very messy:
     In the two decades since the Rushdie affair what has emerged is an auction of victimhood, as every group attempts to outbid all others as the ones feeling most offended.
       And, of course:
It is also a morality tale: be careful what you campaign for. The kind of censorship of offensive thought that the anti-Rushdie protestors demanded was the very kind of censorship of offensive thought that imprisoned the anti-cartoon protestors. Restrictions on speech, the aims of which were supposedly to protect the culture and dignity of minority communities, are now exploited to undermine the civil liberties of those very same communities.
       Malik also emphasizes that the loudest voices -- and the ones getting all the newspaper attention -- must not be confused with the communities they claim to represent. The government -- in Britain and elsewhere -- often prefers to consider, for example, the 'Muslim community' as one single mass, but, in fact, it is as diverse as most any other community that is so broadly defined.
       The cult of the specific kind of multiculturalism popular nowadays -- affixing a specific label to a group, treating all members of it only as such, privileging it over others -- is a major root of the problem, Malik suggests. And, again, it's political, as he shows with the horrifying example of the British government-endorsed sub-division into ethnic and faith-based fiefdoms -- 'Umbrella Groups', for example -- where, obviously:
     Once political power and financial resources became allocated by ethnicity, then people began to identify themselves in terms of their ethnicity, and only their ethnicity.
       Malik's focus is on Britain -- where he can also speak from personal experience --, and the situation varies from country to country (Muslims in America, he notes, don't face nearly the same situation as those in Britain). But the overreaction of, especially, supposedly 'liberal' intellectuals to first the Rushdie-affair and then the events afterwards, including the attacks on New York and Washington D.C. in 2001, has clearly made things worse rather than better. Instead of engaging in constructive dialogue, the major concern now is too often simply not to give offence -- and yet offence is so easily found, and a stand that's all too easy to take. And it's those that protest most loudly that get the attention, rather than more representative members of the community.
       As Malik also notes:
     The growth of many contemporary forms of faith, then, whether radical Islam or the Pentecostal Church, marks not a return to traditional religion but a break with it. A traditional Muslim would be as appalled by the rituals of radical Islam as that Catholic worshipper was by the New Age-ishness of charismatic Christianity.
       And, as he sees it, respect for religion is all well and good but it's impossible to overlook that nowadays:
Islam, like all religions, is being reinvented and redefined in order to meet secular, not religious needs
       Malik makes a clear case for the obvious, that freedom of speech is of the utmost importance for society -- and that if there must be some limits (none of that 'Fire !'-yelling in crowded theatres ...) that they must be very carefully considered. He is appalled by the self-censorship that is already widely-practiced (notably when he wasn't allowed to quote The Satanic Verses in a piece on Thomas Paine for The Independent, because that was deemed too provocative), and finds politicians, in particular, are at fault for not wanting to step on any (mainly religious) toes -- a hopeless spiral downwards that ultimately benefits no one.
       A wide-ranging look at the past twenty years, with many good (i.e. disturbing) examples, From Fatwa to Jihad is a depressing survey of how far we've come -- or rather gone, in the wrong direction -- and makes a good case for just how important free speech is (and just how dangerously misguided the contemporary notion of multiculturalism is).
       An interesting, aggravating read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 June 2010

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From Fatwa to Jihad: Reviews: Kenan Malik: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Kenan Malik was born in 1960.

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