As I write this review the world waits to see how the initially successful revolutions in Egypt will play out. Will this once great nation become the beacon of a free and modern Arab civilization or will it succumb to the forces of the primitive and barbaric Islam that is causing so much destruction in the modern world?
While Egypt dominates the front pages of newspapers, subsequent pages focus our attentions on British Prime Minister David Cameron; his critique of the UK’s Multiculturalist policies and the many and varied reactions to the disparate treatment of England’s many religious communities. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages and Marine LePen, a far-right French politician, were quick to praise Mr. Cameron’s comments. Predictably, many British Muslim leaders found Cameron’s comments offensive.
While Mr. Cameron’s supporters may have caused a knee-jerk revulsion among self-proclaimed liberals, these naysayers are well advised to consult Keenan Malik’s From Fatwa to Jihad, a book that keeps cropping up in the daily papers, despite the fact that its most recent pressing was last June. This underscores its continuing relevance in a world which, in light of continued Islamic terrorism, has a collective desire for an answer to a seemingly simple question: What’s going on?
Malik gives us an exhaustive account of how modern societies—Britain in particular—came to be plagued by supporters and practitioners of a dangerous and radical Islam. Cloaked under the guise of a legitimate religion, this brand of Islam’s mindset is one that will not and cannot assimilate into modern societies: the control of women, their finances, and their freedom to engage in sexual practices of their choice, for example, continue to be holy grails, to be preserved regardless of any of the pressures of modernity.
Malik writes of growing up in “communities in which Islam, while deeply embedded, was never all-consuming.” And yet, in January of 1989, he watched crowds of Muslims in Bradford England protesting Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses for its alleged heresy. They protested because they believed that Rushdie’s stories ridiculed and reviled their religion. Why, Malik wondered:
…were people now proclaiming themselves to be Muslims and taking to the streets to burn books – especially the books of a writer celebrated for giving voice to the migrant experience? And was the dividing line really between a medieval theology and a modern Western society?
Seeking an answer to this question, Malik documents several instances of race riots in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. But all of those, he says, were different from what happened in reaction to Satanic Verses. Rushdie’s fiction was notorious in some circles for causing offence even before Satanic Verses, but this was nothing compared to the widespread Muslim uproar that led to global riots and death. Then came the fatwa from Iran’s then president, Ayatollah Khomeini, calling for Rushdie’s death, a decree that drove Rushdie into hiding for well over a decade. The fatwa and its fallout in Muslim communities and beyond, was, according to Malik, “the first major cultural conflict, a controversy quite unlike anything Britain had previously experienced.”
Using the book burnings as a point of departure, Malik takes us on a journey that culminates with the deadly bombings in London’s subways and on a bus on July 7th 2005. In Malik’s convincing thesis, Britain’s multiculturalism paved the way for a new menace: “homegrown terrorism.”
Why the initial outrage over Rushdie’s Satanic Verses? As is often the case, the people most outraged by the book hadn’t read it. Those fanning the flames weren’t interested in preserving a faith but in establishing their own brand of power and political identity. The uproar wasn’t about faith, asserts Malik. It was politics.
In addition to Satanic Verses’ author, Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini called for the death of “all those involved in its publication who were aware of its contents.” This fatwa was not driven by a sense of moral outrage, says Malik. It was Khomeini’s response to the frustration he felt at the Iranian Revolution’s failure to extend his country’s reach in the Arab world, and the humiliation of a fruitless war with Iraq. If that was the case, his ploy worked. Rushdie was forced into hiding and, “for the West, Islam was now a domestic issue.”
One of the most gripping accounts in the book is Penguin CEO Peter Mayer’s personal conflict in dealing with the fatwa: “If you’re a publisher, you will always find people offended by books you publish… I have published books that offended Jews and Christians… we thought we were dealing with the same kind of thing.”
The book goes on to document the ways in which it wasn’t the same thing at all. Mayer feared for his life, his family, and his co-workers. His daughter was almost expelled from school because people worried that Iranian authorities would send a hit squad and kill the wrong girl. “What, you think my daughter is the right girl?” he poignantly asks.
Mayer remains proud of his decision to continue publishing the book.
Before this Muslim outrage, there was British outrage over the “wogs, nignogs and Pakis” who “come into Britain, take up our homes, our jobs and our resources and contribute relatively less to our once glorious country.” The Multicultural policies of the 1980s were born in the midst of this growing polarity.
Malik argues that the British laws attempting to keep immigrants out actually encouraged them to stay. As immigrant communities—Muslim, among them—continued to grow, systems within those communities subordinated the interests of the individual to the honor and protection of the clan. By the 1980s “political power and financial resources became allocated by ethnicity” and “people began to identify themselves in terms of their ethnicity.” Malik says this policy conditioned British society to view its population in terms of ethnic divisions, which led to a “less openly racist but a more insidiously tribal Britain.”
After the 7/7 bombings, I walked around Beeston, Leeds—the hub of Malik’s “insidiously tribal Britain.” I was there as an American journalist, but I was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan. Despite this connection, Britain’s Pakistani communities baffled me. The young men I spoke with hated Britain. Something had gone so wrong that some of these men were willing to use themselves as bombs, presumably an attempt to wage war on a country and a people who had wronged them and their beloved religion. Keenan Malik offers an explanation—a well-sourced and mostly plausible one—as to how this happened.
Beeston, High Wycombe, Birmingham, Nottingham: Each of these cities and towns are home to thousands of young British men of Pakistani decent who have been arrested on a variety of terrorism charges over the years. Malik argues that these places are a casualty of Britain’s multiculturalism.
Mohammed Siddique Khan, the oldest of the London bombers was a “Mullah Boy.” A religious good guy in a way—Khan helped young brown men escape drug addiction—but in Malik’s telling the Mullah Boys were also a gang of thugs responsible for violence—and sometimes death—well before 7/7.
Malik’s account of Mohammed Siddique Khan comes closer than any other I‘ve read to explaining who he was and why he did what he did. For one, Khan did not have an arranged marriage. Though he married within Islam, he married for love. Horrified by their son’s thwarting of tradition, his family moved from Beeston to Nottingham in the hopes that he would follow; he did not. Instead, he blew himself up while murdering others and left behind a wife and child.
Why? Malik’s explanation is that home-brewed Islam “induced an intoxicating sense of belonging.” I witnessed this first hand while covering the aftermath of the UK bombings. The young men I met belonged only to Islam— not to Britain. The older generation feared the racist violence of the British National Party, but the younger ones had no such fears. There was no intimidating them; they wanted to scare people, which they did—and they knew it.
British racism, led to British multiculturalism, which led to arbitrary leaders within the Islamic community. These leaders had money and power that they used to espouse their particular brand of religion, in hopes of achieving their personal and political goals.
Malik notes that the Asian Youth Movement of the 1970s (a movement akin to the Black Panthers in the United States) crumbled in the face of British Multiculturalism. The “symbolic black secular fist split open into a submissive ethnic hand with its divided religious fingers holding up the begging bowl for the race relations crumbs,” says Mukhtar Dar, one of the founders of the movement.
An Asian Youth Movement might have led to a more assimilated society with equal rights. Instead, Britain adopted multiculturalism. A misnomer, in fact, for a policy that led communities to look inward as opposed to outward, and to achieve their rights by asserting their difference from others rather than their equality. Here, Malick makes passing reference to the fact that while this was going on in Britain, the United States was supporting the Mujahedeen (the original Taliban) in Pakistan. As he puts it “flirting with Islam has proved costly.”
In addition to its detailed analysis of Multiculturalism, Fatwa to Jihad offers an excellent account of the controversy surrounding the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad printed in Danish newspapers. Malik picks apart the events for those baffled by how publishing a cartoon can cause death. The outrage over Satanic Verses changed publishing, writing, and writers, says Malik. He argues that writers censor themselves and publishers are wary of provocative writers who don’t. Even writing this humble review, I find myself concerned with the possibility of offending the wrong person and facing the consequences.
More than a decade after 9/11 and nearly as long after 7/7 the world is not much closer to understanding why these things happened. Ours is a world engulfed by the miasmic threat of Muslim terrorists. Lasting solutions to this threat demand a deep and concerted effort to understand not only its root cause, but also the people who grow out of it. In Fatwa to Jihad, Keenan Malik takes an admirable stab at the problem.