DOASKDOTELL BOOK REVIEWs of Irshad Manji The Trouble with Islam Today; Bruce Bawer While Europe Slept; Robert Merry: Sands of Empire; Amy Chua: World on Fire; Daveed Gartenstein-Ross: My Year Inside Radical Islam; Rachel Ehrenfeld: Funding Evil; Matthew R. Simmons: Twilight in the Desert


Author (or Editor):  Irshad Manji (preface by Dr. Khaleel Mohammed)

Title:  The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith

Fiction? No

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Griffin

Date:  2003

ISBN:  0-312-32700-5

Series Name:

Physical description: hardbound, 234 pgs paper

Relevance to doaskdotell: gays in Islam

Review:  The author, a young woman, appeared on CNN's "Welcome to the Future" in her discussion of the book and supporting website "Muslim Refusenik"  She said she had put the book online, which led to its being read by many more people. While I found many detailed notes, I couldn't find the whole book there myself. The context was how the Internet was providing a way for little people to make themselves and their ideas known, but it also was providing a "globalization of grievance." My blog on the CNN program is here.

The cover (at least the paperback) is indicative of her argument. It has a banner with the title of the book covering the mouth on her face, as if Islam would take away her "big mouth" (as Khaleel -- next paragraph -- calls it) in the literal fashion of a Stephen King horror short (that actually happens in an old film from the 70s -- "take her mouth away").

The book starts with a short Prologue by her old imam, Dr. Khaleel Mohammed at San Diego State University. He admits (while stating that she is a lesbian) that he should hate her for challenging male authority and orthodox fundamentalist thinking. But he does not and admits that some intellectual honesty is necessary to save Islam.

Her book has nine chapters, the first of which is "How I Became a Muslim Refusnik." She points out early her questioning of loyalty to blood. On page 18, there is an extremely important passage to quote:

"When I was thirteen or so, my mother urged me to make nice with an obnoxious cousin. "She's family," Mum reasoned. "She's our blood." I retorted that blood meant nothing to me. The relevant question was whether I would choose to be her friend at school if we weren't related. With a personality like that, forget it. To expend energy "liking" my cousin would be a charade, and I had better things to do with my time. Although Mum understood, she didn't agree. For her, family took precedence. For me, lineage didn't equal merit. Personality did."

This pretty much summarizes how we all felt at the cozy Ninth Street Center in New York City in the 1970s, listening to Paul Rosenfels, exploring psychological polarities and the freedom to forever remain adolescent.

Her view of people expands quickly into her view of what is wrong with Islam, and provides good analogies. The interpretation of the Koran (Qur'an) by most imams is filled with intellectual dishonesty. Even the homophobia doesn't seem to be there, of the Koran claims that God makes everything excellent. There are complex logical inconsistencies in the way radical Islam interprets many of the early incidents in its history (as with the move to Medina). The influence of Arab tribalism on Islam in the rest of the world is more the result of political self-service.  

She gives good earlier history on how Muslim went from a golden age to a culture that suppressed intellectual dissent. Some of the roots might have been rationalized by the "Pact of Umar."  Some centuries later, in response to Shiite splits and various breakdowns, Sunni clerics decided to suppress any individual dissent, in an attempt to hold a political "caliphate" together. Similar events have, of course, occurred within the Roman Catholic Church. As Andrew Sullivan points out, there is a certain psychological mindset that finds comfort in unquestioned "truths" subsumed from "scripture," mapped into gender roles that provide meaning for people (and take care of people) when they are not otherwise free to find meaning on their own.

Another concept that she explains is ijtihad, which she resurrects. This would be a project to reform the heart and soul of Islam with regard to individuality, especially for women. She notes her place about "the privilege of being listened to" (something I talk about elsewhere on this site) -- "the chutzpah" (that is, place or standing based on social or professional recognition) to comment on reforming Islam when she is not a theologian. She also notes the concept of honor (Bawer -- next book -- will take it further) in Islam:

"'Honor' demands sacrificing your individuality to maintain the reputation, status, and prospects for your husband, father and brothers. But to question this existence is to assert that you're not communal property. You're your own person, acting in your own name, expressing your own thoughts and communicating them in your own voice."

How important that has been to me in the past fifteen years, ever since the military "don't ask don't tell" came up, given my own personal history as a gay man raised during the Cold War McCarthy era.  Honor, as radical Islam sees it, seems like a way of protecting men whose main source of accomplishment in life (besides religious obedience) consists of sewing their own seed and creating a biological lineage with their own bodies, something I do not do. She starts her own recommendations by calling for more female entrepreneurs.  

 Bruce Bawer. While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West From Within. New York: Doubleday, 2006. ISBN 0-385-51472-7.  244 pages, hardcover, indexed

Bruce Bawer, after Andrew Sullivan, is one of the best known "gay conservative" writers, famous for A Place at the Table and for editing Beyond Queer in the 1990s. Here he delivers a scathing commentary on the complacency of old world Europe to the threat that radical Islam represents within.

The book is in three long chapters. (1) Before 9/11: Europe in Denial (2) 9/11 and After: Blaming Americans and Jews. (3) Europe's Weimar Moment: The Liberal Resistance and Its Prospects. Mr. Bawer moved from New York to Amsterdam in 1998 and slowly noticed the troubling developments in Dutch society. He would follow with a period in Oslo.

He makes a major comparison between Muslim immigration to Europe and general immigration (especially Latino) to the United States. There is a much greater tendency for rural Muslims to immigrate and then try to maintain their patriarchal family culture intact with family members back home. He goes into even greater detail than Ms. Manji on the abuse of women by radical Islam, including female clitoral mutilation. Radical Muslims often send daughters back "home" and often insist on radical education in Europe, sometimes even in the public school systems. Now, personally I know of teenagers who came from countries like Pakistan and have been educated in Europe in non-Muslim (such as Catholic) religion and culture, and then do very well when they come to the United States and finish high school or college, assimilating into western society. (Because they may know middle Eastern languages well, the United States military will certainly try to recruit them.)  However, many kids are not so lucky, it seems.  

Mr. Bawer was in Oslo, Norway on 9/11, and Europe quickly would learn of its own perils with Madrid and London. But most disturbing of all is the tendency of European governments to become squeamish about free speech. Besides Salman Rushdie, other writers in Europe have been threatened, such as Terrence McNally for portraying Jesus as gay in his play Corpus Christi. In 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh after his short film Submission, dealing with the oppression of women in radical Islam, was assassinated in Amsterdam. On page 194, Mr. Bawer explains why radical Islam is so intolerant of open criticism:

"Christians in the west are used to the idea that their religion is open to criticism and ridicule; most of them accept this as the price of living in a free society, and even those who are deeply offended by criticism and ridicule aren't about to kill over it. But fundamentalist Islam, as many Western Europeans are suddenly realizing, is different. From all reports over the years about honor killings, many Europeans have never grasped the mentality behind the acts; they've never perceived how dramatically the fundamentalist Muslim concepts of honor and respect differ from Western concepts that went by the same names; they've never quite appreciated the life-or-death seriousness with which fundamentalist Muslims viewed such matters, and they've never faced that all this was now, like it or not, their concern."

The sociology underneath this does comport with the vitriolic anti-gay policies of most Muslim countries. A typical male in their society experiences his sense of self-worth from his control over his lineage (I could be more crude in stating this), and the idea that others may not question his authority. This attitude is already well known in fundamentalist Christianity but, as Mr. Bawer points out, usually not carried to such life-and-death extremes (except in some fringe groups, associated, as we know, with domestic terrorism against abortion clinics and gay establishments). Patriarchal family values do protect the self-concept of the male from criticism from the lack of personal achievement outside of the family and mosque or church. Open western society is, on the other hand, competitive and predicated on the idea that at some point everyone must account for himself, regardless of family connections. This is indeed a deep divide in our own culture, a problem that I have tried to address with a "pay your dues" moral philosophy.

Mr. Bawer is certainly very concerned about apparent radical Muslim rejection of personal Western values as "selfish" or "hedonistic" or "narcissistic". Yet other scholars make a lot of historical grievances over occupation of Muslim lands, which span centuries (particularly in explaining the appeal of Osama bin Laden on the streets in rural Muslim areas with disaffected young males). (A reverse concept is dhimmis, non-Muslims in Muslim-conquered lands a thousand or so years ago.) Bawer also discusses the population issue. Native Europeans are not replacing their populations, but the much more "family centered' Muslim culture could overtake native populations mere by having many more children (again, in the bedroom, as Philip Longman and other conservative critics point out). For the gay population, this presents a certain irony. Britain has to consider how to protect both Muslims and gays from discrimination, and cannot get away with putting them in the same political boat. Because gays do not reproduce themselves biologically (for the most part), the demographics represent a serious long term political threat.  

The NBC Today show on Monday Jan 15, 2007 showed an interview with author Paul M. Barrett, American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006, ISBN 0374104239, and he reiterated points similar to Bawer's. That is, since America offers less in the way of a welfare state, Muslims who live here tend to assimilate and benefit from the pluralistic market economy, even when that economy supports culture that their religion disagrees with.  That has long been known in information technology, where immigrants from Pakistan and other Islamic countries have worked productively since the 1970s, usually hardly ever mentioning religion (or international political grievances like Israel and Palestine) and seeming to assimilate into a consumer-oriented, home-owning and family culture in most cities. 

See link below to Philip Longman, "The Empty Cradle" which also discusses Adam Steyn, "America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It."    

Robert W. Merry. Sands of Empire: Missionary Zeal, American Foreign Policy, and the Hazards of Global Activism. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. ISBN 0-7432-6667-6, hardcover, 301 pages, indexed. This book, authored by the president of Congressional Digest, criticizes the hegemony ("Ozymandias Syndrome" -- Percy Bysshe Shelley) of the Bush administration's "neoconservative" policy of exporting "democratic capitalism" to the rest of the world, especially the Middle East and Islam. The early part of the book gives a history of the philosophy of growth of civilizations, including even Hegel's dialetical materialism (the subject of a lot of term papers in college these days), but most of all the "End of History" (and "Idea of Progress") ideals of Francis Fukuyama, was well as Thomas Friedman's flat world and Samuel P. Huntington 's pragmatic conservatism. He gives a good explanation of the Bedouin tribal culture (with concepts like asabiyya, sharaf and ird -- family honor notions) upon which the practice of Islam would be built. But there is a contradiction, then, within the ambition of neo-conservatism, which itself, he admits, considers man to be a "social animal" with some public morality limits on personal autonomy in order to promote the health of a "democratic" society as a whole.

He mentions a little known work from about 1713 by Abbe Charles-Irenee Castel de Saint-Pierre, "Project for Eternal Peace", link here.  

Blogger review is here.

Amy Chua. World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability. New York: Anchor, 2003, 2004 (with Afterword). ISBN 0-385-72186-2, 346 pages, indexed, paper. This book, by a professor at Yale Law School, has an interesting thesis: that the rapid export of "democratic capitalism" to developing countries can lead to instability particularly when an ethnic or religious minority controls most of the wealth within the country. The book has twelve chapters and three parts: (1) The Economic Impact of Globalization (2) The Political Consequences of Globalization and (3) Ethnonationalism and the West.

She gives many detailed examples of countries in Southeast Asia, Latin America, Africa, and finally the Middle East. She compares the workings of "capitalism" in these countries and with it in western countries, where minorities to not rule the economy but where wealth is concentrated in a small minority. She also discusses anti-Americanism. She feels that democracy and capitalism can be contradictory until there are specific measures (like affirmative action of some kind) to ease tensions, redistribute wealth, and give ordinary people a legitimate chance to advance, all of which happens in America.

A couple of interesting quotes:

"The bottom line is this: Democracy can be inimical to the interests of market-dominant minorities." (p 259).

"Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew recently explained in an interview in Foreign Affairs that 'Asian societies are unlike Western ones. The fundamental difference between Western concepts of society and government and East Asian concepts ... is that Eastern societies believe that the individual exists in the context of the family. He is not pristine and separate.'" (p 262)

Therefore one person, one vote does not always make sense in Eastern society. Singapore is particularly interesting, as the Chinese majority is in control and "prosperous" and the conservative social values seem to reinforce the control and stability.

Blogger review link.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross. My Year Inside Radical Islam: A Memoir. New York: Tarcher-Penguin, 2007. ISBN 978-1-58542-551-8. 224 pages, hardbound, with brief bibliography. The dust jacket has the sentence: "At twenty-three, I was a devout believer in radical Islam. I worked for a Saudi-funded charity in Ashland, Oregon, that was accused of funding al-Qaeda. Funny thing, I was born Jewish. At the time, it all seemed pretty normal."

The book begins by describing how his conversion to Islam from Judaism (his birth religion -- unusual) dmitted a role for fundamentalist Christianity. All three Abrahamaic faiths were involved. He gets into a theological soliloquy (sort of based on ideas of C. S. Lewis) and migrates to a Sufi branch of Islam. When it does not seem principled enough (and he cites as an example a waffling issue on homosexuality) he is drawn to Sunni Islam. (Later, he lists a demand of death for homosexuals as one of a long list of rules of the "otherness" that he is drawn into for a year.)

Daveed was presented on Christian Amanpour's documentary for CNN, "God's Warriors" in the second segment, "Muslim Warriors."  One lesson: Be careful who you work for. (Blogger review is forthcoming.)

Here is a quote in which he explains the seduction of radical Islam:

"As I descended into radicalism, I had a greater feeling of certainty than I had known before. I felt that for the first time, I could truly comprehend and follow Allah's will--and I know that those who disagree with me were just following their own desires. There was a sense of community that came with this certainty. I was part of an exclusive club composed of those who could see beyond the shallow Western liberal values with which I was raised." (p. 282)

Blogger discussion is here.

Rachel Ehrenfeld. Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed—and How to Stop It. Chicago: Bonus Books, 2003 / 2005 (Expanded Edition), ISBN 1566252318, 296 pages, paper, heavily indexed with endnotes; Preface and an addition preface to the Expanded Edition that discusses the litigation in the United Kingdom (go to and look up “libel tourism”)' Foreword by R. James Woolsey. This book gives a detailed discussion, with many bullet-point lists, of how money is funneled to terrorist clauses by many varied components of the radical Islamic world. One interesting historical aside is the use of glanders (as biological warfare) against the Soviets by rebels in Afghanistan in the 1980s. More details on blogger here.  

Matthew R. Simmons. Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy. New York: Wiley, 2005 pbr 2006 ISBN 0-471-79018-1. 428 pages, paper with Preface and new Introduction, 35 Roman pages. Extensive bibliography. Four parts (I. "From Bedouin to Bourgeoisie"; II: "The Ebbing of the Saudi Oil Bounty"; III: "Giants at the Tipping Point"; IV: "Twilight in the Desert"), 17 chapters.

This book (mentioned in the Neflix film "A Crude Awakening" and the History Channel Mega-Disaster "Oil Apocalypse") maintains that Saudi Arabia is approaching or passing through peak production and will not be able to meet exploding world demand in the future as it did in the past. There is a lot of technical detail. In the last chapter, "Aftermath", he advises that we may well have to learn to live with less oil and back out of globalization (he contradicts Thomas Friedman's "Flat World" here), and produce more food and goods locally, and commute less to work, and bring back the "village" society.

In his new Introduction, Simmons discusses how he had first thought he would self-publish the book before Wiley approached him.

Blogger discussion.

 Related: Andrew Sullivan books       Paul Rosenfels books    Longman: Empty Cradle     Corpus Christi  Movies: Theo Van Gogh's May 6th, Submission     Thomas Friedman: The World Is Flat


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