On the Muslim Question
Princeton University Press, 2013
Whatever Happened to the Islamists?
Edited by Amel Boubekeur and Olivier Roy
Columbia University Press, 2012
One of the best ways to defeat Islamophobia is for people to get to know Muslims on a personal level and to become familiar with the rich complexities of Islamic life and thought as they interact with, and are to some extent influenced by, contemporary culture and thought from across the globe. Anne Norton provides us with a window into the interaction between European versions of modernity and the Islamic experience, drawing attention to how Muslims often face resistance and hatred as they enter into previously constituted elements of European society. Norton perceptively critiques the writings of Paul Berman, who has become a leading critic of Islam. She looks in particular at Berman’s attacks on Tariq Ramadan, whose writing she characterizes as having “advocated the willing integration of Western Muslims into the cultural and electoral practices of the West.” She argues against the notion of a clash of civilizations and describes that notion as frequently “deployed to deflect critical engagement with sex, sexuality, and sexual hierarchies in the West,” explaining that “the [Muslim] enemy who would ‘take our freedom,’ who ‘hates our way of life,’ is made the excuse for giving up our freedoms and abandoning our way of life.”
The articles in Amel Boubekeur and Olivier Roy’s collection give a fuller sense of how one-dimensional the popular understandings and presentations of Islamic life in Western media are. Tikkun Contributing Editor Mark LeVine’s essay on “Heavy Metal Muslims” in this collection shows how contemporary Islam is breaking out of the boundaries normally set for it by some of its orthodox exponents and many of its Western detractors. LeVine notes, for example, how Islamists, on the one hand, and “fans of extreme music” on the other, challenge both the politically and culturally dominant values of the larger society. Both, he writes, “offer alternative ways of grappling with the nihilism that has, at least since Nietzsche, been considered the most dangerous effect of modernization.” Moreover, he argues, they manage to transcend countercultures based primarily on deploying and defending closed, intolerant, and sometimes violent “resistance identities.” Instead, they forge what LeVine calls “project identities” that are open to dialogue, more tolerant of a divergence of opinion, and focused on envisioning a just future that does not rely on violence to be achieved. Yet LeVine is well aware that the hopeful forms of resistance he encounters in the emerging heavy metal scene are still challenged by more divisive figures who have even greater access to the public spheres within their societies. This collection provides an excellent window into these struggles.
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