Saturday, June 12, 2010

the emblematic figure of the contemporary age

"Islamic fundamentalist groups have long terrorized many Muslim countries, especially those, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, that were ravaged by blowback from the Cold War and the war on terror. These extremists, who now assault the West as well, have always lacked popular support within their own countries. The anarchic vivacity of contemporary Muslim societies--featuring such figures as Ali Saleem, Pakistan's own cross-dressing television host, and Cairo's hijab-wearing sex therapist Heba Kotb, whose talk show is beamed across the Arab world--does not quite match [Ayaan] Hirsi Ali's description of an incurably medieval people busy devising ever-harsher laws for themselves while plotting mayhem for the infidels...Nor do Hirsi Ali's simple oppositions--traditional societies versus democracy, Islma versus Western secularism--sum up the experiences of Muslims in Europe, who are the Continent's most globalized minority, with multilayered identities that are usually influenced less by the Koran or Sharia than by the politics, culture, and economy of various nations and transnational networks...[When] she writes that a Muslim can be 'an American patriot' only if he doesn't 'care very much about being a Muslim,' she seems suspicious of the [US's] un-European traditions of cultural and religious pluralism. Eager to reeducate her 'fellow nomads' in 'the ways of the infidel,' Hirsi Ali is convinced that 'lingering between the two value systems...stunts the process of becoming one's own person.' But those privileged enough to find refuge in the West rarely find it easy or desirable to abandon their ancestral culture and convert to the Randian individualism that she appears to uphold as the noblest form of human existence. The fate of the truly modern nomad is, rather, a ceaseless inner conflict between ways of life and value systems; this very quality has made the nomad an emblematic figure of the contemporary age."

--from "Islamismism: How Should Western Intellectuals Respond to Muslim Scholars?" by Pankaj Mishra in The New Yorker, June 7, 2010.
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