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Writing Muslim Identity – Geoffrey Nash

July 11, 2017

This book is the first to offer a comprehensive overview of the way in which Muslims
are represented within modern English writing: the novel, memoir, travel writing to journalism. Covering a wide range of texts and authors, it scrutinises the identity ‘Muslim’ by looking at its inscription in recent and contemporary literary writing within the context of significant events like the Rushdie Affair and 9/11. Examining the wide range of writing internationally that takes Islam or Islamic cultures as its focus, the author discusses the representation of Muslim identity in writing by non-Muslim writers, former Muslim ‘native informants’, and practising Muslims.

Nash is more than qualified to grapple with this difficult and complex subject matter, as Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Sunderland, whose previous work includes: From Empire to Orient (2005) and The Anglo-Arab Encounter (2007). The publication under review is a textual discourse analysis, which presents itself in a thematic schema covering five main chapters engaging with, cultural studies literature written as a critique against Islam; fictional Muslim migration narratives in the British context; Muslim gender and sexuality; modernity and eschatological Muslim discourse; and, finally, the misnomer of ‘Islamic terrorism’. In doing so, the book brings together diametrically contesting representations and binary-oppositional interpretations from across the spectrum of issues and themes explored in the book, pitting them against each other through deconstructing their variant ideas and posits, employing a theoretical prism of postcolonialism, poststructuralism, and cultural hegemony. Nash’s central argument asserts that while the specific contemporary socio-political contexts in which Islam and Muslims are framed – postcolonial, western migration, minority status, their established positioning as the paradigmatic ‘other,’ particularly shaped through a perpetuated Orientalist imaginary, neatly and conveniently circumscribes the overwhelming rep-resentations within modern, popular western fiction. This battle to break free from ho-mogenous hegemonic depictions is described by Nash as a Kulturkampf (‘culture struggle’) in which, ‘…Muslims the world over have become objects of suspicion and more insidiously, a war of words and images has been unleashed upon them. Especially where they live as a minority…’

The post-9/11 timeline associated with the works studied in the publication is the central event and determining factor in how the various narratives are played out and how the relevant insider/outsider characters are obsessed, fixated, and dramatically changed by the 9/11 (and subsequent attacks, including London’s 7/7 suicide bombings) ‘fall-out.’ The book engages with a few works that pre-date 9/11, including Hanif Kurieshi’s ‘My Son the Fanatic,’ in Love in a Blue Time (1997), which was originally written in the context of the post-Rushdie Affair and appeared to reflect the author’s alarm and discontent with an evolving, self-consciously increasing religious identity among British-Pakistanis in the wake of the publication of The Satanic Verses. What seemed at the time to be a work that expressed both the social reality of an identity shift for migrant-settler Muslims in the UK, from ethnicity (Asian) to religiosity (Muslim), and the divide between secular liberal values and misplaced religious conservatism, morphed into a quasi-prophetic account of the rise of ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ as a precursor to 9/11.

Although completely unrelated to the catastrophic events to come, Kurieshi’s short story, which was also released as a film, now presents itself as a key text in the evolving fictional narratives on Islam/Muslims in North-western Europe and North America. Clearly, Kurieshi’s proximity to Islam, while expressed fictionally, is closer to that of Ian McEwan or John Updike whose writings bear only a tangential consideration of Muslim identity in their apocalyptic obsessions with 9/11. The majority of outsider depictions of Muslims surveyed in Nash’s work are usually presented as faceless, coincidental, dichotomous or ‘essentialised,’ ‘flat-pack’ characters. They are usually projected as merely ‘part actors’ in the greater 9/11 event. It is, instead, largely the ‘insider’ authors – those of apparent Muslim origin, who attempt any ‘subjectification’ of their Muslim characters, often through the psycho-social tensions they confront as a result of their cultural displacement, religious difference or civilizational contrarieties as the Muslim ‘other.’ Redefining Muslim identity through the prism of 9/11 as something that is inherently violent and pathological in addition to being culturally and civilizationally oppositional to European, post-Enlightenment, liberal values has spawned a particularised neo-Orientalism that confronts the spacial proximity and intimate presence of the Muslim ‘other’ in modern western societies. This phenomenon is observed in all the works critiqued in Nash’s publication by offering a convincing analysis of the inter-connectedness of the variant fictional narratives and (fictional) Muslim identity constructions that thread throughout the book.

Sceptics might argue that Nash’s neatly constructed schema is dependent on the particular writings he has selected and that, conversely, there are alternative and conflicting works that portray a quite different reading/s of Muslim identity. Yet, building a case for Muslim minority, Kulturkampf needs increasingly less convincing evidence in the current climate of assertive Islamophobia across Europe and north America but, mapping the less obvious and more innocuous forms of negative Muslim representations through popular writings and novels requires a degree of developed literary skill.

I had to look up ‘baradarism’ = people using their power of authority and cultural understanding e.g. to enforce a marriage.

Table of contents

Introduction \1.Literature and the Kulturkampf against
Islam\ 2. British Migrant Muslim Fiction \ 3. Fixing Muslim Masculinity/ Saving
Muslim Women \ 4. Writing Muslim Modernities and Eschatologies\ 5. Identifying
the ‘Islamic’ Terrorist 6. Conclusion \ Bibliography \ Index.


Insurgencies that concern Muslims hardly at all, for example in areas of Africa or India, are less frequently reported than those which do. Deprivation of the human rights of Muslim women has exercised many writers and journalists; however, as the treatment of these issues seems to grow exponentially, not as many, in comparison, highlight, for example, the large scale channelling of girls and  young women into prostitution in South-East Asia, or the incidence of child  brides, forced marriages or honour killings among Hindus and Sikhs, or the abandonment of aged widows in Hindu society. Islam is an easy scapegoat, in short, for cultural practices that have either been in existence for hundreds of years, or, like the child sex and adult prostitution ‘industries’ in countries like the Philippines (predominantly Catholic) or (predominantly Buddhist) Thailand, have developed over the last half century with the active partici­pation of Europeans, Americans, and Australasians and no doubt Muslims too.

In the 19th century, the West considered the wearing of clothes as the mark of civilization; it was “savages” who went naked. In the 20th and 21st centuries, however, semi-nudity became the signifier of western superiority’ The division over clothing, particularly the wearing of the hijab and niqab, has thus taken on an increasingly polarized, confrontational aspect.

British sociologist Tariq Modood writes of his family’s personal shift of identity from being considered Pakistani in the 1960s/70s, to Asian in the 1980s, and Muslim in the 1990s (Modood 2005: 4). According to Humayun Ansari, Muslims were subsumed within ethnic categories as part of the discourse of race relations until the 1980s, when the New Right’s exclusion policies led to the adoption of religion as a signifier of identity.

the ‘clash of civilizations’ theory at a time when one third of the world’s Muslims live as members of minorities outside of the Muslim world

“Islam” lay ready to hand’ (Mortimer 1991: 10). Especially in the United States some Cold War warriors seamlessly transferred their attention from Communism to a global Muslim threat.

The Muslim is not so much a new figure as the return of a repressed earlier type many in western society believe has disappeared. That is, the Muslim has a lot in common with a previous bogeyman, the Jew.

The President of Bradford Council of Mosques gave Malise Ruthven the impression in June 1 that ‘in some ways […] Salman Rushdie had done the Muslim community a  favour [ …] Bradford was definitely on the Islamic map, a Mecca of the north. The city’s  disparate mosques had acquired an umbrella organization, Muslims coming more united, and the community realized it had put down people now had no intention of returning to Pakistan ./

Already well-known for his screenplay My Beautiful Laundrette (1986), according to Ruvani Ranasinha (2007) Kureishi’s early work constituted ‘an artistic response to the diversity and complexity of British Asian experiences’ that progressively deconstructed ‘received, conventional assumptions of minority communities and [led] to a broader self-definition [of these]’ (238). In turning his attention to the impact of Islam on the new generation of British-born children of Asian immigrants, Kureishi’s writing became focused on the binary between western liberal discourse and Islamic fundamentalism, with an emphasis on Muslim violence and the promotion of the values of secularism. In an article written in The Guardian in August 2005,4 Kureishi implied that through practical research in the early 1990s he had foreseen the extremist attacks to come and he located them firmly within the fundamentalist mindset. Ranasinha agrees that The Black Album (1995) and ‘My Son the Fanatic’ (1997) now appear ‘prescient in view of the scrutiny of this community in the context of 9/11, global warfare, and 7/7’. Nonetheless, she also opines ‘these texts crudely and uncritically reflect and embody rather than question predominant fears, prejudices, and perceptions of British Muslims as “fundamentalists”, a group already constructed as particularly threatening in the emergence of Islamism among the British Asian community came as such a shock for Kureishi. Why, as Ranasinha charges, did he succumb to the standard western fears about Islamic fundamentalism, so much so that he ‘never explores any forms of Islam that are not “fundamentalist”?’

the Kureishi type protagonist Shahid’s final rejection of his former Muslim companions: How could anyone confine themselves to one system or creed? Why should they feel they had to? There was no fixed self; surely our several selves melted and mutated daily? There had to be innumerable ways of being in the world. He would spread himself out, in his work and in love, following his curiosity­.

Some vulgar people ask that if a pious man will get seventy-two wives in Paradise, how many men will a pious woman receive? That of course is the height of ignorance and indecency: a pious woman cannot bear the thought of letting a man other than her husband touch her – so in Paradise, where there is nothing but ease and satisfaction, why would she be put through the torment of being groped and fondled by strange men […J There will be no urine, no faeces, no semen, no menstruation; erections and orgasms will last for decades, and men will often hear their earthly wives say, ‘By the power of Allah, I could find nothing in Paradise as beautiful as you’ .

Nonetheless, the secularized godless metropolis has not only freed humans from ‘metaphysical control’, it has also provided the space in which an individualized commitment can grow free from the tyranny of `the officially enforced beside which no others are tolerated’.

‘the traditionally educated rabbical class of ulama’ has been replaced by ‘autodidacts emerging from secondary schools and universities […] [a] newly enfranchised class of intellectuals, who usually come from rural backwaters’

To the charge that Islam requires a Reformation we might reply: it is happening, now, but not in a way that is convenient for the West.

…….Fattouma’s own Islamic society. In so doing, the domain of infidelity is doubled the abode of Islam. Muslims are seen to have fallen short of the divine commands of their religion and are in their behaviour in certain respects better than the infidel. In fact as recipients of divine revelation they are afforded less excuse than pagans and atheists.

You can downloard it here

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