It's a good time to be a Muslim writing about 'the trouble with Islam', to borrow the title of a recent jeremiad by Irshad Manji, a Pakistani-Canadian lesbian feminist. Readers in the West, especially Americans, are eager to know 'what went wrong with Islam', as Bernard Lewis delicately puts it, particularly if it can be traced to cultural pathology and envy of 'our freedom'. Carmen bin Ladin, the ex-wife of Osama's brother Yeslam, and Farah Pahlavi, the Shah's widow, have published memoirs to respectful reviews. Azar Nafisi's Reading 'Lolita' in Tehran, which carries a blurb from Lewis, is an international bestseller and a favourite with suburban American book clubs not previously known for their interest in higher education in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nafisi's glowing endorsement appears on the jacket of the US edition of The Swallows of Kabul, a newly translated novel by 'Yasmina Khadra' - the pseudonym of Mohammed Moulessehoul, a former high-ranking Algerian military officer who writes in French under his wife's name. Getting translated into English is a hurdle cleared by few novelists from the Arab and Muslim world; it helps if one writes against one of America's enemies.
LRB 7 October 2004 | PDF Download