From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and Its Aftermath

In This Review

From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and Its Aftermath
By Kenan Malik
Melville House, 2010
288 pp. $25.00
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Most books about Islam and Europe tend to be predictable, empirically thin polemics written by outsiders. This book is different. It is not just a sociocultural critique but also a personal memoir by an Indian-born, British-raised research psychologist and journalist who has toiled in the trenches of the culture wars. Although Malik is a socialist and has no time for anti-immigrant polemics, he criticizes the British government's policy of fostering independent multicultural communities. This policy has empowered fundamentalist clerics by naming them official spokespeople for Muslim communities that are, in fact, divided and moderate. He presents an intriguing explanation of how radical Islam has taken hold in the United Kingdom, based on the saga of how Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's 1989 fatwa against Salman Rushdie for his book The Satanic Verses -- originally just an opportunistic effort for Khomeini to gain a political advantage in Iran -- managed to spark fundamentalist religious confrontation and, ultimately, jihadist terrorism. Malik believes the causes of extremism do not lie in religious tradition: most radicals are neither religious nor traditional. Nor do they lie in hostility toward Western foreign policy, about which most British Muslim radicals care relatively little. He views the sort of jihadism that led to the July 7, 2005, bombings in London as a form of youthful rebellion, akin to membership in street gangs or middle-class slumming. It is motivated by young men's antipathy toward their parents and their desire for street credibility -- forces stronger among the better educated. The tragic result has been an increasingly illiberal and divided society, with little cultural space for second-generation British Muslims.