Culture and Religion

Muslim Americans are slowly beginning to make their mark on their conflicted society. There are more Muslims than Jews in the US now --approximately 5 million. They are the most diverse of all American believers, 35 per cent born in the US (25 per cent Afro-American), the rest -- immigrants from southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Traditionally they have voted Republican, but have shifted to Democrat and Green parties in recent years.

Ibrahim Abdul-Matin is the son of black converts, raised in New York, a community organiser now environmental adviser to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His book about Islam and the environment -- Green Deen -- is a stimulating overview of both the US environmental movement and how American Muslims are becoming part of it, bringing their own unique perspective.

Abdul-Matin sees the weakness of the environmental movement today in its secular, legalist approach to problems: pass enough laws and you can curb the negative practices of business and consumers, and push them along an environmentally-friendly path.

Islam and Modernities by Aziz Al-Azmeh, 3rd edition,London:Verso , 2009

In this collection of essays by the Syrian historian Aziz Al-Azmeh, based at the Central European University in Budapest, the author provides a searing critique of both postmodernism and (multi)culturalism and of the radical Islamism that has arisen over the past 30 years in response to the Western onslaught on the Muslim world. In the preface to the third edition, Al-Azmeh attacks "culturalism and its correlative postmodernist and postcolonialist cant that betokens the ideological and conceptual hegemony of the Right over the Left, and the domestication of the latter by the former, most especially in Europe and North America since 1989." Not that he has any use for the "right-wing, fascist and hyper-nationalist ideology" of the Islamic reaction. On the contrary, he defends the Western Enlightenment – the chicken to the postmodern egg – against critics who trace today's intellectual and politic quagmire to that same Enlightenment, insisting that any progress must derive from it.

Words new and old -- The 3rd millennium's first decade was replete with buzzwords, many of them neologism arising from unremitting cyber innovations. As the world careened into what will henceforth be known as the Internet Era, we had such neologisms as

-the dotcom revolution, so named for the way internet addresses are written, "com" suggesting the commercial focus of the medium. This term along with Internet itself dates from the Stone Age of the 20th century internet

4/6/9 -- The Western "civilising" project in its many guises has given rise to strange bedfellows. Not only do Christian and Islamic fundamentalists -- officially enemies of each other -- find common cause in demanding more public displays of religiosity and less liberal social policies regarding sex. In fact, as Joseph Massad shows in his new book, Desiring Arabs, both parties -- again, paradoxically, as enemies of the international gay movement -- actually work in tandem with that very movement, aiding in the process of defining people according to the Western paradigm of hetero-homo sexual categories, which, prior to the 19th century, did not even exist.

10/5/8 -- Amitav Ghosh, author of In an Antique Land (IAAL), 1992, was recently in Cairo for an Arab Writers Union conference, where I interviewed him. Ghosh's second novel, The Shadow Lines, in 1988, won the Sahitya Akademi Award, India's most prestigious literary award. Since then, he has published The Calcutta Chromosome (1997), The Glass Palace (2000), The Imam and the Indian (2002), and done fieldwork in Cambodia. Ghosh's latest work of fiction, The Hungry Tide (2004) is a story of adventure and unlikely love, identity and history, set in the Sundarban Islands in the Bay of Bengal. He was awarded the Padma Shri Award by the Indian government in 2007. He currently lives in New York and teaches at Columbia University.

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