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A Nobel for Islamophobia
By Mohammed Ayub Khan
|The 2001 Nobel Prize for Literature
went to Trinidad-born British author - of Indian origin - V.S. Naipaul
"for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in
works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories."
Since the announcement, however, quite a few eyebrows have been raised at
the Swedish Academy's choice. For Muslims and many others, Naipaul is seen
as an expedient choice for the award in the light of the prevailing
international crisis. Some even see him as an Islamophobe. For Naipaul's
supporters however, the prize has been seen as a long-awaited and
Naipaul apologists would like to say that he is not anti-Muslim; but
rather an equal opportunity critic of anyone and everyone. Per Wastberg of
the Swedish Academy notes that, "Naipaul is critical of all
Others point out that Naipaul has made scathing remarks against everyone
including his own father. And recently he compared British Prime Minister
Tony Blair to a pirate whose "socialist revolution" had imposed
a "plebian culture".
Accusing E.M. Forster of being gay, Naipaul said the esteemed author knew
nothing of India but "the garden boys whom he wished to seduce."
When Elizabeth Hardwick asked Naipaul about the significance of the dot on
Hindu women's foreheads he replied, "It means, 'My head is empty.'
"Similarly, his contempt for African and Caribbean peoples can be
seen in such blanket statements as: "Africa has no future."
Caribbean and American blacks are incapable of any "serious
literature," he wrote, because their purpose is merely to "win
acceptance" for their group, which leads to "profitable"
protest writing and little else.
When its comes to Islam however, Naipaul's enmity knows no bounds. For him
any Muslim who is not an Arab is a "convert". Islam's
"fantasy" of converting the infidel, he says, is the start of a
"neurosis" because "in this fantasy the convert forgets who
or what he is and becomes the violator." This misconception is, in
essence, the sum of all of Naipaul's Islamophobic works and statements.
Naipaul started his anti-Islamic journey with his first book Among the
Believers: An Islamic Journey (1981), which Middle East expert Fouad Ajami
describes as the "thinnest and least impressive book." In this
work, Naipaul writes about his travels in four Muslim non-Arab or
"convert" countries in 1979, namely Indonesia, Malaysia,
Pakistan and Iran.
In 1998 he published the sequel, Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among
The Converted Peoples, which finally laid to rest any doubts that remained
about his inherent Islamophobia. In this book, as with the earlier one,
Naipaul goes to the Muslim world with some preconceived notions and
instead of correcting them, comes out with a reinvigorated assertiveness.
In the prologue Naipaul writes, "Islam is in its origins an Arab
religion. Everyone not an Arab who is a Muslim is a convert."
One wonders if he thinks that Christianity is a Palestinian religion and
that European and American Christians are "converts". One might
very well ask him if he thinks that the majority of Hindus these days are
converts since it is not an indigenous Indian religion, but was brought
along by the invading Aryans.Mirroring his self imposed prejudices,
Naipaul claims that the early Muslims were "invaders sweeping down
from the northwest, looting temples of Hindustan and imposing the faith on
the infidels." Nothing could be farther from the truth. If Naipaul's
assertion is correct, then there would be no Hindus left in India today.
Throughout the 1000-year Muslim rule in India - barring a few instances -
Muslims never forcibly converted anyone. On the contrary, they had a
conciliatory attitude towards the people from other faiths.
Edward Said was correct when he wrote: In effect, the 400-page Beyond
Belief is based on nothing more than this rather idiotic and insulting
theory. The question isn't whether it is true or not, but how could a man
of such intelligence and gifts as V S Naipaul write so stupid and so
boring a book, full of story after story illustrating the same primitive,
rudimentary, unsatisfactory and reductive thesis that most Muslims are
converts and must suffer the same fate wherever they are. Never mind
history, politics, philosophy, geography: Muslims who are not Arabs are
inauthentic converts, doomed to this wretched false destiny. Somewhere
along the way Naipaul, in my opinion, himself suffered a serious
intellectual accident. His obsession with Islam caused him somehow to stop
thinking, to become instead a kind of mental suicide compelled to repeat
the same formula over and over. This is what I would call an intellectual
catastrophe of the first order.
Ironically, Beyond Belief is dedicated to Naipaul's second wife, the
Pakistan-born "Muslim" (in Naipaul's words a
"convert") novelist Nadira Khannum Alvi.
Of late Naipaul has also become the darling of Hindu militancy by claiming
it is a necessary corrective to the past, calling the destruction of Babri
Masjid "an act of historical balancing."
As if any doubt remained, Naipaul laid bare his hostility a few weeks
before the announcement of the Nobel award. Islam, he said, "had a
calamitous effect on converted peoples. To be converted you have to
destroy your past, destroy your history. You have to stamp on it, you have
to say 'my ancestral culture does not exist, it doesn't matter'." q