Myopia prevents a clear view of Islam

Islam and Politics in the Contemporary World. First edition
November 26, 2004

As the author suggests in her preface, few subjects are as timely as that of Islam and politics. Discussions, debates and polemics permeate our contemporary culture with varying degrees of insight and prejudice.

Given this climate, it should come as no surprise that more students are keen to study aspects of Islam, albeit as an option in a broader degree course, and that lecturers hitherto unfamiliar with the terrain are in need of clear and concise introductory texts with which to prime their students and satisfy demand. It is equally clear from the text under review that publishers are so anxious to fill this apparent gap in the market that they will rush into print manuscripts that have been poorly edited and proofread.

This book is an eclectic contribution of opinion and information - some of which is interesting and an undoubtedly genuine attempt to reshape the debate, (although the latter is not as new as the author suggests). But much of this is so simplistic as to be banal. Not only do basic factual errors creep in with unerring frequency, but the material is organised so that much is repeated, and occasionally contradicted.

This becomes particularly apparent in those sections in which the author is clearly not an expert, such as those dealing with the historical background and the non-Arab world, especially Iran. Astonishingly, despite the claim to want to avoid “myopic stereotypes”, the author freely uses terms such as “fundamentalism” and “theocracy”, which pander to stereotype.

Most irritatingly, however, is the desire to be “accessible”, which results in Crusaders being “caped”, and a section on Islamic resurgence titled “How Ahmad got his groove”. Moreover, in a section on celebrity Muslims, we are confidently told that along with Chris Eubank and Cat Stevens, Ayatollah Khomeini has a deep attachment to Islam. That, at least, is reassuring.

Ali Ansari is reader in modern history, St Andrews University.

Islam and Politics in the Contemporary World. First edition

Author - Beverley Milton-Edwards
Publisher - Polity
Pages - 240
Price - £55.00 and £15.99
ISBN - 0 7456 11 0 and 12 9

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