The Malady of Islam
by Abdelwahab Meddeb
Trans. from French by Pierre Joris and Ann Reid. New York: Basic Books, 2003. 241 pp. $24.
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
On the subject of Islam, Meddeb presents a brave and insightful Muslim voice; on the subject of politics, he is just another group-think French intellectual. Fortunately, his thoughts on the first topic have real importance while those on the second do not.
On Islam, Meddeb (professor of comparative literature at the Sorbonne) sees militant Islam as the religion's endemic problem, comparable to fanaticism in Catholicism and Nazism in Germany. His lament about "the malady of Islam" emphasizes the loss of scientific creativity, cultural suppleness, and eros. Highly cultured in the French tradition, he openly admits his puzzlement with militant Islam ("I must confess that I cannot grasp the logic that predisposes a person to inscribe humiliation in the innermost core of his being"). As a connoisseur of Muslim culture—its poetry, mosque architecture, its tradition of travel, even its drinking songs—Meddeb fills out the picture of Muslim life so sadly missing from the "simplistic Islam, cut off from its civilization" that characterizes the Islamists. He rightly derides Wahhabism as aiming ultimately "to make one forget body, object, space, beauty."
For all its charm and erudition on the Islamic topic, Meddeb's writing degenerates into self-indulgence, quirkiness, and disorganization when he takes up politics. He blames the 9/11 hijackers, for example, in large part on a "world transformed by Americanization" and elaborates his bizarre notion that as "the Americanization of the world slowly began to replace its Europeanization," it spawned the Wahhabi sect. In passages of surpassing idiocy, Meddeb states that "Wahhabite Saudi Arabia and Puritan America were held over the same baptismal fonts" and "the Wahhabite sectarian walks hand in hand with the American," the two sharing much in common. And what Meddeb writes about Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, and other current issues is best left unsaid.
Related Topics: Islam | Daniel Pipes | Winter 2004 MEQ
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