Islamic fundamentalism's spread

SUN JOURNAL

Believers: Nobel author V.S. Naipaul explores the religion's growth in several of his books, some of which Muslims have criticized.

November 02, 2001

V.S. Naipaul, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature Oct. 11, is a Brahmin Indian born in Trinidad whose novels and nonfiction works explore the cultural confusion of the outsider in the West and the "half-formed societies" of the Third World.

He has written two books on the growing world of Islamic fundamentalism. In 1979, he wrote Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey, about his travels to Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia; in 1998, he described a return to the same countries in Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples.

The views he expressed in those books and elsewhere drew attacks from Muslims that moved his wife, Nadira Khannum Alvi - a Pakistani Muslim journalist whom he married in 1995 and to whom he dedicated Beyond Belief - to defend him in an interview published Oct. 15 in London's Daily Telegraph. Following are excerpts, compiled by Jeffrey M. Landaw:

"The Chachnama [the chronicle of the Arab conquest of Sind, now part of Afghanistan and Pakistan] shows the Arabs of the seventh century as a people stimulated and enlightened and disciplined by Islam, developing fast, picking up learning and new ways and new weapons (catapults, Greek fire) from the people they conquer, intelligently curious about the people they intend to conquer. The current fundamentalist wish in Pakistan to go back to that pure Islamic time has nothing to do with a historical understanding of the Arab expansion. The fundamentalists feel that to be like those early Arabs they need only one tool: the Koran. Islam, which made the seventh-century Arabs world conquerors, now clouds the minds of their successors or pretended successors. ...

"The West, or the universal civilization it leads, is emotionally rejected. It undermines, it threatens. But at the same time it is needed, for its machines, goods, medicines, warplanes. ... All the rejection of the West is contained within the assumption that there will always exist out there a living, creative civilization, oddly neutral, open to all to appeal to. Rejection, therefore ... is also, for the community as a whole, a way of ceasing to strive intellectually. It is to be parasitic; parasitism is one of the unacknowledged fruits of fundamentalism.

"The new men of the villages, who feel they have already lost so much, find their past blocked at every turn. ... Their rage - the rage of pastoral people with limited skills, limited money, and a limited grasp of the world - is comprehensive. Now they have a weapon: Islam.

"In public gardens and in other places in this new town [Kuala Lumpur] can be seen young village Malays dressed as Arabs, with turbans and gowns. The Arab dress ... is their political badge. In the university there are girls who do not only wear the veil, but in the heat also wear gloves and socks. ... The veil is more than the veil; it is a mask of aggression ... [T]hese are the clothes of uprooted village people who wish to pull down what is not theirs and then take over. Because an unacknowledged part of the fantasy is that the world goes on, runs itself, has only to be inherited."- Among the Believers

"The cruelty of Islamic fundamentalism is that it allows only to one people - the Arabs, the original people of the Prophet - a past, and sacred places, pilgrimages, and earth reverences. ... Converted peoples have to strip themselves of their past; of converted peoples nothing is required but the purest faith (if such a thing can be arrived at), Islam, submission. It is the most uncompromising kind of imperialism.

"Iran never formally became a colony. Its fate was in some ways worse. When Europe, once so far away, made its presence felt, Iran dropped off the map. Its great monuments fell into decay (and never became as well known as the Indian monuments). And by the end of the 19th century its rulers were ready to hand over the country, and its people, to foreign concessionaires.

"India, almost as soon as it became a British colony, began to be regenerated, began to receive the New Learning of Europe, to get the institutions that went with that learning. ... Iran was to enter the 20th century only with an idea of eastern kingship and the antiquated theological learning of places like Qom [Iran's holy city]. Iran was to enter the 20th century only with a capacity for pain and nihilism.

"Always in the background now [after the loss of Bangladesh] were the fundamentalists who ... wanted to take the country back and back, to the seventh century, to the time of the Prophet. There was as hazy a program for that as there had been for Pakistan itself: only some idea of regular prayers, of Koranic punishments, the cutting off of hands and feet, the veiling and effective imprisoning of women, and giving men tomcatting rights over four women at a time, to use and discard at will." ,- Beyond Belief

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