Fanaticism In Fiction

In the Wall Street Journal, Salil Tripathi notes that England’s multicultural novelists predicted the mindset of the London 7/7 subway bombers a decade ago:


Several British Asian novelists have been writing about the turbulence within Britain’s Muslim community. But while they have been honored, their warnings have gone unheeded. Mr. Kureishi has won the Whitbread Award for “The Buddha of Suburbia.” Many of Mr. Rushdie’s novels have been nominated for the Booker Prize, which he won in 1982 for “Midnight’s Children.” Monica Ali was nominated for the Booker Prize in 2003, for “Brick Lane.” Nadeem Aslam won the Encore Award this year in London for “Maps for Lost Lovers.” (In June he also won an American award, the Kiriyama Prize, which is given to enhance the West’s understanding of the East.)

If those novels were read carefully, then the composite picture that emerges today–of disaffected youth finding a new meaning through faith, joining religious groups and following foreign-born preachers, as well as of subterranean misogyny and ostracizing, and even killing those who leave the community by marrying outside the faith–should not have surprised anyone.

Britain’s multiculturalism rests on political correctness. This means the mediator becomes more important than the message. Minority writers get a disproportionate amount of space on the bookshelves, but what is being said is seemingly willfully neglected. That partly explains why so many–including their neighbors and much of the British establishment–were surprised to find that three homegrown British Pakistanis became suicide bombers. Many in Britain think–smugly–that they know how to handle multiethnic relations. After all, chicken tikka masala had been crowned the country’s favorite dish; the whole of Britain cheered when boxer Amir Khan won a silver medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004; until recently Nasser Hussain led the English cricket team; and British courts had allowed Muslim schoolgirls not only the right to wear headscarves, but also the jilbab, an outfit that covers their entire body. How could things go wrong?


Read the fictional characters at the beginning of the article. While they’re all young English immigrants in stories conceived a decade ago by the authors that Tripathi mentions, several of their elements also struck me as being remarkably similar to that of America’s own John Walker Lindh in their desire to opt out of the complexity of modern society in return for the opportunity to immanentize the eschaton.

(Yeah, I know I’ve been using that last phrase quite a bit this past week or so. But as I’ve been reading Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, I’m struck by how much the desire to create a utopian Heaven On Earth–no matter how much bloodshed is involved–is the element that ties together all of the dark forces of the past 100 years: communism in all its forms, fascism, Nazism, and modern Islamofascism. And while on the surface, those appear to be disparate movements, it’s not at all surprising how frequently they’ve been willing to find common cause with each other over the last 100 years.)


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