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Tuesday, 31 October 2006
Books in review

Regarding these two book reviews in the Boston Globe

Ilan Stavans, best known for his autobiographical or quasi-autobiographical works on being Jewish south of the border, may have been assigned the books for review, or may have asked to review them. There are strange remarks throughout, and not the strangest is the one at the end that instructs us, correctly, to read the Qur'an, but says nothing of abrogation as a key interpretive principle for reconciling seeming contradictions (and the dating of the individual suras, so that the most malevolent and significant of all, Sura 9, is either the last or second-to-last). Nor does he mention the hadith, nor, in a review of two books on Muhammad, the central role of Muhammad in Islam (close to 90%of the canonical texts are about Muhammad Messenger of Allah and not about Allah directly). Finally, he nowhere instructs us that we must know the most important facts of Muhammad's life because Muhammad is the Perfect Man, uswa hasana, al-insan al-kamil, and so to know Muhammad, to know what he did and what he said, is important for understanding the behavior of most Muslims whose belief-system does not distinguish between the religious and the political (no Matthew 22:21) or for that matter any other spheres. Islam offers or rather insists upon a Total Regulation of Life, and Complete Explanation of the Universe. Furthermore, those born into Islam, or who become "reverts" (demurely called, but only for Infidel ears, "New Muslims"), find that they are soldiers in the Army of Islam who are not permitted to leave, for if they do they are regarded, and punished as, traitors.

Ilans may know all this. He may know all about the political murders of Abu Akaf and Asma bint Marwan and the Jewish poet who mocked Muhammad in verse, he may know about the mass execution of the bound prisoners of the Banu Qurayza, about the seizure of women whose menfolk he killed, about his marriage to little Aisha at 6 (or 7), and his consummation of that marriage when she reached the age of 9, and why that remains significant today (virtually the first act of the Ayatollah Khomeini was to reduce the marriageable age of girls to 9). He may indeed know all about Muhammad as well as have studied, as he urges others to do so, the Qur'an. But if he has, then why did he mention none of this, or show the ways in which Weinberger and Armstrong both fail to discuss any of this? And if he did not know it, why did he not study up before volunteering to review these books, or before accepting from Gail Caldwell or someone else, the assignment?

Meanwhile, this review should not be held against him, or his books on Latin America, especially if one's tastes run to the Andre-Acimanish theme of Growing Up Jewish in all kinds of exotic places (i.e., anywhere but the United States and Western Europe), and if Albert Memmi and Edmond Jabes and even Canetti haven't covered that particular waterfront -- and it's a fairly interesting place, with lots of people who coulda been, or actually were, contenders -- then you can always move on to Being Jewish in Mexico City, in Sao Paolo (oops, did I forget Clarice Lispector?), and of course Ciudad Trujillo (let's not forget, let's honor, the Trujillos for their admission of Jews fleeing Europe, at a time when no one else would, even if that act of mercy was justified as a way to to "help the economy" of the Dominican Republic), and even to Bolivia and the Escuela Israelita in La Paz or possibly Cochabamba, with cute little Ruthie Salomon in her pigtails, and pinafore, and her father who was taken in by the Bolivians (and thus escaped Europe early in the 1930s, when the mene-mene-tekel-upharsin was on the wall for some) by volunteering to serve as a military doctor during the Gran Chaco War.

Posted on 10/31/2006 5:51 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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