Monday, March 21, 2016

I'm a panelist at the TRUTH IN FICTION event on May 4 in London -- be there!

Really looking forward to this. Edward F. Wilson and Paul Hardisty will also be on the panel, inshaAllah, chaired by Sunny Singh. Sponsored by The Authors' Club.

Event Description: The very best fiction opens our eyes to the world around us, challenges preconceived ideas and highlights issues in society and often across history. Join us for a thought-provoking, fascinating and exciting evening of readings and discussions about truth in fiction, and about novels that leave us wondering how much is fact and how much is fiction.... The evening will weave together readings and fascinating insights and offer the opportunity to question these exceptional authors.

Click here to book your seat!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Mr. Yeats and Mr. Trump

So here we go.

If this turns into a brokered GOP convention, I am hoping there is some Irish TV station with the instinct and the courage to broadcast it live. I don't care what time it is on over here. I'm staying up to watch it. I'm a political science geek, and if the Republican Party is going to have a nervous breakdown on national television, I want to watch while it takes place.

No American major-party convention has been gaveled to order with the nomination unsettled since 1948. Heavy hitters in the Republican party are now working very hard, and investing major resources, to make sure that happens. Should be fascinating. Pass the popcorn.

Below, one hypothetical set of pathways to (my) dream convention in Cleveland. All of them assume that my prayers are answered, and the Fascist candidate's boat loses some steam between now and what promises to be an epic California primary:

Something that has gone largely unreported, as far as I can tell anyway, is the massive impact California's Republican voters will have on the outcome of this race. As a native Californian, I can tell you that there are decades of resentment about the state's late placement in the primary season, and the unfairness of the country's most populous state having the least-heard voice in the selection of presidential nominees. That changes this year, with the state's primary shaping up as an Armageddon-like battle for the soul of the party. One can only pray that the last moderate standing, John Kasich of Ohio, emerges as a sane alternative to the two demonic alternatives on the Golden State's ballot. (I would not vote for Kasich, mind you, but I do fear for the country if either of the other two men head a major-party ticket.)

One of the perils of a brokered convention is its built-in necessity of back-room deal-making. Not all of those deals would preclude the nomination of the Fascist candidate. It is entirely possible that the Fascist candidate and Senator Cruz could simply shake hands and confirm an agreement to give Cruz the vice-presidential slot, in which case the last remaining moderate would go down without a fight, the insanity of the American body politic this year would be confirmed, and the smell of sulfur would intensify.

My pick for celebrity commentator for a brokered Republican convention would be W.B. Yeats, who predicts its sad outcome for me here:

Friday, March 11, 2016

The League of Intrepid Readers

It is no sin to write, or to read, a book that demands one's full attention for a week or so before opening its kimono ... and no great virtue to write, or to read, a book that offers coitus on the first date.

We need more books, I think, that kiss us goodnight, close the door and expect us to be the one who makes the next move.

Stupidity is more fashionable than it should be. We need books that mess with us a little bit. With Trump in power, with demagogues on the rise everywhere, with new religiously-fueled variations on McCarthyism more stylish every day in every nominally secular state, with extremists in the Middle East burning down libraries and extremists in the US demanding that store clerks say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays," such books -- books that puzzle us, books that refuse to pose simple questions with simple answers, books designed make us stop and think -- are more important than ever.

The world is shutting down its collective mind, rewarding ignorance, rewarding fear. We need more intrepid readers, and we need them now.

All the books that really mattered to me have kissed me goodnight early and sent me away, the better to test my mettle. To see whether I was brave enough to return.

All those books confused me at first, then beguiled me until I finished them -- or imagined I had finished them.

Once I had completed my first pass, all those books demanded a second read, a closer read than the first. In fact, all of them refused to be considered "finished" at all. They demanded a lifetime's worth of attention. For me, such books include:

  • Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov
  • Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
  • The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh, Proprietor, Robert Coover
  • Possession, A. S. Byatt
  • Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges
  • And Shakespeare of course, who wrote most of his plays for not one but two audiences: those willing to pay to see his plays performed once ... and the performers in his ensemble he knew would perform (and therefore experience) the plays over and over and over, gaining insights with each new encounter with the material. It was two actors from his company, we must remember, who saw to it that the complete plays were published in a single volume.

The list could go on, but you get the point. The books that define us are like the people who define us: they are the ones we commit to. The ones who test how willing we are to show a little patience. To return.

  • An intrepid reader is not afraid of a book that takes its time to reveal its world on its own terms.
  • An intrepid reader is not afraid of a book that demands to be read, and rewards being read, a second or third time. 
  • If you have no fear of these kinds of books, welcome to the League of Intrepid Readers. 
  • Here at the League, we believe we should never apologize for writing, or reading, a book that keeps its secrets until the reader has gotten to know it a little better. 

Our times demand functioning human minds. In times like these, times when we are all likely to be pressured sooner or later, and probably sooner, to shift our collective brain into neutral, I begin to wonder whether it is morally defensible to read, or write, a book that puts out on the first date.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Yes, I'm a man. Yes, I'm a Muslim. Yes, I am a feminist. #InternationalWomensDay

Islamic feminism is the global expression of feminism that concerns itself with the role of women in Islam.

Islamic feminists, male and female, work for gender equality, women's rights, and social justice in an Islamic context. The belief that the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was unconcerned with the rights of women is a persistent urban legend Islamic feminists aim to uproot.

My novel JIHADI: A LOVE STORY is a feminist novel, and I'm grateful to Allah to have been able to write it. I'm grateful for the response it has received. And I'm grateful to have strong women readers note the strong women characters in the book. For more on why this is a feminist novel, see this post.

Muslim men not only can be feminists. It is now vitally important that they announce themselves as such, publicly. So that's what I'm doing.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Balancing the horror of a fascist getting closer to a major-party presidential nomination with the entertainment value of the GOP disintegrating

A brokered convention -- one in which no one candidate secures the necessary majority of delegates, and deals must be made during the convention itself to determine the nominee -- is now a realistic possibility for the Republicans. This hasn't happened to the GOP since 1948.

It's a strange, strange year.

The spectacle of the Republican Party elite rupturing publicly with the supporters of the leading candidate for the presidency is not something I thought I would see in my lifetime. Their plan appears to be to attempt to prevent any candidate from securing the necessary 1200+ delegates.

It's all quite fascinating. And terrifying. Maybe less terrifying if you keep repeating to yourself that Il Duce (Trump) can't possibly make inroads into Latino and African-American constituencies in a general election. In fact, it's hard to see how a divided, dysfunctional Republican party, led by any nominee, could overcome a well-organized Clinton campaign in November, barring the entry of some third-party candidate.

For a persuasive case that Trump's fascism is more reminiscent of that of Mussolini than that of Hitler, see this excellent article by Lorraine Berry.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Postmodernism, Postcolonialism, and JIHADI: A LOVE STORY

Readers eager to remain unaware of how storytelling works are unlikely to challenge storytelling when it is used (as it often is) to further interests that are foreign or detrimental to their own. Mr. Trump specializes in such storytelling.


It's good, in my view, to write a book that calls attention to its own mechanisms, questions those mechanisms, and thus makes readers engaged, or even angry, participants in the story, rather than passive consumers. Nabokov, for instance, awoke this kind of fury, and he also got people to think -- surely a positive development.

This kind of engagement is particularly relevant, I think, to those of us who are dissatisfied with the dominant narratives in Western media describing (it would be more accurate to say "purporting to describe") the aims of Islam and Muslims. References to pop culture, Nabokov and the Beatles and Humphrey Bogart included, are viable means to such an engagement.

In my novel JIHADI: A LOVE STORY, R.L. Firestone maintains that all wars are really puzzles, and the victors are the ones who get to pronounce their solutions.

“The Orient and Islam have a kind of extrareal, phenomenologically reduced status that puts them out of reach of everyone except the Western expert. From the beginning of Western speculation about the Orient, the one thing the Orient could not do was to represent itself. Evidence of the Orient was credible only after it had passed through and been made firm by the refining fire of the Orientalist’s work.”
― Edward W. Said, Orientalism

To read reviews of JIHADI: A LOVE STORY, click here.

For a summary of the blog tour for JIHADI: A LOVE STORY, click here.

For an excerpt of the novel, courtesy of Orenda Books and Espresso Coco, click here.