The Malady of Islam

Article excerpt

THE MALADY OF ISLAM, Abdewahab Meddeb, Pierre Joris and Ann Reid, eds., Basic Books, New York, 2003, 241 pages, $24.00.

The Malady of Islam, which offers insight into the condition of modern Islam, is written more for someone familiar with Islam than for the neophyte. The book's strength is also its weakness: it is written by a Muslim scholar deeply involved in the debate about Islam's direction in the modern world. So, it is the product of one conversant in Islamic history and thought but it is also the work of a Muslim whose thought fits better in Paris (where he lives and teaches) than in the cities and villages of the Middle East.

The book's choppiness and loosely organized arguments suggest that Abdelwahap Meddeb wrote the book in urgency following the 11 September 2001 attacks. The U.S. edition, which was written in March and April 2003, clearly states Meddeb's conclusion and offers a proposal to implement it. he says that instead of the United States being the answer to the sickness of Islam and the ills of the Middle East, it is instead part of the problem, most evident in the United States' current involvement in Iraq. European nations should assert themselves as political, military, and moral counterbalances to the United States and rectify what ails the Middle East.

What is important here is not the quality of Meddeb's argument, but the depth of his cynicism about America's intentions, evenhandedness, and sense of justice. He charges that the U.S.-Middle East policy is controlled by pro-Israeli neoconservatives and that the invasion of Iraq was not about freedom or weapons of mass destruction, but about regional hegemony and Israeli security. he accuses President George W. Bush of having a fascination with extreme religion, which precludes criticism of Wahhabism even after the 11 September attacks. When liberal, educated Muslims think this way, then America has a serious problem.

The majority of the book traces the roots of Islamic fundamentalism as put forward by the Hanbalite scholar Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328 A.D.). Meddeb describes fundamentalism as defective and unrepresentative of the history of Islam and seeks to return to a mythical original Islam, which in reality, never existed. …