An Apology Posing as a Bibliography; an Official Book List Discounts Islam's Menacing Side

Article excerpt


At this moment of sequestration and belt-tightening, the U.S. government has delivered a reading list on Islam.

The National Endowment for the Humanities has joined with two private foundations, Carnegie and Duke, to fund Muslim Journeys, a project that aims to present new and diverse perspectives on the people, places, histories, beliefs, practices and cultures of Muslims in the United States and around the world. Its main component is the Muslim Journeys Bookshelf, a selection of 25 books and three films on Islam sent to nearly 1,000 libraries as well as a website and some other activities. Journalist Marvin Olasky, who brought this project to public attention, estimates the whole project cost about $1 million.

As one of the taxpayers who unwittingly contributed to this project as well as the compiler of my own bibliography on Islam and the Middle East, I take interest in the 25 books selected for glory that are being spread around the country.

Softness characterizes its list: The books quietly ignore current headlines so as to accentuate the attractive side of Islamic civilization, especially the medieval expression, and gently promote the Islam religion. It's not so exuberant an exercise as the British 1976 World of Islam Festival, described at the time as a unique cultural event that ... was no less than an attempt to present one civilization - in all its depth and variety - to another. But then, how can one aspire to such grandeur with all that's happened in the intervening years?

The National Endowment for the Humanities' list and mine do share minor commonalities: For example, one author (the Moroccan author Fatima Mernissi) and one series (the Very Short Introductions series issued by Oxford University Press).

But our purposes could not be more different. Whereas I help readers understand why Muslims fill 30 out of 32 slots on the most-wanted terrorists list and how Islamism came to be the main vehicle of barbarism in the world today, the endowment's list shields the reader's eyes from all this unpleasantness. Whereas I provide background to the headlines, the endowment ignores them and pretends all is well with Islam, as is the federal government's wont.

I seek to answer burning questions: Who was Muhammad? What is the historical impact of Islam? When is warfare jihad? Why did Islamism arise? How does tribal culture influence political life? …