At Freedom's Limit: Islam and the Postcolonial Predicament

At Freedom's Limit: Islam and the Postcolonial Predicament

At Freedom's Limit: Islam and the Postcolonial Predicament

At Freedom's Limit: Islam and the Postcolonial Predicament

Synopsis

The subject of this book is a new "Islam." This Islam began to take shape in 1988 around the Rushdie affair, the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the first Gulf War of 1991. It was consolidated in the period following September 11, 2001. It is a name, a discursive site, a signifier atonce flexible and constrained - indeed, it is a geopolitical agon, in and around which some of the most pressing aporias of modernity, enlightenment, liberalism, and reformation are worked out.At this discursive site are many metonyms for Islam: the veiled or "pious" Muslim woman, the militant, the minority Muslim injured by Western free speech. Each of these figures functions as a cipher enabling repeated encounters with the question "How do we free ourselves from freedom?" Again andagain, freedom is imagined as Western, modern, imperial - a dark imposition of Enlightenment. The pious and injured Muslim who desires his or her own enslavement is imagined as freedom's other.At Freedom's Limit is an intervention into current debates regarding religion, secularism, and Islam and provides a deep critique of the anthropology and sociology of Islam that have consolidated this formation. It shows that, even as this Islam gains increasing traction in cultural production fromtelevision shows to movies to novels, the most intricate contestations of Islam so construed are to be found in the work of Muslim writers and painters.This book includes extended readings of jihadist proclamations; postcolonial law; responses to law from minorities in Muslim-majority societies; Islamophobic films; the novels of Leila Aboulela, Mohammed Hanif, and Nadeem Aslam; and the paintings of Komail Aijazuddin.

Excerpt

CLEANSING EMPIRE

The sun pours down over Lord’s. A black man ushers one of Bollywood’s most amiably round-faced actors out from a dark corridor onto the unconfined open field. The men embrace. The stalls are empty, but ball and bat are found. The black man—athletic but young, sweet, and unthreatening—bowls; the South Asian bats and hits what could be a boundary or a winning stroke. He raises his bat, acknowledging the applause of the absent audience in a gesture straight from Bollywood and bearing all the marks of its sentimentality and melodrama. Both are transfigured by joy. It could almost be a scene scripted by an acolyte of C. L. R. James.

What the audience knows as we watch this vision from “Who Guards the Guards?” (2004), an episode from the popular British television show Spooks/MI-5, is that the scene is a moment of joy engineered for a former colonial subject by a defunct empire at war with itself. Danny (David Oyelo) is a junior spy for the MI-5, Harakat (Anupam Kher) is a Pakistani ex-militant under the protection, now, of MI-5 and under imminent threat of assassination by MI-6, because the head of the agency, unbeknownst to the team at MI-5, has made a deal with the head of the organization (Path of Light) to which Harakat belonged before he was turned by the British. The scene, offered as a kind of sports-pastoral, enacts a momentary restitution of Empire through a celebration of its gifts to its darker subjects: here the joy of cricket. This vision is far indeed from C. L. R. James: the comity between former imperial subject and declined Empire is poised on the erasure of the violence of imperial history not in any way upon its recognition.

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