Back to Black

The Times today carries an illuminating interview with Hanif Kureishi, whose prophetic 1995 novel about radicalising young Muslims, The Black Album, has new been adapted for the stage. At the time, Kureishi notes - and even though it came out just a few years after the Rushdie affair - few people realised the significance of small groups of students and their simultaneous discovery of religion and politics.

Most people in those days weren’t interested in Muslim fundamentalism. It was rather like being interested in Scientology; it was some fringe, small-time, minor activity. It was only much later that it became right at the centre of what we were living through and thinking about.

Kureishi locates the crux of what happened in the wake of the 1989 fatwa in "the transition from anti-racism to fundamentalism". He's also acute about the sympathy radical Islam held - and to some extent still holds - for those on the Left who see everything in terms of class dynamics and were disorientated by the collapse of communism. There's a character in The Black Album, a left-wing council leader, who has shades of both George Galloway and Ken Livingstone. Livingstone "was always entertaining violent clerics at County Hall as part of this identification with the underclass", he comments. But at least Livingstone was consistent:

These convolutions were even more calculating with someone like Keith Vaz who, on the day of the fatwa, rang me up to say ‘Give Rushdie a message that I’m supporting him all the way.’ Not long afterwards, I saw him on the telly calling on Rushdie to withdraw The Satanic Verses from sale!”

Somehow I'm not surprised.


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