A book I have read some time ago, so we’ll have to rely on tiny scrapes of paper with my notes <3 Obviously, I can’t write reviews, and I dislike writing reviews(1), so there will only be list.
The good things about the book:
1) Buruma actually did talk to actual Muslim people from Netherlands, people from different backgrounds, with different opinions on Islam and its role (if any) in their lives and so on. Compared to typical drivel that is usually written in cases like that by self-proclaimed experts (I’m looking at you, Oriana “Nomen Omen” Fallaci) who just list their racist prejudices in alphabetical or reverse alphabetical order; the reverse alphabetical part being the only variety; this is a huge improvement.
2) Buruma’s criticism of Hirsi Ali as fighting her own made up version of “one true Islam” is spot on.
3) His account of anti-Semitism in Netherlands is… well. I think the stadium scene with people hissing is one of the most disgusting things I read about.
The bad things about the book:
1) Is it really really necessary to call Ayan Hirsi Ali “exotic beauty” or “African beauty” everywhere, all the time? Because, honestly, it’s sexist, racist, and also quite repetitive. If I had an electronic version of the book I’d calculate the frequency per 10 000 words at least, but I don’t and also really, really? It’s the 21st century FFS. Buruma, stop being a creepy stalkerish idiot.
2) Throughout the book, Buruma uses the words “fanatical”, “orthodox” and “fundamentalist” pretty much interchangeably. Well, the problem is, they don’t mean the same thing at all. A look at his bibliography confirms that he used mostly books and articles written by other journalists, but not stuff written by people who, for instance, research fundamentalism as a sociological phenomenon. It’s a great pity; Buruma’s argument would have been much clearer if his narration about fundamentalism versus orthodoxy versus fanaticism had been coherent.
3) Buruma’s insistence on defending van Gogh’s hateful diatribes is a bit disturbing. I mean, of course, no matter how hateful, one should not just be murdered, but on the other hand, why make excuses for everything van Gogh said? “It’s the Dutch tradition” — imagine someone saying this about some group of Muslims, the outrage it would surely cause. Also, it was clear from Buruma’s narration that van Gogh’s hateful tirades were mostly directed against people who are already silenced or oppressed in the mainstream discourse, and not against people who had actual power.
Or maybe, I might be a victim of severe culture shock: in Eastern Europe, it is only to be so vile when one bemoans one’s woeful life, which one is forced to live despite the trials and tribulations one undergoes on a daily basis, look at this shop assistant, he was rude to me on purpose, look at this guy there, he’s looking at me funny, look at that kid, she’s gonna spill that juice isn’t she, and so on.
But I digress.
Anyway, I think the book is definitely worth reading, even if it’s far from perfect. It certainly contains a lot of interesting information, and if one just closes one’s eyes every time Ayan Hirsi Ali is called “the exotic African beauty” everything should be OK.
(1) My theory of reviews is based on stuff written by Kyougoku Natsuhiko, who is otherwise an author of boring pretentious horrors interspersed with pretentious preachy bits about his views on virtually everything which I for some reason keep reading, and looks like that: there are four main types of review-like texts:
1) information: there’s a book, it was written by XY who also wrote ABC, and you can buy here and here
2) ad: you should totally read XY’s new book, it’s awesome
3) account of personal idiosyncrasy: I read XY’s new book and I totally loved it because (…)
4) structural (etc) analysis: I read XY’s new book and it’s made from tropes A, B, C
of which 1) and 2) are rather worthless, and 3) is only interesting to read if you care about the author’s personal tastes and idiosyncrasies, because you’re for instance friends with them. Otherwise it’s boring and useless. 4) requires spoilers and a reader who doesn’t care about spoilers, and we can’t have that here so.
Yes, I actually think about stuff like that. It’s really sad.