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Sara Abou Bakr, et al: Hello, It’s a Muslim Calling
The so-called ‘clash of civilisations’ asserts a world divided into opposing entities as vague and simplistic as ‘East and West’. Coined by the late American political scientist Samuel Huntington, the paradigm reinforces a crusader mentality and denies the complex realities in which we live. In plain; the theory is outdated.
Hello, It’s a Muslim Calling, published in 2011, compiles works by five Egyptian Muslims who attempt to dispel the Huntingtonian worldview. But in targeting a ‘western’ audience, the book readily assumes a separate East and West, where the ‘westerner’ is consequently out of touch with the ‘other’.
Journalist Sara Abou Bakr introduces the collection with a call to dialogue between “Muslims and the West.” But are the two mutually exclusive? In it she describes her preconceptions before a visit to the US and her surprise when met with mid-western hospitality and “a Jew with relatives in Israel.” She goes on to quibble about the mindless equivalence of Muslims and terrorists in western media. Her points are valid, but in the grand scheme of things, they’re less than novel.
The first-chapter of “The Winner Writes It All” by Shady AbdelSalam confirms any doubts about the book’s purchase. The stock market trader and amateur historian presents a cursory history of Muslim and Egyptian contributions to humanity. In 63 pages AbdelSalam recounts the rise and fall of the Pharaonic period to the many ‘firsts’ of Islam’s Golden Age.
Mentioning the Spanish Inquisition, he makes a brash and baseless conjecture that could only leave a reader speechless: “And if the Muslims wouldn’t have deteriorated in Spain, and if they were rulers who supervised the discovery of America, I wonder if 50 million Red Indians […] would have evaporated in forgotten history!”
Sarah Ayman’s “Speak to Be Seen” redeems the book in the second chapter, in which she writes a frank and personal account on the veil. Although the subject has been broached ad nauseam, Ayman’s prose is honest, and her perspective, fresh.
But as things were starting to look up, rights activist May Kosba makes a troublesome statement in the third chapter: “Disrespect is indeed deeply rooted in Western, and particularly American, culture.” However the context of the quote doesn’t justify its essential claim. Generally, Kosba’s contempt for the current world order translates through a well-cited, postcolonial reading. In “Age Sex Location” she tackles western imperialism and its political and economic consequences in the ‘Muslim world’. Her point-by-point arguments against the planting of the state of Israel are unfettered.
The final chapter “The Triangle” by Thoraia Abou Bakr diverts from the essay and reveals a cross-section of the Egyptian middle-class family in the form of a modern tragedy. The play casts the reader into a symbolic love triangle between contemporary Egypt, its dying culture and the influence of western governments. The characters are strong, but the dialogue and plot are saccharine and forced.
With a quirky title Hello, It’s A Muslim Calling sounds like a curious read. But what is learned is already known. “It is not written by political experts,” as the jacket fittingly forewarns. Instead, it is a repository of middle-class scruples.
Today, thanks to social media, everyone (and his grandmother) is a writer. Blogs are virtual pamphlets, and Tweets are soap box appeals. The tired, yet impassioned rants in Hello, It’s a Muslim Calling would be best kept online, where blogs are free to access and comment on; therein lies the discourse.
Detective Bosch has a lot going on in his personal front as well; his fifteen-year-old daughter who is way too mature for her age and wants to grow up to be a police officer is his main support system at home, and a budding romance between Bosch and a social worker adds a tinge of romance to Bosch's life.
The novel is left open-ended, in a way that allows the characters to seem more real as if their lives will continue beyond the pages of the novel.