A Gothic Tale: “Muslims” and V.S. Naipaul

Wendy O'Shea-Meddour in the International Literary Quarterly:

Of Pakistan, we are told:

The local people would hardly be there, in their own land, or would be there only as ciphers swept aside by the agents of the faith. It is a dreadful mangling of history. It is a convert’s view; that is all that can be said for it. History has become a kind of neurosis. Too much has to be ignored or angled; there is too much fantasy. This fantasy isn’t in the books alone; it affects people’s lives. (329)

Art_small Islam is found guilty of inducing mental illness on a national scale because it is an “Arab” religion with sacred places in Arab lands. According to this peculiar thesis, Arabs do not suffer from neurosis because they are not “converts.” The narrator fails to mention that Arabs were generally polytheists at the time of the prophet Muhammad and in order to become Muslim necessarily “converted.” Perhaps this point is dismissed because the narrator believes that the ‘sacred places” of Arabs are “in their own lands”? Assuming that this is the reasoning, it would follow that European and American Christians and Jews suffer from a similar “neurosis” because their “sacred places” are abroad. However, it is clear that in the narrator’s opinion, Western Christians and Jews are mentally sound. The logic behind Naipaul’s argument is impossible to follow. As Eqbal Ahmed asks,

Who is not a convert? By Naipaul’s definition, if Iranians are converted Muslims, then Americans are converted Christians, the Japanese are converted Buddhists, and the Chinese, large numbers of them, are converted Buddhists as well. Everybody is converted because at the beginning every religion had only a few followers. Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, all prophetic religions developed through conversion. In that sense, his organising thesis should not exclude anyone. (Ahmad 9-10)

More here.