Fear of a Muslim Planet

Grayson Clary in The New Inquiry:

Clary-socialAmerican author Robert Ferrigno doesn’t pussyfoot. Explaining his vote in the 2004 presidential election, he told Slate, “I’ll be voting for Bush because his approach to stopping the people who want to kill my children is the right one, i.e., kill them first.” Where relations between West and Mideast are concerned, he calls himself “a great believer in the clash of civilizations.” But it was a reasonably nuanced vision of American Islamism that landed Ferrigno on the New York Times best-seller list just under a decade ago with a futurist novel called Prayers for the Assassin. Its protagonist must be one the most popular Muslim heroes in American fiction, and the first sequel — Sins of the Assassin — earned an Edgar Award nomination for Best Novel. A third book rounded out the trilogy in 2009; sketching Islamic futures seems to be a decent living.

This aesthetic and its companion politics — call it Islamophobic futurism — seized the spotlight again this January. That month, French writer Michel Houellebecq published Submission, a tale of future France and its Muslim president. Wreathed in charges of anti-Muslim bigotry, its author was lampooned on the cover of Charlie Hebdo the day that magazine’s staff was massacred by al-Qaeda affiliated gunmen. Largely lost in the hubbub that followed was the divided mind animating Houellebecq’s novel. Because as Adam Gopnik pointed out, “The portrait of the Islamic regime is quite fond; [Houellebecq] likes the fundamentalists’ suavity and sureness.” This even though the troublemaker admitted, in an interview with the Paris Review, to using “scare tactics.” In this particular micro-genre, the two attitudes are perfectly compatible.

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