What Do Islamophobes Have in Common with the Taliban?

What inspired you to write Crusade 2.0? What sparked your interest?

I was drawn to the subject after my first visit to Turkey several years ago. I’d read the comments by Western European leaders and some American pundits about the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and how it was leading Turkey down the wrong path. When I was in the country, however, I was struck instead by how much political ferment was going on, how the economy was booming, how once-forbidden topics were being discussed. Of course, the AKP is flawed in many, many ways. But the move away from Turkey’s militant—and military—secularism gave me pause.

The second inspiration, if you can call it that, was the very ugly stereotyping of Muslims taking place—particularly in Europe. Much of the language used to describe European Muslims sounded eerily similar to Nazi descriptions of Jews in the 1930s. It was extremely important when non-Jews stood up for Jews during this period. Likewise, I thought it was important for a non-Muslim to write a book about Islamophobia for the general reader.

What’s the most important take-home message for readers?

The Taliban and the Islamophobes have a very similar reading of Islam, and their political fates are in part dependent on this shared understanding of the religion. Those of us in the vast middle between these two extremes can take very concrete steps to end the divide between the West and Islam that exists nowhere more strongly than in the minds of these extremists. I offer three concrete recommendations at the end of Crusade 2.0.

Is there anything you had to leave out?

I would have liked to have extended the analysis of anti-Islamic sentiment to parts of the world other than the United States and Europe. But I wanted to focus on the tropes and language of Islamophobia as they grew out of a particular tradition: namely the key texts and histories of “Western civilization.”

It’s rather shocking to realize that the stereotypes found in the medieval Song of Roland are still prevalent today. To understand Islamophobia in other parts of the world—South Asia, Africa—I would have had to immerse myself in the history and cultures of those parts of the world, and frankly I am just not familiar enough with those regions to undertake such an inquiry.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions about your topic?

The biggest misconception is that Islamophobes are only concerned about Muslim extremists. In fact, the most prominent Islamophobes in Europe and the United States take aim at mainstream Islam: the prophet Mohammed, the Qur’an, intercultural projects like Park51, political parties like the AKP. 

Did you have a specific audience in mind when writing? 

Of course I hope to have the largest possible audience. But I kept the book short to appeal to younger people. It makes for a good class text.  

Are you hoping to just inform readers? Give them pleasure? Piss them off?

The book will inevitably piss off a lot of people. I recently received an email from someone who called himself Charles Martel (the Frankish leader who defeated the Moorish army at the Battle of Tours in 732). Among other things, he wrote,

“you are an apologist for Islam, have NO understanding of its history… other than the whitwashed [sic] politically correct version, so my guess is that Crusades 2.0 will be more of the same lack of a backbone rendition of the ‘religion of peace’ which will only be purchased by leftist Obama Kool-Aid drinkers.”

I don’t think there’s much that could be written to convince such folks to entertain a different point of view.

My hope, of course, is to inform readers and nudge them toward connecting Islamophobia with current U.S. foreign policies.

What alternative title would you give the book?

“Everything You Wanted to Know about Islamophobia But Were Afraid to Ask.”

How do you feel about the cover?

The cover photo juxtaposes a red crescent symbolizing Islam on top of a chess piece with a cross on top. The conflict between the two, like a game of chess, has been quite complicated. But it is often presented as a stark contrast. So, I like the multiple meanings suggested by the cover. 

Is there a book out there you wish you had written? Which one? Why?

I’m reading The Swerve right now, about the rediscovery of Lucretius’ The Nature of Things and its influence on Western civilization. It’s a fascinating analysis of a single text and of an era in which a single text could have monumental impact. Greenblatt tells a great story and also manages to travel effortlessly between the micro and the macro. 

What’s your next book?

I’ll be starting an Open Society fellowship in September that will bring me back to Eastern Europe to track down the 250 people I interviewed in the region in 1990. I plan to write a book about the experience of re-interviewing these intellectuals, activists, and academics, and how their individual lives have reflected the great transformations that have swept through their societies.