Sunday, December 13, 2015

Islam in Contemporary Fiction

Get out!!” bellowed Quamisi, jumping up and overturning the coffee service, which tumbled off the desk and clattered to the rug, the pot’s contents spilling over the colors. .…”Get out, killer of my brother!!”  Weakened with pent-up rage, Quamisi leaned with both arms on the desktop. “I will have you, and I will have that coin!!”

“Of course you will,” replied Fury. His expression had turned to mild contempt. “When the sun rises in the west.” Then he turned and left the room.

Excerpt from We Three Kings

My very first completed novel, finished sometime in the early 1970s on an Underwood manual typewriter, was a dystopian one, In the Land of the Pharaohs,  set in the future in a New York City under the thumb of a fascist dictatorship. I don’t even recall the year I typed the last page of it. I managed to find representation for it by a literary agent, the late Oscar Collier, who was unable to interest a publisher in the novel. The story  centered on the exploits of a homicide detective, Kenticott Coldiron, who eventually encounters a gang of patriots who raid the fortress-like Federal Reserve Bank in lower Manhattan and make off with its stash of gold bullion.

The gang’s headquarters were in an abandoned subway station. The story climaxed in a shootout between Coldiron and Treasury Agent Frank Vishonn in a disused subway car. Vishonn perishes, and the gang disappears, as does Coldiron. That gang was a predecessor of what would become the Skelly gang of patriotic but Crown-defying smugglers in Sparrowhawk. I remember few of the other characters’ names. I did, however, appropriate the name Vishonn for a Virginia planter in the Sparrowhawk series, and also Gramatan. The colonial Vishonn dies, too, and violently. I eventually disposed of the manuscript of Pharaohs, after I’d written my second detective novel, First Prize, as unworthy of further submission to publishers, although some fans claim to still have a copy.

Most of my subsequent novels feature political hues of various shades. The three Merritt Fury suspense titles, Whisper the Guns, We Three Kings, and Run From Judgment, are heavily political. The four Chess Hanrahan first-person detective novels, With Distinction, First Prize, Presence of Mind, and Honors Due, are also politically themed, especially Presence of Mind. Perfect Crime Books has published the whole Hanrahan series. Finally, the thirteen Cyrus Skeen novels are colored by politics, four of them blatantly so. My own Patrick Henry Press has published the Fury and Skeen novels, while I republished the whole Sparrowhawk series when the original publisher, MacAdam/Cage Publishing, bilked me out of two years worth of royalties and then declared bankruptcy, leaving its whole backlist of authors high and dry. That was a few years ago.

The first novel pitting the hero against Islam and Muslims is We Three Kings, in which American entrepreneur Merritt Fury is thrust into a battle of wits and patience with a Saudi sheik, Sheik Ali ibn Quamisi, to whom the State Department, in a gesture of amicable relations with Saudi Arabia, grants carte blanche permission to deal with Fury as he wishes, which will include murder. Finished in 1980, that novel reflects my very low opinion of our State Department and of diplomacy, one which has been sharpened ever since. Events since 1980 have borne out my contempt.  

The sheik is a big wheel at the United Nations, and a nephew of the Saudi king. He wants the rare gold British sovereign that Fury has come into possession of. Fury won't part with it. The test of wills between Fury and Quamisi is the conflict that governs the action. The third “king” of the title is Wade Lambert, a disillusioned New York City homicide detective who becomes enmeshed in the tug-of-war. In the excerpt at the head of this column, Fury is referencing the Islamic version of the “End Times” and the Resurrection, which are signaled by the sun rising in the West.

The next novel dealing explicitly with Islam is The Black Stone, published in 2014, in which Cyrus Skeen, private detective in 1930 San Francisco, investigates the murder of a New York City newspaper reporter who reputedly stole the sacred Black Stone from the Kaaba in Mecca. Skeen encounters, among other scurrilous characters, agents of the Muslim Brotherhood. Fleeing vengeful Brotherhood agents, the reporter ends up in San Francisco. Thrown in for good measure are an American oil executive scoundrel after oil exploration concessions in Arabia (not yet called “Saudi”), and his heel-clicking German secretary, a proto-Nazi.

There have been many dystopian novels set in Europe when it has been overrun by barbarians. Camp of the Saints, by Jean Raspail, originally published in 1973 and since reissued, is about a million destitute Hindus from India invading France from commandeered freighters and tramp ships, and more or less seizing the country and enslaving its indigenous population.  The mass migration was a consequence of France drastically reducing its foreign aid to India, and so the invasion by hordes of ragged Hindus was a form of payback. I reviewed the book and was interviewed by Family Security Matters about it in 2010.

In December 2010 Family Security Matters (FSM) interviewed me about Jean Raspail’s The Camp of the Saints, published in France in 1973 and translated for the U.S. market in 1975. Raspail predicted and dramatized what would happen to Europe, particularly to France, if it allowed the mass immigration – actually, an invasion – of a million impoverished Hindus, first into France, and then into the rest of Europe: the downfall of Western civilization. The relevancy now is the mass immigration of Muslims, which, at the time of publication of Raspail’s novel, was a non-issue. Now the parallels are apparent to all but to those whose minds have been lobotomized, suborned, or silenced by political correctness and various other liberal/left epistemological maladies.

There were Muslims in France in 1973, of course, but they did not have the political and demographic clout they have now, thanks to French government immigration policies. The novel (or the translation of it I read) is badly written and badly constructed, but overall it is a true forecast of what would happen if a massive influx of people from an alien culture suddenly swamped a Western country, which would mean basically the end of that country. And Islam is certainly an alien culture, and its drivers and planners seek to swamp Western societies with sheer numbers of Muslims. Which is what is happening in Europe, with its leaders complicit in the destruction.

There are recent dystopian novels about Islamic totalitarianism coming to America, to Britain, and to France. I have not read them and do not plan to. The synopses of the titles are good enough that I could get the flavor of the stories and decide whether or not  they were worth reading. They were not. So I shall report only what other reviewers who have read them have said, and what they have said leads me to believe they are dismal and off-track.  I will confess that I toyed for a while about a year ago with the idea of penning my own Islamic dystopian novel, but it was such a dreary prospect — it would have been more of a chore than a joyous compulsion – that the idea never got as far as a few hastily written notes, which I have since mislaid. I must be enthusiastic about the worlds I recreate, else I will  not touch a finger on a keyboard.

There was in 2008 a political and literary dust-up over a very minor pseudo-bodice ripper, The Jewel of Medina, by Sherry Jones, which depicted the life of an adult Aisha, Mohammad’s luckless child bride of six or seven (a marriage consummated with great difficulty, one imagines, by the time she was nine). The book was originally to be published in the U.S.  by Random House and in Britain by Gibson Square. Random House, frightened off by a nebnose literary critic at the University of Texas who warned of rioting in the streets should the “blasphemous” novel see the light of day, cancelled plans to publish the book. It shelved it out of fear of violence to its property and staff by froth-sputtering Muslims, while Gibson Square’s publisher’s house was actually firebombed by Muslims.

The novel was eventually published in the U.S. by a small house, Beaufort Books without a single chanting demonstrator darkening its doorstep.  See the whole sorry episode of hand-wringing and chattering teeth here. I have flipped through the book in Barnes & Noble. All I can say about it is that Sherry Jones is member of the “Writers of the Purple Prose” school of authors. Mohammad, a rapist, a butcher, mass murderer, and a thief, comes off looking like mild-mannered Jim Anderson of “Father Knows Best.” Many critics gave the novel a patronizing pass.

Publishers Weekly thought the novel portrayed Mohammad as “caring, progressive and politically savvy,” and opined that “A'isha grows from a self-centered child to a worldly woman whose advice and counsel are a source of comfort and strength to Muhammad. The subject matter here is more spectacular than the writing, which tends toward the maudlin and purple. It's a page turner, but not outstanding.”  

But one must wonder: A writer of Sherry Jones’s caliber could probably romanticize the courtship of Hitler and Eva Braun. The Jewel of Medina was followed by The Sword of Medina. See my discussion of the novel here, “Firebombing  Freedom of Speech” from 2011, and the two  “Sensitivity Syndrome” columns, here and here from 2008.

There have been some Islamic novels of a totalitarian bent, set in the future. Most of them are absurd in their premise. Their authors simply do not understand the nature and ends of Islam. Much is made, for example, of Robert Ferrigno, an American detective novelist who after 9/11 turned out a trilogy of novels which imagined America broken up into two major regimes after Iran (presumably) has nuked New York City and Washington, D.C. (and also Mecca), the Islamic Republic or the Islamic States of America, and the Bible Belt. Genetic engineering enables the protagonist to slam-bang his way through the three stories to torpedo the machinations of a 150-year “Old Man,” whom I suspect Ferrigno may mean George Soros. His mission: recover a piece of Christ’s cross buried in an underground bunker in the ruins of Washington, D.C. to foil the Old Man’s plan to establish a continental caliphate. Right.

Published just this year, in unexpected conjunction with the massacre of the Charlie Hebdo staff in January, is French author Michel Houellebecq’s Submission, set in 2022 France, when an Islamic political party dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood wins the elections and assumes power. The new president instantly imposes Sharia law on all French citizens. The protagonist – certainly not a hero – is a sleep-around academic who is indifferent to politics, until he’s offered a high post in the New Sorbonne, on condition that he convert to Islam. He’s also promised three wives. He submits.

Critics have gone wild over the novel. The New York Times liked it so much it ran two reviews of it, one by Karl Karl Ove Knausgård and another by Michiko Kakutaninov. Knausgård’s review is nearly novelette in length at some 5,000 words, and is so dense with existential angst it discourages comprehension.  Here is a sample:

This is the only place in the novel that opens up for the idea that the emptiness and ennui that François [the alleged protagonist] feels is not just universal, a kind of existential condition applicable to us all and which most people hide away behind walls of illusion, it may also have individual causes. That is somewhere he doesn’t want to go, and thus a vast and interesting field of tension is set up in the novel, since the narrator is a person who is unable to bond with others, feels no closeness to anyone, not even himself….etc and etc.

Kakutaninov’s review is a modest 950 words. Here is a taste of it:

Mr. Houellebecq’s writing tends to be highly derivative of earlier writers, including Céline and Camus. His novels are hobbled by clumsy speechifying from supporting characters who exist only to give voice to political or philosophical points of view or to serve as objects of the hero’s contempt. His protagonists are simply variations on one odious type — self-pitying, self-absorbed and misanthropic men who have a hard time feeling any emotion other than lust, and who regard humanity as a “vile, unhappy race, barely different from the apes.”

And so on. Not exactly an invitation to run out to pick up a copy. Most of the reviews of Submission I’ve read of the novel are like that; tentative pats on the back for the author with some throat-clearing reservations. The astounding thing is that anyone would bother to review it.

M.L. Stewart seems to be a popular writer in the U.K., and his dystopian thriller, The United Kingdom of Islam was apparently met with critical and reader praise. Goodreads offered a decent synopsis of the story, and readers on Amazon were unanimous in their acclaim. To judge by reader appraisals of the novel on Amazon, it seems to be much more realistic about the imposition of Sharia law on Westerners and its gruesome consequences.

We should not forget the alternative history/dystopian genre. Prominent in my mind are Robert Harris’s Fatherland, which depicts a Nazi Germany that triumphed in WWII and now desperate to hide the secret extermination of European Jews from President Joseph Kennedy, Sr. on the eve of a meeting between him and a 70-year-old Hitler to establish a rapprochement; and The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick, which paints an America partitioned by a Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. I’ve read Harris’s novel and watched the film of it, and both are fairly meticulous in their details (but, overall, literally incredible). I read High Castle years ago, and while it was suspenseful, it bored me. It is now a lushly produced Amazon Original TV series. Neither of these works deals with Islam.

My objection to such dystopian stories is one I share with Ayn Rand: Dictatorships and totalitarian regimes cannot sustain themselves if they destroy or regulate the freedom to think, speak, and act. At best, they can leech off of neighboring semi-free, productive states. If those collapse economically and/or politically, then the super-tyranny will shortly follow suit.  Such stories can be told for ulterior reasons, as Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was written not to be taken literally but to convey a message about how suppression of thought and expression can be possible even in a semi-free society.

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