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Thursday, May 29, 2003

Which way to Mecca?

Clifford Geertz read 50 of the new books on Islam, and has come up for air in the New York Review. His one-liners on several writers are priceless — "Paul Berman, a historian of the New Left, his subject remaindered, turns his attention to ferreting out the 'deep,' 'sophisticated' philosophy behind Islamic extremism so as to formulate a comparably reflective, comparably militant counterposition," he writes, thus laying Terror and Liberalism to rest. Geertz's essay is especially helpful in making sense out of the argument not just about Islam, but about America, that clearly animates many of these books:

The American idea of Islam, various, irregular, and charged with foreboding, is being built up at a time when the American idea of America is itself the subject of no little doubt and dispute, and the country as a whole seems embarked on a disconsonant and quarrelsome course. The forms the "What is Islam?" argument takes—"What do they really believe?" "How do they really feel?" "What do they really intend?" "What can we do about them?" —owe as much to domestic divisions, to warring conceptions of our national interest and national purpose, what we believe and feel and intend, as they do to the matted, instable, rapidly changing thought world they seek to represent.

If you're feeling a bit lost in the bookstore, read Geertz. He provides a welcome map to the critical terrain.

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 29 May 2003 at 12:19 AM

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