Friday, July 06, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Moslems Are Coming.

Very kicked to be on 'The Moslems Are Coming' blog tour, and in keeping with Optimum Blog Etiquette, I'm belting out a short, one-glance summary of my thoughts on Azad Essa's new book.
'Indian soldiers repeatedly mistook my good looks for that of a local Kashmiri.' Haha.

Angry Essa. Such an angry young man. The whole collection of essays in The Moslems reads in a vein of hello-there-irreverent-cynical-almost-rage. As a young Muslim woman, completely wrapped in the cocoon of ideal, romanticised, perfect Islam, and whining about how, 'No, no, this is not what Islam really is,' this read has been a refreshing smack in the jowls.

Sure there's a lot I disagree with [tone mostly: "My God, how can he say that?!!"], but really, one needed to step out of the easily-outraged mold one has been cast into. Enough of placing everything on a pedestal; let's talk smack at a lot of things, throw it open to criticism and mockery, as it were.

Once I got that into my system, it was smooth reading.

The Moslems is a collection of several of Azad's previously published and unpublished works, off his blog and umm, other places [yes, I've researched this really well], and is the Indian edition of his previously published Zuma's Bastards. It covers Azad's experiences with racism, Islamophobia, classism, hypocrisy and other relatively current affairs across the globe [the World Cup in SA, the Arab Spring. As a South African of Indian ethnicity, it was very interesting for me to read his take on Indians in South Africa and the social dynamics within that community, SA Indian Muslims and the diaspora there.
All the chapters in the book are not Moslems-Are-Coming!-related, don't worry. That's just a clever trick to get you to buy the book in the first place. [Aside: Love the cover.]
There's substantial bits on Africa-specific issues, its politics, its untold or severely under-reported horror, and about South Africa in particular, which I was previously clueless about. But, without getting too heavy to read/understand, Azad takes you on a lite-skim ride of his opinions on all these topics. I was lost amidst all the unfamilar names and places, but no so lost that I had to stop reading. [It was also slightly embarrassing that I had no clue about a very significant part of the world. NO CLUE.] 

What I enjoyed especially were Azad's scathing satire pieces, 'Shape without drape: Muslim fashion du jour' [on the burqa ban in France] and 'The brown woman's burden' [on the social dynamics among Indian men and women and the hypocritical racism towards black Africans over and above everything else]. Written in a deadpan tone of reportage, a lot of people actually think Azad's being serious whereas of course, if you have an iota of common sense, you can see what he's doing. [Refer: 'satire'.]

The first section of the book jumps right into the Islamophobia theme, and I found myself cringing, nodding my head and sighing along to various passages. In the burqa-ban satire piece, Azad's dislike of the burqa is made clear. Then again, that's not the point. Like he says: 'I don't like the burqa. Europe doesn't like the burqa. But so what?'
I liked the close to the section as well:
'In spite of being Muslim, and therefore naturally biased in any non-Muslim's eyes, I should be entitled to scream Islamophobia from the rooftops when I encounter it, and I should be able to talk about it in an open forum without sounding like an evil, brainwashed caricature from a bad movie throwing a jihadist tantrum.' 
Saheeh, bro. Just so.

And now we jump to my favourite section of the book, that pertaining to Kashmir. Remember, Azad is NOT Kashmiri. He is Indian by ethnicity, but really he's just South African. 
'I have no allegiance with a teenager made permanently blind from birdshot in Baramullah any more than I have with the ordinary office worker who gets blown up by a bunch of rabid jihadists while commuting in a packed train in Bombay. Likewise, I don't care for an illiterate father left humiliated in front of his sons as he awaits help to fill up an immigration form on a border crossing with any less intensity than for a half-widow in Anantnag, who must go on living in limbo, unsure if her husband would come back dead or alive, if ever.'

'India, Pakistan or Azadi?' is really the crux of the Kashmir 'issue' is it not? ~ No, it isn't because in Kashmir there will never be straightforward answers and I can give you three different replies to the same question on three different days. Well, sort of.
So, anyway. Azad has, as opposed to a lot of non-Kashmiris writing loud, very certain pieces about Kashmir, actually visited the place and written about some of his first-hand experiences there, and the opinions he has built therefrom. Now, any fella broadcasting the relatively unpalatable truths about Kashmir, so well-brushed-under the Indian mainstream media's rendering of the Kashmir narrative, is a friend of mine. I pat Azad on the back. I thank him. As a Kashmiri, this section of the book reads like the obvious truth all of us living here know, but for some strange, infuriating reason, no one in the outside world cares too much.

Azad writes about the questions of Kashmiri identity, how it was growing up there during the 'bad years', state high-handedness, well-documented reports of gross human rights violations, enforced disappearances, legal impunity, and the new generation of Kashmiris that are slowly gearing up to use new media as a tool to open the world's eyes to what Kashmir is all about. He touches upon the Bollywood Kashmir depiction, which all of us [Kashmiris] roll our eyes at. The chapter on cricket bats and Kashmiri willows is interesting, especially seeing as how politics plays a part there as well. Am pretty certain the chapter on Kashmiri Pandits will not go down well with most Indian readers. Okay, the WHOLE section will not go down well in that corner. 
[Aside: As a true blue Kashmiri, I was lapping up all experiences from his essays on the Arab Spring, and applying to the situation in Kashmir. * REVOLUTION! PEOPLE POWER!* Because we do shit like that. Everything can be made Kashmir-specific.]

I really enjoyed The Moslems Are Coming as a pacy read covering a range of topics that interested me, and that I could relate to: Islam[ophobia], racism, hypocrisy, power politics, Kashmir, India, Palestine-Israel, Bollywood, cricket, the World Cup.
Azad's angry, rambling, acerbic style takes getting used to [which, when done by Page 4, makes the rest of the reading easier.] Once I had pinpointed the tone of the book, it was on to enjoying the pieces for their individual merit.
This is not a feel-good book, for rainy afternoons, a quilt and coffee and marshmallows for accompaniment. It makes you uncomfortable, it addresses issues you've all probably thought about more than once, and it certainly makes no bones about highlighting certain things and people and situations as they are. 'Warts and all' is what you'll get. 
I took into account Azad's hyperbole and OTT-isms because there's some of that as well. And at times my hands would rush to my blushing cheeks, thinking: "Mein Gott. He uses the f-word! He said 'whore'. And 'penis'. And 'other things! AAAIIEEE!" [Okay, not really. I don't blush while reading.] 

PS: This post was really not as short as it was meant to be.
PPS: Azad, when are you signing my book?