Algerian Karima Bennoune has made a familiar enough tour of the Muslim world but in search of unusual specimens: vocal Muslim-heritage opponents of radical Islam.
It’s the being vocal that gets them into trouble. Like cyclists in London these people are too often steering themselves into a non-existent gap between the juggernaut of short-tempered men in beards and the unyielding concrete kerb of political repression.
Intimidated, bombed, bloodied but not giving up, they are contemporary heroes: the Pakistani theatre director trying to put on a children’s arts festival. The Algerian journalists, bombed almost out of existence by Islamists and at the same time fighting censorship and intimidation from the government.
The requests these kind of people make are so small: wouldn’t it be nice to have a youth centre somewhere in Lahore, where children can learn to paint or play music. There are none. If you want a madrassa, however, they’re on every street.
This is the frontline of the struggle for human rights. Prof Bennoune’s book simmers with a rage that it is hard not to share: the teenaged Iranian girl, swimming in her own garden, in a bathing costume, reported by a neighbour for ‘inciting male lust’. She is arrested, then sentenced to 60 lashes. The terrified teen only received 30 lashes because, by then, she was dead.
Prof Bennoune argues that instead of drawing a line between violent and non-violent (moderate) Islamists, we should draw a line between those who respect universal human rights and those who don’t. If ‘moderate Islamists’ or ‘moderate Taliban’ don’t believe in women’s rights, for example, in a way that any English schoolgirl would understand, Prof Bennoune has no time for them.
This is a passionate, moving book, highlighting the sheer power of intimidation.
Buy it from Waterstones.com (who pay their taxes)