They: What Muslims And Non-Muslims Get Wrong About Each Other
Sarfraz Manzoor Wildfire £20
Broadcaster and journalist Sarfraz Manzoor grew up as the youngest son of Pakistani immigrants in Bury Park, a predominantly Muslim area of Luton. His mother arrived in Britain in 1974 yet can still speak only Urdu.
Escaping a stiffly traditional home environment and the prospect of an arranged marriage, Manzoor moved to Manchester to study, and later gravitated to London, where he built a successful media career.
On the surface, Manzoor is ‘a poster boy for integration’, but deep down he worries that he has travelled too far from his upbringing; his older brother jibes that he’s only interested in being a Muslim when he’s being paid to write about it.
They is pitched as an attempt to grapple with the prejudices that hamper relations between Muslim and non-Muslim communities in Britain (above, inside the Hagba Sophia mosque)
‘If segregation refers to living in a self-reinforcing bubble,’ he ponders, ‘then maybe I do live in a segregated community — one that is, on the whole, white, well educated and well-to-do.’
They is pitched as an attempt to grapple with the prejudices and misunderstandings that hamper relations between Muslim and non-Muslim communities in Britain. At heart, however, it’s a deeply personal attempt to reconcile the conflicted facets of Manzoor’s sense of self.
Each chapter interrogates fault lines concerning attitudes to violence, women, marriage, integration, education and patriotism.
Manzoor doesn’t pussyfoot around persistent issues within Islamic culture in regard to antisemitism, homophobia and the grooming of vulnerable white girls.
He claims that many negative beliefs associated with Islam aren’t a ‘Muslim thing’ at all, but stem instead from outdated Pakistani cultural norms.
He highlights the extent to which the weaponised grievances of extremists on both sides are rooted in religious ignorance.
Koranic knowledge among jihadis is laughably poor, just as Right-wing agitators are almost wholly illiterate on the intricacies of Islam.
He interviews figures from inside and outside Muslim communities who have experienced and challenged religious intransigence.
While acknowledging the complexities surrounding these issues, They bends perhaps a little too readily towards optimism, occasionally lapsing into the well-meaning platitudes of a middle-class dinner party.
It is most compelling when Manzoor writes from the centre of his own conflict and examines his default positions.
In particular, he writes movingly about the toll exacted by his decision to marry a white, Scottish Christian, causing a deep rift within his family.
He ends with a eulogy to his mother. If her half-century of cultural isolation is symbolic of mistrust between communities, her ‘blameless life’ and acceptance of her daughter-in-law and grandchildren are grounds for positivity.
Manzoor doesn’t offer solutions beyond pleas for greater understanding and integration on both sides but, ultimately, the book is less about answers than the importance of asking more questions.
The Right To Sex
Amia Srinivasan Bloomsbury £20
The Right To Sex is a highly anticipated debut collection of essays by 36-year-old Amia Srinivasan, the rock-star philosopher and fellow of All Souls College, Oxford.
Each chapter ruminates on some matter pertaining to sex, from ‘Incels’ to sex work to whether or not academics ought to sleep with their students.
The book is an expansion on Srinivasan’s widely read 2018 essay for the London Review Of Books titled Does Anyone Have The Right To Sex?, which suggested that, although we do have the right not to have sex with people we don’t fancy, we should probably feel a bit guilty about it, since the biological basis of sexual desire has an annoying habit of getting in the way of quests for Utopia.
The Right To Sex is a highly anticipated debut collection of essays by 36-year-old Amia Srinivasan (above), the rock-star philosopher and fellow of All Souls College, Oxford
These other, newer essays are similar in style.
Srinivasan writes in elegant and meandering prose, occasionally playing with challenging ideas, but then losing her nerve at the last moment.
Gaps in the argument are filled with rhetorical questions and disjointed leaps to the next subsection. A chapter on porn flirts with the case for stronger regulation, but then shies away from saying anything meaningful, concluding that, hey, https://porntop.online porn is bad, but maybe legal restrictions are worse?
(Are they? Aren’t they?)
Gushing praise describes The Right To Sex as ‘extraordinary’, ‘a classic’ and set to ‘change the world’. But what’s really extraordinary about this book is that someone as obviously clever as Srinivasan could have wrestled with her subject, applied her considerable intellect to the task, and then just happened to arrive at a set of opinions shared by almost everyone else in her peer group.
This is essentially a very stylish defence of mainstream feminism in 2021, written by a thinker who is either disappointingly conventional, or else afraid of upsetting her colleagues (or maybe both).