Islamic Excursions Among the Converted People
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The famous novelist follows up on a travel narrative he published in 1981, Among the Believers, that examined the practice and revolutionary tendencies of Islam in Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Iran. Naipaul’s visit to Indonesia took place before the onset of the current “Asian flu,” at a time when the vast nation was enjoying a wave of prosperity. That prosperity, of course, has been very unevenly distributed. He notes, for instance, ancient neighborhoods and a unique vernacular architecture being knocked down to make way for glittering high-rises. Through interviews he portrays an Indonesian version of Islam triumphing peacefully over Hinduism, Catholicism, and even the remnants of Dutch colonialism, in large part by embracing Western technology and the faith of capitalism. Most instructive is Imaduddin, a man formerly at odds with the Suharto government but now one of its chief ministers, who took frequent refuge in the US but retains no affection for it. An engineer, he has had no trouble mingling his scientific training with an aggressive vision of Islam’s place in the world—and of Indonesia’s role in Islam’s rise. “Islam is not simply a matter of conscience,” says Naipaul. “It makes imperial demands.” This is even more apparent in Iran. Naipaul portrays a regime that has succeeded in disposing of every vestige of the shah but has yet to recover from its eight-year war with Iraq, and from the excesses of its own religious zeal. There are signs of liberation from the liberators, but Naipaul doesn’t miss the human cost: a beautiful young woman in her black cloak, for instance, with a government job but no personal freedom, who retreats to her room every night and rages hysterically. Naipaul’s evocation of a corrupt Pakistan, passionately Islamic but unsure of itself as a nation, captures the vibrancy of the place, but his Iran is mournful and haunting. A measured view of Islamic countries from the point of view of ordinary people rather than propagandists or detractors.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-375-50118-5
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1998


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