War on Error
Real Stories of American Muslims
University of Arkansas Press, 2007
The author decided to write this book when the events of September 11, 2001, created a distorted image of the life aspirations and loyalties of Muslim-Americans in the minds of many. This is clearly a worthy goal that has been addressed by other writers, and filmmakers, with mixed results.
The author approaches her subject by presenting the life stories of 12 individuals: 7 women, 5 men. Those chosen include the author herself, her husband, and several very close friends. As such, these 12 people do not represent an unbiased cross-section of the Muslim-American community.
The author admits to this bias, but rather than being apologetic about it, derides the scientific sampling approach: “If I was going to be at all successful in helping to create a meaningful understanding of Islam and what it means to be a Muslim American, I wasn’t going to do it with a statistical sampling—thank God! Besides the fact that I am absolutely lousy at statistics and find them dull, lifeless, and easily manipulated, there was also my deep-seated mistrust of the accuracy of statistics …” [p. xx].
I won’t even attempt to state how many errors and misconceptions this short passage contains. Blanket dismissal of anything the author does not like, and praise for what she does like, is the rule in this book. A couple of pages later, we encounter this gem of an observation: “Video games and virtual reality, for example, are inherently inhuman. To boot, they breed obesity, violence, indolence, and stupidity …” [p. xxii].
These kinds of biases and emotional outbursts permeate the entire volume. We see very pleasant quotes from Quran, such as “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error” (2.256)[p. 152], but not “slay those who ascribe divinity to other than God” (9.5).
In the concluding chapter, the author opines: “If we want to educate non-Muslim Americans about the true beauty of Islam, we first have to speak out against this mistaken minority of hate-mongers and power-seekers who fraudulently claim to be acting in the name of Islam” [p. 154]. This would be a near impossibility in my view if one puts the author’s subsequent statement that “Our greatest ally in this effort is the Holy Qur’an itself” alongside “Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends” (5:51).
The book under review is not a bad read, when viewed as a collection of very brief biographies of 12 particular individuals, who (as advertised on the back-cover blurb) constitute a very diverse group, but it falls far short of achieving its intended goal.
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