Following this month’s interview in the magazine between Kenan Malik and Hanif Kureishi, who discussed the impact of the Rushdie affair on British Islam in particular and British writing in general, we have a web-exclusive article from Anshuman A Mondal based on his recent book Young British Muslim Voices (Greenwood), in which he travelled around Britain talking to “ordinary” (that is, non-Islamist) British Muslims about their lives and faith. The conventional image of conflict within British Islam—that its greatest divide is between secular “British” values and religious “Islamic” ones—is, Mondal concluded, incorrect. Instead, he argues, its main fault lines are generational: between the first generations of immigrants who arrived here, largely from the Indian subcontinent, in the 1960s and 1970s, and the generations who have grown up and come of age here since, and whose formative experiences include the Rushdie affair, 9/11 and 7/7.
It’s a thesis that chimes uneasily with Kureishi’s observation that “Nobody would have the balls today to write The Satanic Verses, let alone publish it. Writing is now timid because writers are now terrified.” In many ways, Islam’s generational conflict has been one of a new, younger generation of British Asians striking back against the conventional—and, as they saw it, humiliatingly outmoded—image of what it meant to be an Asian as well as a Muslim in Britain. Kureishi, though, has proved a dazzling interrogator and subverter of these intentions: an author who not only put young British Asians into the heart of literary fiction, but who also had the clarity of vision to depict them as both heroic and venal, straight and homosexual, progressive and corrupt. As he puts it, “It was a new idea of being Asian… not the traditional notion of victims cowering in the corner. I wanted to show that Asians were not all progressive or nice—so I had [in one character] an Asian as a vicious Thatcherite.”
For Mondal, at its best the thinking of young British Muslims has a deep “emphasis on individuality and choice” and a potential to move beyond limiting alleigances to the either/or politics of religion/secularism, British/Asian. The long shadows of the Rushdie affair, however, also suggest that religiosity can find a discomfitingly fertile breeding ground in the generational divides within…