A Culture of Ambiguity
An Alternative History of Islam
Author(s): Thomas Bauer
Reviewed by: S Parvez Manzoor, Stockholm, Sweden
The realisation that modernity is an unfinished and aborted colonial project per force entails delegitimising its modernising discourse and de-masking its universalist rhetoric as parochial and self-serving. While it may be a source of anxiety for some who feel that ‘postmodern theorists have produced… an invigorating and paralysing scepticism, and unseated the sovereignty of Western Man’, the outcome of this Western self-criticism and censure need not always be baneful. At least looking at the present work, which nowhere indulges in such hyperbole but nevertheless displays an unmistakably ‘postmodern’ perspective, one cannot but marvel at the intellectual and moral resources of such a critical vision and be immensely grateful to its very erudite and incisive author for having produced this timely reflection that is as scholarly as it is absorbing, as insightful as it is demanding, a hermeneutical feat which is original and reasonable in the extreme.
While exposing the villainous prejudices of our times, cultivated equally by the overbearing champions of Western civilisation and its embittered Muslim detractors, the author does not deliver a reprimand but seeks to argue and convince. And as the tone is so gentle, the irony so delightful, the scholarship so overwhelming, the ultimate benefiter is the reader, no matter what his/her own discipline, academic stripes or stakes in the discovery of a remarkable piece of historical writing. At the time of the book’s original edition in German, an earlier reviewer Gert Borg of Nijmegen University, remarked: ‘Only rarely do scholars contribute to a new understanding of present day global problems, but this one might be the exception.’ With this, the present writer fully concurs, his only regret being that it has taken so long for this work to appear in English. The English readers, it must be reiterated, will be immensely delighted, and amply rewarded, by having this volume in their hands.