January 19, 2012
America's current conflict with Islam is rooted in a long and complicated history.
Christopher Columbus, for example, believed he was predestined to lead "a fifth Crusade" and re-conquer Jerusalem. Cotton Mather, the 17th century Massachusetts clergyman, relished the fact that he was in a country "afar off, in a land, which never had (that I have ever heard of) one Mohametan breathing it it."
And yet, as President Barak Obama noted in his famous June 4, 2009 Cairo speech, Muslim Morocco was the first country to recognize the independence of the United States.
In his new book Islam and America: Building a Future without Prejudice, Anouar Majid, University of New England associate provost for global initiatives and director of the Center for Global Humanities, argues that the current animosity between the U.S. and Muslim world should be understood through the often-overlooked history between the two.
Majid traces the genealogy of this conflicted relationship from the Pilgrims to the present, portraying a complicated history of prejudice and missed opportunities, as well as a history of benevolence and fruitful exchange on both sides.
In telling this history, he weaves personal stories with historical narratives to offer a critical view of both cultures and to suggest a path towards future peace.
Majid contends that knowing this history of both conflict and collaboration can help promote the mutual goodwill and appreciation that will be necessary to tackle the challenges facing Islam and America. Majid makes an argument against faith-inspired prejudices and offers suggestions for the future.
He writes: "We all - Americans and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians - must rediscover the promise of the Enlightenment, whose core revolutionary principles - the banishment of ignorance and prejudice, the elevation of reason over blind faith, the quest for a just society that is fulfilling to all, and the uncompromising dedication to human dignity - were snuffed out too early and prematurely. It will take time to replace pessimism with hope, suspicion with genuine openness, and clashes with alliances; but we are better off starting now than delaying good works to some indefinite time in the future."
In a pre-publication review of Islam and America (Rowman & Littlefield), Daniel Martin Varisco of Hofstra University, writes: "What makes this book stand out from the rest are both Majid's self-reflection as a Muslim from Morocco and his passion for retelling the principles that at one time made the American experiment the envy of the world. As Majid persuasively argues, Americans and Muslims do not straddle a rigid cultural divide but can build on shared values if everyone recognizes that past prejudice is the enemy of future progress."
In another review, Robert J. Allison, of Suffolk University, says that "Anouar Majid's Islam and America is a bold and courageous book, putting a millennium of history, theology, and culture into context and challenging assumptions on all sides. Islam and America should be read by all who are perplexed at the catastrophic relations between the United States and the Muslim world, between Israel and her neighbors - who might come away with renewed faith that we still have it in our power to begin the world anew."
Publishers Weekly writes that: "Majid's message is critical in today's political climate, and this work is a worthwhile contribution to an ongoing dialogue."
Majid, founding director of UNE's Center for Global Humanities and professor of English and Language Studies, has been described by Princeton scholar and public intellectual Cornel West as one of a few "towering Islamic intellectuals," a leading figure in examining the place of religion and Islam in postcolonial theory and the culture of globalization.
Majid is author of several critically acclaimed books on Islam and the West, including We Are All Moors: Ending Centuries of Crusades against Muslims and Other Minorities and A Call for Heresy: Why Dissent is Vital to Islam and America. His work has been featured on PBS's Bill Moyers Journal and Al Jazeera television.
Professor Majid's novel Si Yussef, originally published in 1992 and republished in paperback by Interlink in 2005, has been the focus of much scholarly and critical interest. He is also editor of TingisRedux, a Moroccan-American magazine.