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Michael Gilsenan: V. S. Naipaul, 3 September 1998

Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples 
by V.S. Naipaul.
Little, Brown, 448 pp., £20, May 1998, 0 316 64361 0
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... When, suddenly, a voice intrudes with a direct challenge to a writer in his own text, the reader is put on special alert. Think of the charged encounter in Seamus Heaney’s ‘The Flight Path’. The grimfaced stranger on the train, ‘last met in a dream’, hurls ‘When, for fuck’s sake, are you going to write Something for us?’ at the poet ...


Michael Gilsenan: In Yemen, 1 October 1998

... A late summer’s night in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. The rain is belting down, lightning flashes rip across the hills round the city, thunder rumbles, but the storm seems suspended over the open L-shaped courtyard of this adobe house. This is the style of the buildings in what was once the Jewish quarter: in through the front door; up two short flights of stairs at right-angles and you’re in the courtyard with the main reception room and five or six other small rooms off it, as well as endless storage spaces and passageways to other houses; up another short flight there is a top room ...

A Diagram of Power in the Arab World

Michael Gilsenan, 2 October 1997

Master and Disciple: The Cultural Foundations of Moroccan Authoritarianism 
by Abdellah Hammoudi.
Chicago, 195 pp., £30.50, September 1997, 0 226 31527 4
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... Broaching the topic of authoritarianism in Arab societies has its risks for Arab intellectuals. How should the questions be formulated? Where, how, and of what can they speak? At different periods it has been a dangerous act for Iraqi, Saudi, Egyptian, Sudanese, Moroccan, and now especially Algerian thinkers and commentators to address such topics head on ...

Out of the Hadhramaut

Michael Gilsenan: Being ‘Arab’, 20 March 2003

... of Arabic,’ Ahmad says to the owner, grinning conspiratorially at us. ‘Speak Arabic with Pak Michael, go on! He speaks Arabic. Go on! With a beard like that in Yemen you’d perfume it; here you mothball it to get rid of the cockroaches!’ So much for the sacred beard, a sign of piety with the Prophet’s beard the exemplar. It is distinctively Arab ...

And you, what are you doing here?

Michael Gilsenan: The Haj, 19 October 2006

A Season in Mecca: Narrative of a Pilgrimage 
by Abdellah Hammoudi, translated by Pascale Ghazaleh.
Polity, 293 pp., £12.99, January 2006, 0 7456 3789 2
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... The Jeddah sailed from Singapore on 17 July 1880, bound for Penang and Jeddah, with 778 men, 147 women and 67 children on board. Muslims from the Malay Archipelago, they were travelling to Mecca and Medina for the pilgrimage. Some came from the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia); some from the different Malay states, then beginning to experience more direct British intervention; some from Singapore ...

Politics and the Prophet

Malise Ruthven, 1 August 1996

Lords of the Lebanese Marches: Violence and Narrative in an Arab Society 
by Michael Gilsenan.
Tauris, 377 pp., £14.95, February 1996, 1 85043 099 3
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The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World 
edited by John L. Esposito.
Oxford, 480 pp., £295, June 1995, 0 19 506613 8
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Unfolding Islam 
by P.J. Stewart.
Garnet, 268 pp., £25, February 1995, 9780863721946
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Islam and the Myth of Confrontation: Religion and Politics in the Middle East 
by Fred Halliday.
Tauris, 256 pp., £35, January 1996, 1 86064 004 4
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... that Islam was somehow ‘different’ from the West. A more fruitful approach is taken by Michael Gilsenan in Lords of the Lebanese Marches, based on field work he conducted in a Sunni Muslim rural area of North Lebanon during the early Seventies, before the recent civil war. This beautifully written book describes the culture of masculinity in ...

Where Does He Come From?

Sanjay Subrahmanyam: Placing V.S. Naipaul, 1 November 2007

A Writer’s People: Ways of Looking and Feeling 
by V.S. Naipaul.
Picador, 193 pp., £16.99, September 2007, 978 0 330 48524 1
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... especially defenders of the ‘Third World’ and its hopes, from C.L.R. James and Edward Said to Michael Gilsenan, more or less uniformly find him and his attitudes troubling and sometimes bigoted. He is portrayed as a self-hater and Uncle Tom, a product of the sorts of complex that Frantz Fanon diagnosed. On the other side are the conservative writers ...

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