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Bobby banned! June 16, 2006

Posted by elizabethwong in Islam in Southeast Asia, Malaysia, Note2Self, Readings.

I choked on my coffee when I spotted one of entries in the latest list of books banned by the Malaysian Home Ministry.

No, it wasn’t Karen Amstrong’s beginner’s guide to “….” of the NYT-best-seller genre.

S. Sayyid. A Fundamental Fear.

So the adrenaline kicked in. A flurry of emails to London. “Get Bobby to email me now!”

Finally, I can walk with a gait that says, “Ah… back then at the Charterhouse, we showed this chap (whose book has now been banned) little mercy when he tried to pull a po-mo fast one!”

John would later put some of the study group discussions in several of his books, including Bad Marxism. Bobby, published his highly-acclaimed (now banned here) work as A Fundamental Fear.

I’ve not met Bobby since leaving Manchester. That was more than a decade ago. My memory of him was a serious young man, with a penchant for black turtlenecks. Mystery was his trademark.

Though I can hardly remember the conversations and study group debates at the Charterhouse, I recall him walking into John’s office one afternoon and said, with an air of well-timed exasperation, “Just because I’m the only Muslim in this place, everyone thinks I’m an expert on Middle East politics.” Apparently at that time, there was a bomb in Kashmir, and B was interviewed by quite a number of media agencies.

John, on occasion, would throw in the latest goss about B. A mystery trip to Argentina. A mystery Argentinian beauty. A mystery marriage. Rumour had it that both the groom and bride wore black.
There can only be one reason why Bobby’s book is banned. The oh-so-erudite readers at the Home Ministry’s command of English didn’t extend beyond the title and page 1.

The main thesis of his book challenges existing Western scholarship on Islam and its notion of ‘fundamentalism’, turns the table around to say that democrats and liberals are no more as fundamentalist as the Islamists, considering how Western liberalism and the position of Christianity in Europe are valorised as universal.

Though Fundamental Fear continues the tradition of Edward Said’s examination of Orientalism, his critique is invaluable and reads fresh, in this age of the War against Terror.

In fact, Bobby was to later write, one of the most erudite observation regarding the responses of ‘liberals’ during the ‘cartoon war‘:-

“Here the old colonial story of extremists leading astray by gentle untutored moderate masses comes into the fore… Muslims are urged to tame their anger and become “moderate”.”

On another note, if he agrees to have his ban undergo a judicial review, it will no doubt open up a can of worms on the inner-workings (or is it sleeping) of our Home Ministry’s publications section.

Other notes:-

Description: 2nd Edition (Zed Press)

This is a brilliant and provocative re-evaluation of political Islam. Theoretically innovative, the book shows how Islamism can only be understood in the context of its relation with Eurocentrism. Using a neopragmatist approach inspired by Richard Rorty, and drawing on political and cultural theorists such as Stuart Hall, Agnes Heller and J.F. Lyotard, the book disrupts the conventional accounts of modernity and postmodernity and presents a radical new reading of Islamism as a response to the de-centring of the West.

Breaking with the Arab-centrism of Islamic studies, Bobby Sayyid provides a critical analysis of Kemalism as dominant postcolonial ideology in the Muslim world, an ideology based on a Weberian understanding of the relationship between modernization and the West. Using the metaphor of Kemalism to narrate the political order in the postcolonial world, the author examines the rise of Islamism in the context of the postmodern critique of modernity.

The book provides a much-needed conceptual narrative for an understanding of `political’ Islam and its relationship to decolonization and the passing of the Age of Europe. It is also an accessible introductory guide to the resurgence of Islamism, and poststructuralist political theory.

`Sayyid’s book has considerable intellectual and personal drive, showing how the adoption of a poststructuralist perspective can alter our perception of important matters of cultural politics’ – Nations and Nationalism

`A theoretically sophisticated attempt to read contemporary Muslim political identities as a symptom of Eurocentrism’s decline’ – Global Society

`A welcome change… should be of great interest to those who wish to look at the phenomenon of political Islam and the divination of the clash between the West and the rest from a more sophisticated and theoretical angle… a worthy contribution.’ – Impact International

`Sayyid, with this dense and seminal work, has made a welcome attempt to reframe the uses of the term Islam within intellectual discourses without resort to populist terminology. The book is a broad treatment of the state of Islam and its relationship with the West and the West’s relationship with the East… takes a fresh look at how Islam has reached its much-maligned status… Not only is [Sayyid] polemical, incisive and engaging, he is at times poetical. His use of metaphor and analogy serves to illustrate the complexity of the issues that he is putting across’ – Sociology


1. Orienting the Rise and Decline of `Islamic Fundamentalism’
2. Dis-Orienting Islam
3. Kemalism and Politicization of Islam
4. Islam, Modernity and the West
5. Islamism and the Limits of Eurocentrism


1. Arumugam banned « elizabeth wong - January 19, 2007

[…] now joins Kassim Ahmad, Bobby Sayyid, Karen Amstrong and Asaari Muhammad in the Ministry of Internal Security’s list of banned […]

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