Yasmin Alibhai-Brown talks better sense this time.

You hear these outpourings of grief and hopelessness a lot these days. Ignorance is not bliss, it is oblivion, wrote the American novelist Philip Wylie. Ill-educated, volatile, easily led, despised by millions, Muslims the world over are falling into that void, into oblivion. Some are and will be annihilated by external foes and enemies within, including the demon cheerleaders inside the heads of suicide bombers, but many more will be consumed by their own terror of the modern world.

There is discrimination, she notes, but there is also self-limitation.

In nearly all universities in this country, including the elite establishments, there are cells of well organised Muslim obscurantists who entice or bully fellow Muslim scholars seeking to liberate their minds. They write to me, bright and ambitious students who feel spied on, coerced, hounded and tormented because they do not wear a hijab, or are seen meeting diverse mates in the student union bars, or choose “haram” subjects such as creative writing, art, drama or even European languages. One young Muslim woman at the LSE actually had a novel snatched from her hand, and says she was then held and harangued by her hijabi assailant who left a bruise on her arm. I pity both. What makes a university undergraduate this appallingly afraid of fiction? Who got into her head to distort it so?

Maybe she read Infidel? Ayaan Hirsi Ali talks about the subversive power of reading novels there – including merit-free romance novels. She felt liberated and inspired by the good stuff and even by the schlock. Page 69:

We imagined the British moors in Wuthering Heights and the fight for racial equality in South Africa in Cry, the Beloved Country. An entire world of Western ideas began to take shape…Later on there were sexy books: Valley of the Dolls, Barbara Cartland, Danielle Steele. All these books, even the trashy ones, carried with them ideas – races were equal, women were equal to men – and concepts of freedom, struggle, and adventure that were new to me.

Page 79:

In school we read good books, Charlotte Brontë, Jane Austen, and Daphne du Maurier; out of school, Halwa’s sisters kept us supplied with cheap Harlequins. These were trashy soap opera-like novels, but they were exciting – sexually exciting. And buried in all of these books was a message: women had a choice.

Page 94:

Inwardly, I resisted the teachings, and secretly I transgressed them…I continued to read sensual romance novels and trashy thrillers, even though I knew that doing so was resisting Islam in the most basic way…A Muslim woman must not feel wild, or free, or any of the other emotions and longings I felt when I read those books. A Muslim girl does not make her own decisions or seek control. She is trained to be docile. If you are a Muslim girl, you disappear, until there is almost no you inside you.

Pity the poor LSE hijabi, training herself to be docile, to disappear, to have no self inside her; and hope the novel-readers prevail and take their sisters with them.

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