Enlightenment

The Threat to Reason

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Dan Hind, Verso, £14.99

The Enlightenment tradition is under attack - at least if a series of recent books are to be believed. The source is apparently a rising tide of irrationality, manifested by intellectual fashions such as postmodernism, but more seriously by the revival of religious belief. So, while earlier works dedicated to "defending the Enlightenment", like Francis Wheen's How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World, attacked what they perceived to be irrationality in all its forms, the latest crop have focused almost exclusively on religion.

Interview: Tariq Ali

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'The history of the development of Islamic civilisation is one of adaption and intermingling. It is one of both influencing the non-Islamic world and being influenced by it.' Tariq Ali challenges the myth that Islam is incompatible with the West in his four novels about the Muslim world and Europe. He discussed them with Talat Ahmed.

Since Jack Straw made his comments on the veil, politicians have been falling over themselves to demonise Muslims in Britain. Now university lecturers are expected to spy on "Asian-looking" students in order to spot potential terrorists, while parents are warned to be on the look out for "fundamentalist" tendencies among their children. Britain seems to be in the grip of an anti-Muslim hysteria that has been gathering pace for some time. Tariq Ali's four novels on Islam and its relationship to Europe provide not only welcome relief but also an antidote.

Islam and the Enlightenment

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The intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th century that became known as the Enlightenment helped a new class to come to power in Europe. Neil Davidson asks why the more advanced civilisations of the Islamic world did not develop a similar movement of their own.

In the current Western controversy over Islam, one theme recurs with increasing predictability. Many writers are prepared to acknowledge Muslim cultural and scientific achievements, but always with the caveat that Islamic civilisation never experienced an equivalent to the Enlightenment. "Islam never had to go through a prolonged period of critically examining the validity of its spiritual vision, as the West did during the 18th century," writes the historian Louis Dupre. "Islamic culture has, of course, known its own crisis...

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