Shari’a, Stateside

I’m in the United States to promote my book Heaven on Earth, and enjoying it hugely. Over the week just gone, I spoke at stops in Manhattan, Washington DC, Baltimore and Boston last week, and there are dates in Seattle and Chicago yet to come. Early reviews in the New York Times and elsewhere have been very favourable (they’re linked above), and the reception for me personally has also been welcoming. Although the book aims primarily to explain and criticise the repressive interpretations of shari’a that are nowadays ascendant in Muslim-majority states, I’m just as concerned over here to talk about the many attacks on ‘shari’a law’ being promoted by right-wingers in search of a scapegoat. Those attacks draw on popular fears of Islam, and though it would be stupid to deny that some maniacs have done some very frightening things in Islam’s name, it seems just as clear to me that the anti-shari’a activists are pursuing a goal that has virtually nothing to do with the threat of violent extremism. Anyway, Americans who’ve come out to hear me have been genuinely curious to hear my take – and even when they’ve disagreed, they’ve invariably done so with respect.

Here are links to three radio shows that I’ve appeared on over the last week: New York’s The Takeawaya lunchtime programme hosted by Dan Brodrick on Baltimore’s WYPR, and an interview with Terry Gross on Fresh AirThe last is nationally-syndicated, and its broadcast indirectly produced the nicest moment of my tour so far, when a Washington DC cab driver, chatting over his shoulder as I sat in the back seat, suddenly recognised my voice from the show. He turned out to be a voracious reader, and though a university education has remained elusive since he left Ethiopia 16 years ago (‘it is a dream’, he said, dreamily), he was well-informed on mattters ranging from healthcare reform to the debating procedures of the British parliament (in respect of which, he thought things had gone downhill since the retirement of Betty Boothroyd as House of Commons Speaker). And then, when the ride came to an end, he not only decided to come to my talk, but bought my book as well. I’m not sure what he’ll make of it – he was a Jehovah’s Witness with rather firm ideas about divine law – but if you ever read this, Sisay, I’d be pleased if you found my thoughts half as interesting as I did yours.