I try to judge a book by what it is intending to do, not by how I would have written it. This is hard for a writer and occasionally takes discipline – as often times the prose does not live up to its desired intents; and my own prejudices, likes, and style get in the way.
So, that being said, what is it that “Sharia London” intends? I would suggest that its intent was to present us with a fast-moving, action packed readable adventure which entertained while also highlighting the dark underbelly of the Islamist sub-culture in London of which we read about so often in polemical articles and newspapers. Gang rape; honor killings; terrorist attacks – these things are not controversial in that they are facts; but writing about them can be controversial, for to do so without prejudice and respecting people while pointing out behaviors which are not conducive to life in a free society means these days to traverse a mine-field of political correctness which would make the bravest author blanch.
In that regard – and respecting the fact that insofar as the book is pop fiction and does not attempt to delve into the inner life of the characters, but simply recount a series of events, I think the author has done a fair job. Belying the title – which I might have chosen differently – this is not a novel which is attempting to disparage a whole group of people; it is not a “racist tome” – far from it. The protagonist, Marlon, is a scholar of Islamic history and falls in timeless “Romeo and Juliet” fashion for a young Muslim girl of Pakistani descent. Their love is clearly honest; and it is through the experiences of this young girl – who receives attacks and death fatwas for her doubting the faith she was born with and falling in love with a ‘kafir’ – that the author demonstrates his concern for the situation of people who while living in the West are still caught in conditions which we as westerners would never endure.
As I read the book I was reminded of the story of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali woman who fled forced marriage and rape; of how she left the Islamic faith and was forced to flee and flee again under threat of death, arriving finally in the west where she was met with a secular fatwa from the Southern Poverty Law Center for being an “anti-Muslim bigot”. And how that remarkable woman has not been silenced but continues to speak out about the rights of the oppressed.
Now to the nuts and bolts. I owe it to myself, and my readers, to be honest. I did not really like this book (I did not like “Da Vinci Code” either; actually I thought it was very poorly written indeed, so if you did – and I am certainly in the minority – you might like “Sharia London”). I don’t like pop-fiction and I felt some of the topics were pushed too far to make it believable (people, especially Muslims and evangelicals – like me – can be liberals without being progressives). Also attempting to insert the Ismailis as the “Good Muslims” was somewhat facile, given some of the historical baggage of the Seveners and their place in modern contemporary Islam. Its best if we do not try to pick winners and losers; instead championing debate and tolerance and speech.
I do like the fact that there are people willing to try and treat a complicated topic with honesty and realism – I wish there were more, because our freedoms are being suffocated like a fire deprived of oxygen. And our freedoms are only protected through their use. If for no other reason than that, buy this book.