11. November 2006. Analysen: Kunst & Kultur - Weltweit Inauthentic Islam?

V.S. Naipaul’s Among the Believers and Beyond Belief [1]

Introduction: V.S. Naipaul as Travelling Writer

V.S. Naipaul’s journeys to non-Arab Muslim countries follow a long tradition of interest in and writing about ‘the East’.[2] It was then part of various imperial aspirations and thus also often served as a projection area for the colonizer’s and traveller’s own desires and needs.[3] As ‘the Orient’ was frequently perceived as one of the most ‘secretive’ parts of the world, travellers tried to discover what was allegedly hidden behind walls and veils. Naipaul’s travel accounts Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey (1981) and Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples (1996), written after the re-visiting of the places of his first journey, initially suggest a genuine interest in ‘the believers’, Muslim people living apart from the ‘original land’ of Islam. The texts reveal, however, an idiosyncratic portrayal on non-Arabs which is based on Naipaul’s ideas of what Islam in the countries he travels in (Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia) means. Naipaul’s visits to these places primarily aim at discovering and revealing knowledge and ‘truth’. In the prologue of Beyond Belief he tells us:

This is a book about people. It is not a book of opinion. It is a book of stories. […] This book is a follow-up to a book […], Among the Believers […]. When I started on this journey in 1979 I knew almost nothing about Islam – it is the best way to start on a venture – and that first book was an exploration of the details of the faith and what looked like its capacity for revolution. The theme of conversion was always there; but I didn’t see is as clearly as I saw it on this second journey.[4]

Naipaul suggests that it was his aim to gain knowledge about Islam with a particular focus on the ‘theme of conversion’ (this central notion even appears in the subtitle of Beyond Belief). He consciously re-visits the places known from his first journey, which resulted in a text, Among the Believers. Yet the focus of his exploration in Beyond Belief seems to have shifted slightly. This shift in emphasis appears to have been caused by reflecting on his first journey as well as by the simple idea that, particularly after a time gap of several years, one never sees a place with the ‘same eyes’ again. Suman Gupta points out that the central question of Among the Believers is: ‘in what way do Muslims expect Islam to facilitate the creation of an ideal Islamic state, and what sort of concrete shape (in economic, technological and political terms) is the latter likely to take?’[5] I regard Naipaul’s objective in both books as the exploration of what he describes as the ‘Muslim rage’,[6] ‘rage about the faith, political rage’,[7] against which he – a Western-educated cosmopolitan traveller – sees himself in relief. His writings explore, therefore, not simply ‘the other’ (the Muslims) but also ‘the self’ (the secular ‘Westerner’ Naipaul) in relation to the question of religious revivalism.

These considerations raise questions about colonial techniques of representation and interpretation, and about the acknowledgement that every traveller is influenced by his/her culture(s), religion, history and other aspects of his/her background. Stuart Hall refers to this as

a recognition that we all speak from a particular experience, a particular culture, without being contained by that position as 'ethnic artists' or film-makers. We are all, in that sense, ethnically located and our ethnic identities are crucial to our subjective sense of who we are. But this is also a recognition that this is not an ethnicity which is doomed to survive, as Englishness was, only by marginalizing, dispossessing, displacing, and forgetting other ethnicities. This precisely is the politics of ethnicity predicated on difference and diversity.[8]

Hall’s assumption that we speak in the light of a particular cultural background holds true especially for Naipaul. In 1979, shortly after the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Naipaul goes on a journey to non-Arab Muslim countries to discover how a religion such as Islam has been able to develop such a destructive force ‘among its believers’. He goes on a pilgrimage or quest whereby he also visits places of Muslim worship and pilgrimage, and thereby defines himself primarily as an individual who travels in opposition to the believers, a group of people Naipaul does not seem to feel a connection with. This notion goes back to his early childhood in the Indian (Hindu) diaspora of Trinidad: ‘We knew nothing of Muslims. This idea of strangeness, of the thing to be kept outside, extended even to other Hindus.’[9] Naipaul grew up with a strong sense of difference, of being part of a minority; nonetheless, when he started travelling, he seems to have been looking for similarities between him and other migrants regardless of their religious and cultural backgrounds: ‘I thought, when I began to travel in the Muslim world, that I would be travelling among people who would be like the people of my own community.’[10] Naipaul’s comment could be read with his awareness of a similar colonial background for Hindu and Muslim migrants (after all, many Indians are Muslims). However, this kind of identification based on his former Trinidadian community as well as a common experience of migration with Muslims is a limited one only and is quickly transferred into a number of dichotomies – between East and West, Muslims and Hindus – which seem to influence Naipaul’s writing about his travels around non-Arab Muslim countries.

Naipaul’s desire to visit non-Arab Muslim countries is triggered by watching news about the Iranian revolution on television. One could regard this news item as a ‘pretext’,[11] which also initiated a number of imperial travellers’ wishes to see the colonies with their own eyes in order to gain knowledge about them and particularly their people. Additionally, Naipaul’s travel accounts express a political aspect, which could also be the focus of colonial travel writing. Peter Hulme points out that ‘[g]iven that the world is constantly in flux, there is still a prominent place for the mixture of personal reportage and socio-political analysis which has been a component of travel writing since its earliest days.’[12] Naipaul’s initial objective (the inquiry into the religiousness of ‘the converted peoples’) implies this kind of link between personal interest and political analysis. In ‘Our Universal Civilization’, a non-fictional essay that focuses on Naipaul’s interaction with Islam, he describes this connection by reflecting upon the word ‘fundamentalism’ as it is used in the media and, consequently, by asking himself why Islam seems to grow stronger in a number of non-Arab Muslim countries.

'Fundamentalism' – in connection with the Mohammedan world – was not a word often used by the newspapers in 1979; they hadn’t yet worked through that concept. What they spoke of more was 'the revival of Islam'. And that, indeed, to anyone contemplating it from a distance, was a puzzle. Islam which had apparently so little to offer its adherents in the last century and in the first half of this – what did it have to offer an infinitely more educated, infinitely faster, world in the later years of the century?[13]

Naipaul seems to claim that he wants to reach beyond the superficial representation of Islam in the media by travelling to the parts of the Muslim world that ‘revive’ Islam. However, one needs to take into account what Patrick Holland and Graham Huggan emphasize: that ‘travel writing frequently provides an effective alibi for the perpetuation or reinstallment of ethnocentrally superior attitudes to “other” cultures, peoples, and places.’[14] This notion is evident in Naipaul’s statement: the word ‘Mohameddan’ nowadays is obsolete as it reduces Islam exclusively to its origins and seems to deny its development, transformation and adaptation in other parts of the Muslim world. Furthermore, the statement that the media have not worked through the concept of fundamentalism produces the impression that Naipaul, by contrast, understands this concept by travelling to the places where it flourishes.[15] He perceives himself as a knowledgeable traveller. Yet how does Naipaul really position himself as a traveller and writer from a profoundly non-Muslim background, and how does he approach the ‘riddle of fundamentalism’?

Naipaul’s Answer to the 'Riddle of Fundamentalism': The Theme of Conversion

The theme of conversion – as a ‘way of travelling’ from one cultural and religious background to a different cultural and religious present, usually having happened generations ago – is prominent in Naipaul’s books. Naipaul – a secular Hindu who grew up with a strong sense of community in the Indian diaspora of Trinidad – undertakes ‘excursions among the converted peoples’, whose form of Islam he identifies as a transformed one, and perceives conversion as the running theme throughout his explorations. According to Naipaul, the idea of conversion implies an idea of originality or common origin on which Islam is built, yet also a sense of leaving non-Islamic traditions and customs behind.

Islam is often superficially associated with a strong sense of tradition and a focus on the past. Although it is the youngest of the three ‘religions of the book’, it is often perceive it as a religion that looks back to its origins as a means of justifying or explaining the present. Naipaul is interested in Islam’s origin: he employs Islam’s past – or rather the believers’ urge to refer back to it – as a means of understanding its present state, and as a projection area for his critique.

Naipaul travels in order to find out how fundamentalism could grow into such a significant issue in the non-Arab Muslim world. He sees one answer to his query in the conversion from culturally different, non-Islamic cultures to a religion whose new believers do not share the same associations with original Muslims. In his prologue to Beyond Belief he states:

Islam is in its origin an Arab religion. Everyone not an Arab who is a Muslim is a convert. Islam is not simply a matter of conscience or private belief. It makes imperial demands. A convert’s world view alters. His holy places are in Arab lands; his sacred language is Arabic. His idea of history alters. He rejects his own; he becomes, whether he likes it or not, a part of the Arab story. The convert has to turn away from everything that is his. The disturbance for societies is immense, and even after a thousand years can remain unresolved; the turning away has to be done again and again. People develop fantasies about who and what they are; and in the Islam of converted countries there is an element of neurosis and nihilism. These countries can be easily set on the boil. (BB, p. 1)

The connection between 'fundamentalism' and conversion is, according to Naipaul’s observations, based on the convert’s alleged loss of his/her past and the taking on of an alien past. For him, the converts’ original ties to their culturally different past had been severed with the act of conversion to Islam; yet simultaneously it is not possible for them to embrace the new religion completely as they are not familiar with its roots in the same way as an original (Arab) Muslim would be. Religion is, therefore, closely connected to an idea of origin and identity as well as the convert’s ‘neurosis’ to be a ‘proper’ Muslim and his/her nihilism of the previous past.

For Naipaul, the notion of conversion is closely connected to a ‘Muslim idea’ of the past. According to his interpretation, the forms of Islam he encounters on his journeys are mediated forms of Islam: Islams without a past, or rather with a re-constructed past connected to Arabia. As Naipaul does not credit the changing nature of any religion, he describes how Islam itself has ‘converted’ in the countries he visits: from a ‘pure’ form of religion to a form of politics (primarily to ‘fundamentalism’). Naipaul seems to work with double standards here: the religion he was exposed to as a child, his form of Hinduism as he experienced it in the Indian diaspora of Trinidad, was certainly as ‘impure’ as the Islam he encounters in non-Arab countries. Other cultural influences from the Caribbean, Africa etc. will have shaped ‘his’ Hinduism.[16] Although Naipaul is not a convert himself and his family is from Hinduism’s ‘original land’, India, his Hinduism is, just as the forms of Islam he encounters, detached from the ‘original land’ of South Asia. One could even extend this idea and regard the different forms of Hinduism as they exist in the countries he travels in as ‘mediated’ forms of Hinduism, a religion that has been shaped by the encounter with other religions and cultures. Naipaul bemoans the loss of ‘his’ religion due to the contemporary dominance of Islam, and he does not establish an ‘original’ form of Hinduism as he does with Islam.

Naipaul argues that in non-Arab Muslim countries ‘[t]he faith abolished the past. And when the past was abolished like this, more than an idea of history suffered. Human behavior, and ideals of good behavior could suffer.’[17] These countries wanted to become ‘pure(ly) Muslim’ by cutting their ties with their own past completely, which is also partly Naipaul’s ‘own’ past, the Hindu past of his ancestors. (He particularly experiences this form of identification in Indonesia (AB, p. 435).) The revival of Islam and its ‘fundamentalist’ form of expression in particular serve as a counterpoint to Naipaul’s perception of an ‘original’ past, including its ‘human side’, which was often forcefully removed through the act of conversion. He describes in great detail how Muslims ‘invent’ history and an Arab ancestry in order to overcome this loss of cultural originality and to ‘feel’ purely, authentically Muslim:[18] ‘I was among people whose identity was more or less contained in the faith. I was among people who wished to be pure.’[19] This (religious) history is closely tied to the political development and history of the countries he visits: here Islam – maybe more so than in ‘originally’ Muslim countries – tends to be not only a religion but a complete way of life.

So I not only began to understand what people in Pakistan meant when they told me that Islam was a complete way of life, affecting everything; I began to understand that – though it might be said that we had shared a common sub-continental origin – I had travelled a different way. I began to formulate the idea of the universal civilization – which, growing up in Trinidad, I had lived or been part of without quite knowing that I did so.[20]

Naipaul starts his argument by establishing similarities between himself and South Asian Muslims (a common sub-continental origin). He continues by finding a connection to his personal experiences which are primarily based on migrations – literally to Britain, yet also metaphorically on to a different intellectual, (religiously) more independent level – and perceives the forms of Islam he encounters on his journeys primarily in relation to himself as a representative of ‘the secular West’. His development as a person as well as a writer has resulted in his idea of the ‘universal civilization’, of which Islam can only be part if it refrains from being hostile to the (secular) West. Islam, as he sees it, did not develop towards a ‘universal civilization’, and, in his opinion, this means stagnation: Islam does not seem to progress, something which is revealed particularly by its ‘medieval’ nature. A modern Islamic state is, therefore, not possible[21] and is bound to fail.[22] Naipaul seems to create ‘a Western identity centred on the idea of modernity’[23] and, therefore, perceives ‘Islam [as a] religion with a glorious past but an impoverished present.’[24] One could argue, however, that Naipaul tries to compensate for his own lack of past to some extent. Having a past is part of being a ‘metropolitan writer’.[25] As a former colonial, he bemoans his lack of tradition and, as a result, seems to have created ‘a myth of origin’.[26] Naipaul’s background and his own sense of (non-)belonging needs to be considered in this context. Having been brought up in the Indian diaspora of Trinidad, his own sense of non-belonging contributes to his understanding of notions of origin. Naipaul often refers to his – a migrant’s – sense of loss of his old tradition as well as a sense of not being part of a new tradition after having moved to Britain. Furthermore, for him, Islam cannot be a religion that one chooses, as it has strong roots in its geographical land. However, the Muslim ‘conquests’, which often forced Islamic conversion onto people, result in total absorption and overly rigorous application resulting in a complete way of life, which, according to Naipaul, can easily lead to ‘fundamentalism’.

The West is constructed as the driving force behind positive change. Naipaul’s ‘conversion to the West’ needs to be considered once again: he himself ‘converted’ from his colonial background to Western ideas of individualism, which has served as a ‘conquering force’ in a similar way as Islam with its ‘all-embracing’ nature does now. Naipaul’s examination of the notion of conversion (in relation to the past) could, therefore, be read as a self-recognition in the ‘face of the other’ (which is part of his former ‘self’ and which, in retrospect, he rejects).[27] This self-re-discovery comes especially to the fore when Naipaul examines the Muslim countries’ relationship with the ‘West’. He increasingly establishes his position as the privileged and more knowledgeable traveller from the West, whilst paradoxically the concept of ‘the West’ appears ambiguous in the context of his own colonial heritage: his origin is not as clear-cut as he seems to pretend, and the West is as ‘inauthentic’ as the Islam he encounters.[28] As Rana Kabbani points out, ‘Naipaul feels within his rights to offer whatever descriptions suits his prejudice – for after all, he is “involved” with this East, having emerged from it and having “made good”.’[29] Naipaul’s heritage – and I specifically include his experience as a migrant to Britain here – serves as a means to establish his superiority. He describes his and the West’s difficult and complicated relationship with a number of non-Western countries and also describes how the West is needed especially for science and modern technology. Naipaul thus reveals notions of mimicry, of imitating the West in order to extract everything that is needed on the way of a complete Muslim way of life. However, one could argue that Naipaul is a ‘mimic man’ himself, someone who came from the periphery of the British Empire to its centre and aimed at immersing himself in this new culture completely.[30] Therefore, as much as the Muslim countries (as an example of formerly colonized people, ‘the Other’) need the West, so does the West need ‘the other’, Naipaul being a representative of both, ‘the (former) other’ and ‘the West’. He also went through the experiences which Rob Nixon lists as follows: ‘insecurity from a weak sense of history, the shock of modernization, dependency from the colonial era, and followed exploitation’.[31] Mimicking the West comes as a natural consequence: as John Alden Williams describes, until 1967, modernization in the former colonies comes as ‘a period of imitation’, then as ‘a road of destruction’.[32] As a result of this disappointment in ‘Western modernization’, ‘Islamic solidarity’ is increasingly perceived ‘as the correct alternative’,[33] a ‘conquering’ alternative which might even be imposed on people who, as a consequence, will lose their individuality.

Islam had come here [to Indonesia] not long before Europe. It had not been the towering force it had been in other converted places. For the last two hundred years, in a colonial world, Islam had even been on the defensive, the religion of a subject people. It had not completely possessed the souls of people. It was still a missionary religion. (BB, p. 24)

Islam as a form of imperialism is, therefore, a destructive force as it seems to erase all traces of cultural, non-Muslim ‘originality’ in these countries. Once again, Naipaul uses the reference to a lack of sense for people’s non-Islamic past and lack of tradition as a means to relate to his own and, implicitly, Britain’s colonial past – and the differences between the positive and negative effects of both forms of imperialism: ‘Step by step, out of its Islamic striving, Pakistan had undone the rule of law it had inherited from the British, and replaced it with nothing.’ (AB, p. 195) Although Naipaul criticizes the colonizing effect of Islam, he almost behaves like a colonizer himself by imposing his ideas of what ‘good’ colonization, the kind of colonization that he experienced, is onto the Muslims he encounters as well as onto his readers. Since colonialism has directly effected him and his present, Naipaul as an individual and a writer who believes in the ‘universal civilization’ mainly based on Western ideas of ‘enlightenment’ is at the centre of his travel accounts again. Yet overall, Naipaul seems to want to communicate that clinging too tightly to a past which is retrospectively constructed in order to purify the faith, leads to ‘fundamentalism’ and ultimate destruction.

This interpretation of Islam also comes to the fore when taking a closer look at ‘the believers’ – as individuals as well as the community of believers. For Naipaul, Islam seems almost incomprehensible and he reduces the religion to the concept of ‘submission’, i.e. its literal translation and a lack of individuality.

What meaning does the community of the believers have for Naipaul? I shall analyse the supposed dichotomy between individualism and the idea of the ummah, the community of believers, under the aspect of what Benedict Anderson calls ‘Imagined Communities’, societies that are constructed by the people who perceive themselves as part of these social groups.[34] Naipaul seems to reject the idea of the ummah. He comments on the ‘internationality’ of Islam – here in Pakistan – rather cynically:

It was organized; every row had a number. I was passed from person to person, snatched at one stage from a developing conversation, and taken to the foreign enclave, where there were Arabs, Indonesians, and even Africans (clearly old hands at these international Muslim gatherings, unashamedly enjoying the ethnic sensation, they and their costumes and their language were exciting). (AB, p. 245)

Naipaul gives a strong sense of dichotomy between his idea of (Western) individualism and the possibility of preserving individuality within a larger community. He seems to perceive the ‘Muslim version of community’ as ‘[f]acelessness [which] had begun to seem like an Islamic motif. […] Individualism was to be surrendered to the saviour and avenger. But when the revolution was over, individualism – in the great city the Shah had built – was to be cherished again.’ (AB, p. 28) Although coming from a Hindu background with a strong sense of community, Naipaul seems to champion a notion of individuality which focuses on the separate individual and which does not allow space for other forms of experiencing individuality.

One interesting aspect is the nomadism that Naipaul has experienced in his lifetime. This experience serves as a metaphorical ‘contact zone’ which is based on Naipaul’s former experiences which he uses as a justification for his judgement of people: ‘a peasant or nomadic longing stirred within me. […] But what to me was the impulse of the moment was for them a way of life. I would move on, do other things; they would continue as I saw them.’ (AB, p. 217) The word ‘nomadic’ seems to connote ‘peasant’, i.e. backwardness, just as Islam seems to represent a backward religion for Naipaul. However, despite the fact that Naipaul frequently acts as a traveller ‘with imperial associations’, as a ‘former nomad’ he can be regarded as a postcolonial writer with a migrant experience (he moved from the ‘margin’ of Empire to the metropolis London).[35] Yet he does not seem to be able to share the experience of dislocation and marginality with the Muslims he meets on his journeys.[36] He appears as a ‘privileged fugitive’.[37] The experience of migration is often the topic of the conversations he has with people. Their travelling (from country to city, to other, mainly Western, countries for education, and, historically, from ‘paganism’ to religion) has significant effects on the development of Islam – a notion which is frequently referred to by Naipaul. As James Clifford points out: ‘if contemporary migrant populations are not to disappear as mute, passive straws in the political-economic winds, we need to listen to a wide range of “travel stories” (not “travel literature” in the bourgeois sense).’[38] Naipaul usually perceives these ‘travel stories’ (the life-stories of his conversation partners) with an extremely critical eye. Yet these migrations sometimes appear as a desire to reach ‘civilization’ which moves Naipaul further towards an intellectual ‘home’. He puts great emphasis on his experiences, and thereby creates a self-imposed outsiderdom, as the following example demonstrates: ‘Masood’s panic now, his vision of his world as a blind alley (with his knowledge that there was activity and growth elsewhere), took me back to my own panic of thirty or thirty-five years before.’ (AB, pp. 224-25) Here questions of power and the reinforcement of stereotypes come into play. According to Bhabha ‘[a]n important feature of colonial discourse is its dependence on the concept of “fixity” in the ideological construction of otherness.’[39] In this context, the ‘stereotype […] is a form of knowledge and identification that vacillitates between what is always “in place”, already known, and something that must be anxiously repeated’.[40] Naipaul bases the ‘otherness’ of the Muslims he encounters on their lack of knowledge, and his sense of self on his experience and knowledge, thus exercising (indirect) power and self-elevation.

Conclusion: Naipaul's Experience of an 'Inauthentic Islam'

Going on a journey implies a sense of literal as well as metaphorical movement. A journey that is a pilgrimage towards answers and knowledge can be influential on the traveller and writer. The focus of this article was the exploration of the version of Islam Naipaul constructs on his journeys. He perceives Islam primarily in relation to himself – both as traveller and writer.

Naipaul focuses on his role as an inquiring writer. As he primarily wants to understand why and how ‘fundamentalism’ came into existence, he puts himself in the position of an exploring outsider. Naipaul wants to achieve rather than experience: his aim is to gain knowledge, and his journey becomes a pilgrimage to knowledge and understanding, and indirectly to himself and towards a fixed text to be consumed later, rather than to Islam.

It seems, therefore, that Naipaul wants to communicate a particular form of Islam. Naipaul’s conclusion is as follows: ‘Islam meant “submission”, and in an Islamic republic, such as the people of Iran had passionately wanted and had voted for in a referendum, everyone had to submit.’ (BB, p. 163) For Naipaul, conversion triggers a (false) sense of belonging.[41] As he rarely differentiates between different (Arab as well as non-Arab) forms of Islam, he creates an ‘idea Islam’,[42] which is, in Orientalist fashion, primarily defined and fixed by (its) violence, fundamentalism, dependency on the West, backwardness and the unquestionable acceptance of the faith. His refusal to be open to Islam’s changing nature coincides with his refusal to transform himself as a traveller and writer:[43] his texts do not give any hints of a changed, more positive and open perception of Islam. Therefore although Naipaul re-lives his travels and the experiences on these journeys through the act of writing, his ultimate aim seems to be the production of his books rather than a genuine interaction with Islam.


[1] This article was written as part of my Ph.D. research, which is kindly supported by The Arts and Humanities Research Council. I am grateful to the Council for its support.

I would like to thank Professor Sarah Colvin (University of Edinburgh) for her insightful reading of a previous version of this article.

[2] For further information on the significance of ‘the East’ as a place of travel, including the Christian pilgrimage and the importance of holy places in a Christian context, see Barbara Korte, English Travel Writing from Pilgrimages to Postcolonial Explorations, trans. by Catherine Matthias (Basingstoke: Macmillam Press Ltd/Palgrave, 2000), pp. 24-25.

[3] For a detailed discussion of the Western interest and conceptions in the Orient, see Edward W. Said, Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient (1978, London: Penguin, 1995).

[4] V.S. Naipaul, Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples (1998, London: Abacus, 2002) (henceforth abbreviated to ‘BB’; page references refer to this edition), p. 1.

[5] Suman Gupta, V.S. Naipaul, Writers and Their Work (Plymouth: Northcote House Publishers, 1999), p. 67.

[6] V.S. Naipaul, ‘Our Universal Civilization’, in Literary Occasions: Essays, intro. and ed. by Pankaj Mishra (London: Picador, 2003), pp. 503-17 (p. 507).

[7] V.S. Naipaul, Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey (1981, London: Picador, 2003) (henceforth abbreviated to ‘AB’; page references refer to this edition), p. 400.

[8] Stuart Hall, ‘New Ethnicities’, in The Post-colonial Studies Reader, ed. by Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffins and Helen Tiffin (Routledge: London and New York, 1995), pp. 223-37 (p. 277); emphasis in original.

[9] V.S. Naipaul, ‘Two Worlds (The Nobel Lecture, 07 December 2001)’, in V.S. Naipaul, Literary Occasions: Essays, intro. and ed. by Pankaj Mishra (London: Picador, 2003), pp. 181-95 (p. 188).

[10] Naipaul, ‘Our Universal Civilization’, p. 508.

[11] See Rana Kabbani, Imperial Fictions: Europe’s Myth of Orient (London: Pandora, 1994 [1986]), p. 37; Rob Nixon also argues that Naipaul has the ‘Weltanschauung of a secular Hindu West Indian would-be-Victorian (obsessed with finding confirmation for his judgements)’ (Rob Nixon, London Calling: V.S. Naipaul, Postcolonial Mandarin (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 45.

[12] Peter Hulme, ‘Travelling to Write (1940-2000)’, in The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing, ed. by Peter Hulme and Tim Youngs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 87-101 (p. 94).

[13] Naipaul, ‘Our Universal Civilization’, pp. 507-08.

[14] Patrick Holland and Graham Huggan, Tourists with Typewriters: Critical Reflections on Contemporary Travel Writing (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1998), p. xiii.

[15] John L. Esposito dismisses the term ‘fundamentalism’. He ‘regard[s] “fundamentalism” as too laden with Christian presuppositions and Western stereotypes, as well as implying a monolithic threat that does not exist; more fitting general terms are “Islamic revivalism” or “Islamic activism” [a term which Naipaul finds “puzzling” and therefore seemingly unsuitable], which are less value-laden and have roots within the Islamic tradition. In recent years, the terms “political Islam” and “Islamism” have become more common usage. Islam possesses a long tradition of revival (tajdid) and reform (islah) which includes notions of political and social activism dating from the early Islamic centuries to the present day. Thus I prefer to speak of Islamic revivalism and Islamic activism rather than of Islamic fundamentalism.’ (John L. Esposito, The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality?, 3rd edn (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 6).

[16] For further details on the peculiarity of Hinduism in its diaspora, see, for example, Stephen Vertovec, The Hindu Diaspora: Comparative Patterns (London: Routledge, 2000), or Stephen Vertovec, Hindu Trinidad: Religion, Ethnicity and Socio-economic Change, Warwick University Caribbean Studies (Macmillan Academic and Professional, 1992).

[17] Naipaul, ‘Our Universal Civilization’, p. 509.

[18] For a discussion of notions of authenticity, see Gupta, V.S. Naipaul, p. 72.

[19] Naipaul, ‘Our Universal Civilization’, p. 512.

[20] Ibid., pp. 511-12.

[21] Gupta, V.S. Naipaul, p. 72.

[22] Ibid., p. 78.

[23] Joan Pau Rubiés, ‘Travel Writing and Ethnography’, in The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing, ed. by Peter Hulme and Tim Youngs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 242-260 (p. 258).

[24] Timothy Weiss, On the Margins: The Art of Exile in V.S. Naipaul (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1992), p. 148.

[25] V.S. Naipaul, ‘Reading and Writing: A Personal Account’, in V.S. Naipaul, Literary Occasions: Essays, intro. and ed. by Pankaj Mishra (London: Picador, 2003), pp. 3-31 (p. 20).

[26] Naipaul, ‘Jasmine’, in Literary Occasions, ed. and intro. by Pankaj Mishra (London: Picador, 2003), pp. 45-52 (p. 48).

[27] See Jaques Lacan’s theory of the construction of identity based on ‘the Other’: ‘For Lacan, we need the response and recognition of others and of the Other to arrive at what we experience as our identity.’ (Hans Bertens, Literary Theory: The Basics (London and New York: Routledge), pp. 161).

[28] ‘The word “authentic” has different meanings: historical (denoting the descendents of the inhabitants of the peninsula before Islamisation), biological and even racial (indicating Arab racial purity), or socio-cultural (defining a nomadic and pastoral life and economy).’ (Billie Melman, ‘The Middle East/Arabia: “the Cradle of Islam”’, in The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing, ed. by Peter Hulme and Tim Youngs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 105-21 (p. 116))

[29] Kabbani, Imperial Fictions, p. 130.

[30] See Homi K. Bhabha, ‘Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse’, in The Location of Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), pp. 85-92, where he discusses the ‘ambivalence of mimicry’, the ‘almost the same, but not quite’ (p. 86; emphasis in original) of the (former) colonial. Bhabha’s title is derived from Naipaul’s novel The Mimic Men which describes a former colonial’s dilemma of wishing to conform to the (imperial) centre’s standard and becoming part of it. Naipaul himself went through this process as he illustrates in his semi-autobiographical novel The Enigma of Arrival.

[31] Nixon, London Calling, p. 130.

[32] John Alden Williams, The Word of Islam (London: Thames and Hudson, 1994), pp. 214-15.

[33] Ibid., p. 215.

[34] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1991 [1983]).

[35] Barbara Korte defines postcolonial travel writing as follows: ‘as referring to travel writing produced after the Second World War by such travellers/writers whose origin is located in the world formerly colonised by Britain’ (Barbara Korte, ‘Exploring Without a Mission? Postcolonial Travel in a Global World’, in Colonies – Missions – Cultures in the English-Speaking World: General and Comparative Studies, ed. by Gerhard Stilz, ZAA Studies, Language, Literature, Culture, 12 (Tübingen: Stauffenburg, 2001), pp. 383-95 (p. 385)).

[36] See Graham Huggan, The Postcolonial Exotic: Marketing the Margins (London and New York: Routledge, 2001), pp. 19-20.

[37] Rossana Bonadei, ‘Theory into écriture: Travel Literature Encounters Touring Cultures’, in Cross-Cultural Travel: Papers from the Royal Irish Academy International Symposium on Literature and Travel, National University of Ireland, Galway, November 2002, ed. by Jane Couroy, Travel Writing Across Disciplines, Theory and Pedagogy, 7 (New York: Peter Lang, 2003, pp. 417-28 (p. 419).

[38] James Clifford, Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century (Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press, 1997), p. 38.

[39] Homi K. Bhabha, ‘The Other Question: Stereotype, Discrimination and the Discourse of Colonialism’, in The Location of Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), pp. 66-84. (p. 66).

[40] Ibid.

[41] See Weiss, On the Margins, p. 155.

[42] See Said, Orientalism, p. 5: ‘the Orient is an idea that has a history and a tradition of thought, imagery, and vocabulary that have given it reality and presence in and for the West’.

[43] See Kabbani, Imperial Fictions, p. 136.

Dieser Beitrag gehört zum Schwerpunkt: Islam in Südasien .


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