Scattered Shots

From Tehelka magazine -

Azad Essa’s book is a collection of scathing, compelling essays. If only the sum were greater than its parts, says Mohsin Siddiqui

Azad Essa
Chock-a-blogged Azad Essa

ELECTIONS DON’T address the fundamental problems that people face,” comments Firoze Manji, the editor of Pambazuka Online, a social justice advocacy website, to Azad Essa. “Elections on their own do nothing to enable ordinary people to be able to determine their own destiny.”

True words indeed, and relevant to the many countries discussed in Essa’s The Moslems Are Coming. A darkly funny look at the state of most of the developing world, this anthology ranges far and wide. A journalist with Al-Jazeera, Essa is a sparkling, entertaining writer, even when writing about dense African politics. The book is a collection of his published blog posts and articles. Like many blogs, it leaps from topic to topic, building the occasional far-flung link but tending towards self-containment.

Much like the infamous Diary of a Call Girl, (which is not to imply that Essa is a prostitute; though he does get a little raunchy), these are imminently readable blog posts — by turns compelling, personal and scathing — even though the title of the book is somewhat misleading. Although Essa does address issues related to Islam, he carves a bizarrely wide path through topics as varied as South African politics, the Dalai Lama’s exile in Tibet, the football World Cup, sexual harassment in the workplace, and the Kashmiri desire for autonomous existence in satirical pieces sharp enough to cut imperceptibly between farce and reality.

Admittedly, I felt some nervousness carrying this book in my hand as I got on a flight to Dubai; only natural, given the virulent yellow cover had a blurb claiming the author would be “very surprised if the authorities allowed [me] to board a plane with this very dangerous book”. Things weren’t helped by my co-passenger, an inquisitive housewife en route to Abu Dhabi, who felt I wanted to discuss it with her. My inability to sum up Essa’s anthology led to a nap for her. Although The Moslems Are Coming is a fun, quick read, it ranges across so many different ideas that summarising them under the aegis of one theme wou ld be about as possible as flying across the Arabian Sea by flapping my arms really hard.

This is both the greatest strength and the most glaring weakness of the book. Firstly, it’s not really about Muslims (or Moslems, if you decide to run with Essa’s colonial injoke). This is perhaps a good thing because that could get really dull, really fast. At the same time, it’s about so many different things that there’s a constant sense of disconnect as you read; for instance, jumping from journalist Mirza Waheed’s opinions to Kashmiri cricket bat exports, is a switch that makes you scratch your head and wonder what editors at Harper- Collins had in mind when (loosely) putting these articles together.

What makes the book worthwhile is Essa’s brazen disregard for reining himself in (that, and the hilarious post-scripts at the end of many articles). His writing is pointed and poignant, and peppered with insights that many may find discomfiting. “Desktop terrorist” is an apt description indeed.

Posted in: Reviews, The Moslems Are Coming

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