‘My book spits on all types of bigots’

By Jayanthi Madhukar in the Bangalore Mirror

Through his explosively-titled book, The Moslems are coming – Encounters with a Desktop Terrorist, writer Azad Essa wants to stir up a debate on “unsexy topics”. The work has already created ripples on blogosphere

Don’t ever judge, they say, a book by its cover. But if you have an attractive/explosive cover, then you will have an easy launchpad. Azad Essa’s The Moslems are coming – Encounters with a Desktop Terrorist is bound to garner eyeballs just because of its title, leave alone the cover (which is in a bold shade of yellow and emblazoned with a man holding a gun!).

Essa, currently working in Doha for Al Jazeera, hopes that the book will attract readers across the spectrum. The South Africa-born writer says: “We hope that rightwingers, hippies, Moslems – all varieties of the human race will take a peek and see if they catch a mention. They all do. The idea behind the The Moslems are coming is to stir a debate, discussion and invite a whole new generation to engage on unsexy and uncomfortable topics in a mostly irreverent manner. Kids love the cover. Best-seller in geriatric wards.”

Essa’s previous book, Zuma’s Bastard, inspired by a politics and culture blog called the Accidental Academic was well received in South Africa. “The blog essentially took the piss out of all weird and wacky events in South Africa and across the globe,” he says.

“It was called the ‘Accidental Academic’ blog because of my alleged attitude and eccentric style as a Sociology lecturer and researcher at a local university.”

INDIA, the target audience

The Moslems are coming is actually the “India-only update” of the first book, targeting the Indian audience. The region-specific update happened only because “so much of the content of the first edition was of an international flavour. The publishers, he says, repackaged it into The Moslems are coming for the South Asia market, not just India.

Thus the book will travel to Pakistan and Bangladesh as well.

The title begs for a clarification. Does the book aim to debunk the Moslem stereotype? Essa disagrees. “The book does not wage jihad against the stereotypes of Muslims. I find projects that tout to ‘end stereotypes’ to be quite patronising. In contrast, it pokes fun and spits on all types of bigots – imperialists, sexists, smug Indians, racist Muslims,land-grabbing Zionists. It discriminates fairly and without favour. That I happen to be Muslim is both crucial and yet purely incidental to the content, but the book does not focus primarily on shifting bigoted ideas about Muslims; it is about looking at the world from a different perspective.”

There is a light, bordering on irreverent, tone running through the essays which may trouble some readers. Or would it? “Well, some respond by slitting their wrists and jumping through windows. Others think that such topics are no laughing matter and send a vicious mail or two. Others leave their wives and husbands and jump on the next train to meet their estranged lovers. I bear no responsibility for these psychos,” tells Essa, in an email chat.

But it seems like he does have a penchant for controversial topics. For instance, he has written quite extensively on Kashmir where the situation, he feels, is not only complex, but also hazy.

He says, “I wouldn’t want to speak on behalf of the Kashmiri people and their aspirations, but what I can say is that it is difficult to expect a place and a people to be ‘normal’ when half a million troops are stationed in their backyard running under a different set of laws and living standards.”

As a writer, Essa believes in writing in such a way that would make obscure topics sexy for the unlikeliest of readers. “Writing, like film and paintings, often rotates around a particular class who love to dwell, a glass of wine in tow. You know who they are; the same crowd who goes week in and week out to galleries and book launches and celebrate art for its melancholic reflection of life. Good writing should be dangerous enough to make these pretenders uncomfortable and invite a whole new generation of readers, writers and dreamers to cut through the rhetoric and lies.”

This ideology may have spurred Essa to write his blog that eventually inspired Zuma’s Bastard.

MAKING POPPYCOCK READABLE

“In my bid to make international politics and other poppycock topics readable – for audiences who would ordinarily prefer lying under a sledgehammer instead – I was forced to start the blog when none of the newspapers and magazines would carry my work. It was too dirty – that’s what they said.”

But the writing was welcomed online (“with a healthy degree of hate mails”) and within 10 months it has won the best political blog in South Africa. So, it seems fitting that the publishers launched the book with a blog tour that they claim is the first of its kind. Selected bloggers will present various perspectives of the book with a review appearing every so often.

 

 

 

 

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