The Devils of Cardona paperback

My first novel The Devils of Cardona was published in the US in June last year.  This year it’s just come out in paperback.  Here’s an extract from a piece that I wrote for the Literary Hub website to mark the occasion:

As a writer who has written a lot of non-fiction in my time, I often find myself asking the questions that fiction writers seek to ask about the “real” people and events I’ve written about. What did Philip II of Spain actually think about when he was alone in the study where he ruled over his vast empire? What did Sofia Perovskaya and her lover Andrei Zheliabov, the leading members of the terrorist cell that killed Alexander II, say to each other in bed on the eve of the assassination? What was going through William Tecumseh Sherman’s mind when he had his nervous breakdown in Kentucky?

Such questions aren’t always possible to answer from the material you actually have in front of you, and the discipline of history demands—rightly—that you concentrate on what is known rather than what is imagined, which means that speculation must remain a private indulgence.

I often found myself speculating when researching my book Blood and Faith: The Purging of Muslim Spain about the persecution and expulsion of the 16th-century Muslim Converts to Christianity known as Moriscos. Much of the story of the Moriscos comes from Inquisition documents, minutes of Council of State meetings, and 17th-century Spanish texts celebrating the expulsion. Sources in which Moriscos speak for themselves are quite thin on the ground, and much of the contemporary detail about them comes from hostile Christian accounts.

You can read the rest here.

An Antidote to Bigotry

 

Question: What do these photographs have in common?

Muslim Mohammed Abdel Wahab is seen here wearing a fetching suit with his beloved Turkish cümbüş mandolin.Maryam “Ruttie” Jinnah, once wife of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, is simply sense and sensibility in this autumnal square-neck number.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you all along!” says Mara Brock Akil emphatically, when an audience member comes to their senses and realizes that there’s no such thing as a distinct Muslim look.

Principal Figgins, played by Muslim actor Iqbal Theba, is wearing a smirk because he just figured out how to get out of Sue Sylvester’s blackmailing. For now…

 

Answer:   All of them are pictures of Muslims, and they can be found on the wonderful website Pictures of Muslims Wearing Things a brilliantly imaginative antidote to the obsession with Muslim dress codes that has become a staple of contemporary Islamophobia.  It was created last year in response to an interview by National Public Radio news analyst Juan Williams on Fox News last October, in which Williams told host Bill O’Reilly:

“I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

Williams was fired for making these comments, but he is not the only person to make such observations.  In Europe – and increasingly in the United States as well – leading politicians, public figures and media commentators have identified ‘Muslim garb’ as a symbol of cultural backwardness or terrorism.   Such interpretations are often steeped in ignorant, bigoted and sometimes overtly racist assumptions about what such ‘garb’ represents, and they invariably imagine Muslims as a monolithic and alien cultural group that can be instantly recognized by the way they look.

Muslims Wearing Things cleverly refutes this stereotyping with a compilation of striking photographs of Muslims from around the world and from all walks of life – both historical and contemporary – which make it absolutely clear that there are many different Muslims in the world doing – and wearing – many different things, and that Islam itself is often only one component of what Muslims are.

This might not seem like a particularly astounding revelation, but its a perspective that gets little airspace in the columns of Richard Littlejohn, Nick Cohen or Melanie Phillips – to name but a few.   So next time you find yourself accidentally wading through their bile and feel like choking on it, check out Muslims Wearing Things instead.

The site is worth visiting and re-visiting not only for the engaging images, but for the pithy and witty captions that accompany them, and the combination is a triumphant and inspirational response to the torrent of dehumanising drivel that increasingly permeates mainstream discourse about Muslims in the Western world.