REVIEW: The Perfect Gentleman: A Muslim Boy Meets the West

by Joanne Latimer

REVIEW: The perfect gentleman: A Muslim boy meets the WestAhmad was a Pakistani immigrant in the suburbs of London in the 1970s and 1980s. Predictably, the racism he encountered was wicked, yet he accomplishes a delightful feat with this memoir. He presents a hilarious tale where bigotry, wars, and religion play the straight man to his dry wit.

Ahmad’s survival skill is social assimilation, which begins with the cultivation of an English accent he describes as “perfect BBC.” Yet he is plagued by qualms about abandoning Islam for “vicarage garden party lukewarm Christianity.” Ahmad’s childhood pronouncements about Christianity (“There’s bad news about Jesus,” he reports of the Crucifixion) and Islam (“We make the Amish look like swingers”) are highly entertaining. Should Inuit be expected to fast for Ramadan, he wonders, considering their long days? When he finally gets an invitation for casual sex at university, he can’t figure out the logistics (“Where do I put my clothes?”). Ahmad survives three conversion attempts, deciding to stick with Islam after hearing a tape by the famous Canadian Muslim, Dr. Gary Miller. As a grad student with an Alfa Romeo and a microwave, he figures he can finally attract a girlfriend. “It didn’t go quite as expected,” is his comical refrain throughout.

This laugh-out-loud book has a deceptively simple structure, with each chapter representing a school year of his life, including summer vacation. It doesn’t feel like a literary crutch because it reflects Ahmad’s orderly, rational character. The complexity of his spiritual searching—and his desire for better cars—increases with each chapter. Funny stories about his Jaguar XJS and crushes on girls keep things light, but the book’s real value is in Ahmad’s explanation of misunderstandings between secular Westerners and Christian culture and the multi-faceted Muslim world. A feminist and a peacemaker, our “perfect gentleman” has this reader impatient for the sequel.

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Wake-up call or false alarm?

Reviewed by Madiha Sattar |  |
 AT a discussion about Ahmed Rashid’s new book at London’s Frontline Club, BBC correspondent Lyse Doucet, who was moderating the event, asked for a show of hands from the audience. How many think Pakistan is on the brink, she asked, referring to the title of the most recent of Rashid’s books on war, terrorism and politics in Afghanistan and Pakistan. How many think it’s going to muddle through, she asked next, referring to an alternative theory of how Pakistan works. The numbers were about the same, if slightly more, for the former. Continue reading

The Meadow by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark: review

‘The Meadow’ is a meticulous account of a brutal kidnapping that paved the way for 9/11


As a poster boy for global jihad, the portly, bookish Masood Azhar was never likely to compare with Osama bin Laden. Born into a Pakistani fundamentalist family, he was nicknamed “little fatty” by his brothers, who joked that when wrapped in his white preacher’s robes, he looked more like a well-fed larva than an austere jihadist. His battlefield record, too, was a joke: attending mujahideen training in Afghanistan in 1988, his war wound came not from a Soviet infidel, but a sentry who shot him when he forgot to shout the password while nipping to the loo one night. Continue reading

COVER STORY: Looking at the past — to understand the present

Some time in the days after 9/11, then US president George W. Bush plaintively asked the asked, “Why do they hate us?” The query was meant only as a rhetorical one since it was quickly settled that Muslims — the “they” in the question — hated the US for its freedom. This exceptionally glib answer, one that seemed to be based on nothing but smug self-satisfaction and a distinct lack of curiosity, does not take away from the fact that the question is one that needs exploring. Continue reading

Talking to the Taliban

Reviewed By Razeshta Sethna

AS the US engagement in Afghanistan winds down — similar to the late 80s when the Soviet Union found it had exhausted its resources and political acumen — building an Afghan government (with diverse factions), making peace with the very Taliban forces that America has fought for over a decade, and leaving behind a sustainable infrastructure and economy seems near to impossible. The future configuration of the Qatar peace talks, expanding them beyond the US-Taliban channel, and the Chicago conference in May will further clarify Afghanistan’s position. But at present, with Hamid Karzai demanding Nato troops pull back to their main military posts and the Taliban refusing to engage in negotiations, all of this doesn’t bode well for the stakeholders. Continue reading

‘Easy to be in a state of denial than to face reality’

| Metropolitan > Karachi | From the Newspaper

KARACHI, March 26: It was a gripping exchange of ideas that provided a perceptive audience with sufficient food for thought. The occasion was the launch of a book, Fatal Faultlines – Pakistan, Islam and the West, by distinguished columnist Irfan Husain at a local hotel on Monday.

The event was aptly moderated by chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Zohra Yusuf.

Introducing the author to the gathering, she talked about the time his writings for The Star often landed the paper in trouble during the military rule of Ziaul Haq because of which he had to change his by-line week to week.

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