It is now over a month since the murderous attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo; since the ensuing siege, the solidarity marches and vigils, the seemingly endless outpourings of opinion and comment; and a month since the publication of the special issue of Charlie, financed by the French state to the tune of 3 million copies. The dust has settled somewhat, the news cycle has moved on, but the reverberations continue to thrum in the background.

Typically, the cover image of this special issue was controversial. It portrays the Prophet Muhammad holding a ‘Je suis Charlie’ placard and shedding a tear. The caption above him reads ‘All is forgiven’. If the wording is ambiguous – who is forgiven? Who is doing the forgiving? – the image is ambivalent. It simultaneously distances the Prophet and, by extension, ‘ordinary’ Muslims from the terrorists that committed this atrocity in his name, and at the same it mocks those same ‘ordinary’ Muslims by offending their belief that the Prophet should not be visually represented. This doubleness – some might call it duplicity – warrants further investigation because it raises some very important and awkward moral questions that have not yet been posed.



My new book, Islam and Controversy: The Politics of Free Speech after Rushdie was published earlier this month, and I thought I would alert people to it, and to a couple of articles I wrote to accompany its publication. There is one I wrote for  (I’m not totally happy about the title, but that was out of my hands), and one for The Conversation. Please feel free to link, tweet, re-tweet, facebook them or whatever.

With the piece for The Conversation, I have been involved in an in-depth debate with the writer and free speech campaigner Kenan Malik in the comments section. Have a look and see what you think and do feel free to join in. The more that people debate these questions, the better.

The following book review first appeared in the magazine The Middle East in London, vol.7 no.4 October 2010 p.17.

Emma Tarlo, Visibly Muslism: Fashion, Politics, Faith (Oxford: Berg, 2010)

Emma Tarlo’s first book was entitled Clothing Matters, and this would not have been inappropriate for her latest work because no other items of clothing matter more in our contemporary world than those garments that mark out the wearer as ‘visibly Muslim’. In particular, garments worn by visibly Muslim women have gathered around them cultural and political significances and associations that situate them at the core of some of the key debates of our time: immigration and integration, multiculturalism, the role of religion in public life, political extremism, and, of course, the vexed relationship between ‘Islam’ and ‘the West’. In this timely book, Tarlo shows with great skill, subtlety and nuance how hijabs, niqabs, jilbabs, abayas and so on are not – and never can be – just simple pieces of cloth that wearers either choose to wear or not; rather, they are ‘overdetermined’ markers of identity and otherness; vehicles of history and tradition; emblems of moral rectitude; symbols of oppression; political statements; and ideological investments.


The following is a response to Eric Kaufmann’s article ‘Europe’s Muslim Future’, which appeared the April 2010 issue of Prospect (issue 169).

The demographic threat of Europe’s growing Muslim population to its culture and identity is a dog-whistle trope in the many contemporary debates about Muslims, immigration, integration and multiculturalism: barely audible at mainstream frequencies, it nevertheless possesses a shrill power to to conjure up from the submerged depths of Europe’s collective unconscious all sorts of phantoms and fantasies about the Muslim ‘Other’. So Eric Kaufmann’s careful scrutiny and forensic demolition of the ‘Eurabian’ claims in April’s issue of Prospect was entirely welcome. Such claims invariably prey on ignorance and fear and wither when exposed to the cold light of fact and the illumination of rational analysis.