Den britiske forfatteren Sebastian Faulks kommer ut med en ny bok A Week in December, den 3. september. Den omhandler bla. en muslimsk familie med en sønn som havner i trøbbel. Faulks har gitt forhåndsintervjuer og tonen har vært avslappet. Faulks har lest Koranen og snakker rett fra levra. Det er sjelden å høre så ærlige karakteristikker.

Visste Faulks hva han gjorde? Åpenbart ikke. Først forsvant intervjuet fra Daily Telegraphs nettside. Idag trykker avisen et brev fra Faulks der han ber så mye om unnskyldning. Han mente ikke å såre.

Det er interessant å sammenligne de to artiklene, for de sier mye om ytringsfrihetens kår i dagens Storbritannia.

Tilfellet ville at Faulks også ble intervjuet av the Times, og de har latt artikkelen stå.

Faulks turned to the Koran for his research, and was appalled: «It’s a depressing book. It really is. It’s just the rantings of a schizophrenic. It’s very one-dimensional, and people talk about the beauty of the Arabic and so on, but the English translation I read was, from a literary point of view, very disappointing.

«There is also the barrenness of the message. I mean, there are some bits about diet, you know, the equivalent of the Old Testament, which is also crazy. If you look again at those books of the law, Leviticus or Deuteronomy, there’s a lot about who you are allowed to sleep with, and if a man had lost his testicles he wouldn’t enter into the presence of God, that is just terrible. But the great thing about the Old Testament is that it does have these incredible stories. Of the 100 greatest stories ever told, 99 are probably in the Old Testament and the other is in Homer.

«With the Koran there are no stories. And it has no ethical dimension like the New Testament, no new plan for life. It says ‘the Jews and the Christians were along the right tracks, but actually, they were wrong and I’m right, and if you don’t believe me, tough — you’ll burn for ever.’ That’s basically the message of the book.»

I ask if he had talked to many British Muslims before beginning to write. «I didn’t, actually, no. I read some books and I’ve got a few Muslim friends, but I thought I’d get it better from books and from reading the source.»

He believes religion can also induce its own kind of madness. «All these people are hearing voices on the bridge, listening to their mobile phones, and Hassan’s convinced that the only voice worth hearing is the one heard by the lonely prophet in the desert in the 6th century, and he was clearly schizophrenic by any modern definition. If you look in the Bible and read the description of John the Baptist, this is a guy already in the halfway hostel who needs to go back quite quickly to secure accommodation. The bible is full of schizophrenics.

«Jesus, unlike Muhammad, had interesting things to say. He proposed a revolutionary way of looking at the world: love your neighbour, love your enemy, be kind to people, the meek shall inherit the Earth. Muhammad had nothing to say to the world other than, ‘If you don’t believe in God you will burn for ever.’ »

I dagens avis beklager Faulks at han snakket så fritt. Det er pinlig lesning. Hvordan kan en forfatter være så uvitende om hvilke virkning hans ord ville ha? Han gjør det enda verre ved å gå tilbake på det han sa. Til å begynne med er det ikke så ille:

The crucial issue, I suppose, that divides Muslims from other religions is the nature of the holy scripture. We Christians and Jews have long accepted that our scriptures were written by humans; indeed, much biblical scholarship focuses on exactly which humans, and when.

For Muslims, after some intra-religious debate, it was agreed that the Koran is «uncreated»: this means, as I understand it, that it is literally and in every syllable the word of the Almighty, unshaped («uncreated») by human hand.

When, with some excitement, I first read the Koran last year as research for my novel, I confess that I was disappointed by it. Raised as a child on the exciting stories of the Old Testament and inspired by the revolutionary teachings of the New, I had, perhaps naively, expected something comparable. The Koran has lovely passages, some of which inspire my character Farooq in the novel, but I did find it, from a literary point of view, repetitive.

As for whether it is ethically less developed than the New Testament, a Muslim friend put it to me like this: «You must compare like with like. Compare it to the Old Testament.»

That is a fair point. I fully accept that the ethical dimension of modern Islam has been provided by generations of scholars and thinkers over many centuries; it was perhaps too much to expect to find it embedded from the word «Go» – to expect, in other words, that the Koran would be two books, two testaments, in one.

Så slår Faulks fast at Koranen for muslimer er hinsides kritikk. I neste omgang bøyer han seg for dette og beklager at han har våget å bruke sin kritiske sans. Han underkaster seg, bokstavelig talt.

t was never my intention to offend my Muslim friends or readers, and if you read my novel I think you will see how I have shown the positive effects of the Koran on a kind and typical Muslim family. The family son, Hassan, falls in with bad men and is misled. I can’t tell you without spoiling the story whether goodness prevails; but if it does, it is considerably due to the love of his devout parents.

Martin Amis, John Updike and many other Western novelists have written about Islam because it is a challenging and interesting topic in today’s world. I can’t speak for my fellow writers, but I would be surprised if their aim was, in general terms, much different from my own: to understand, and then to explain. That is the challenge for the imaginative novelist: to inhabit the skin and the thoughts of someone quite different from yourself. I have done this before with people from different times, of different nationalities and of a different sex from my own. There is something of the reporter in most good novelists; our aim, in the end, is always to increase and broaden the reader’s understanding, not to inflame a silly prejudice.

One of the books I read as background to my novel was Islam: A Short History, by Karen Armstrong. She writes movingly of how Arabs in the Peninsula longed for a voice-hearing prophet of their own to match the many Jewish prophets, famed for hearing the voice of God over many generations, and the twin voice-hearers of Christianity, Jesus Christ and John the Baptist. The ability to hear voices was much prized in the long period covered by the holy books of the great religions – and long before, going back to the time of Homer.

Karen Armstrong er en tidligere nonne som har omfavnet islam og presenterer islam i et forsonende lys. Det var neppe hennes bøker som dannet grunnlag for Faulks første beskrivelse.

Men det blir verre: Faulks gjentar uttalelsen fra intervjuet om at religiøse skikkelser kan ha vært schizofrene, og viser igjen til Johannes Døperen. Men det gjelder ikke Muhammed, forsikrer han. Her blir artikkelen direkte pinlig.

Of course, the Prophet Mohammed was the most prodigious of all voice-hearers, and as Inayat Bunglawala, of the Muslim Council of Britain, noted yesterday, he has often been accused of being «possessed». Sometimes the words of the Koran do have a slightly ranting rhythm to them – though this may be due to the translation, and Arabic has a different natural intonation from English.

But to me the idea that anyone could have achieved what the Prophet achieved in military and political – let alone religious – terms while suffering from an acute illness of any kind seems completely absurd. I believe that only a healthy and lucid person could have achieved what he did – and I am very happy to make that belief clear.

Som om ikke det er nok: Faulks beklager at han har begitt seg ut på tolkninger av islam på egen hånd!! Han erkjenner at han trenger noen å holde i hånden, noe som kan guide ham, og han tar takknemlig imot tilbudet.

My book is printed and I wouldn’t want to change it because I believe it is fair and tolerant. But I welcome the idea put forward by Ajmal Masroor, an imam and spokesman for the Islamic Society for Britain, in this paper yesterday, that we «should sit down and talk about it» rather than navigate solo with our own cultural compasses.

If Mr Masroor is sincere in his offer, I would be pleased to learn more about Islam. I liked his response that he was more amused than offended, because A Week in December is a satirical novel; he is a man with whom I could do business. I would enter any such dialogue with a degree of humility and plenty of respect for his religion and his scripture; I feel sure he would do likewise.

Faulks har fullstendig mistet balansen. Det holdt ikke med en beklagelse hvis han har såret muslimers følelser, og at det ikke var ment slik. Nei, han må gå tilbake på alt han har sagt. Det er det intellektuelle selvmordet som er forferdelig. For det begår Faulks på vegne av alle forfattere og litteraturen. Han har allerede skrevet seg inn i historien, på den mest vanærende måten.

Sebastian Faulks: Koran has ‘no ethics’

Sebastian Faulks: The book I really can’t put down

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