I have been persuaded into a revolutionary act. I have published an ebook. When Kindle and co first came out I was certain that I would never write for, or read on, any device that was not a book. But the twin forces of the free market and Melanie Phillips (via her new e-publishing venture emBooks) persuaded me to have a go. The result — Islamophilia, £4.99 — is available on all good ebook sites (including Amazon). Luddite friends ask if I can print copies out for them myself. The answer is “no”.
Despite starting off a sceptic it is now clear to me that the advantages of ebooks depend very much on the subject. Today there are many matters which barely make it onto the published page, and even then never into the remaining bookshops. Islamophilia is not about Islam or Muslims but about those public figures — from prime ministers and presidents to pop stars and writers — who made themselves utterly ridiculous during the last decade by fawning over one particular religion. Partly from stupidity, but mostly from fear.
It is a short and — I hope — amusing book. But I have no doubt it would have scared any conventional publisher to death. What is more, even if a conventional publisher had been persuaded to publish, the book itself would never have found its way past the cultural gatekeepers of the remaining book-chains.
At the time of writing this column, Islamophilia is the bestselling book on Islam in the UK, US and Canada and the best-selling political humour ebook in the US. Bloggers, tweeters and others are alerting each other to it and buying it at the click of a button. What would the fate of its printed sibling have been? I can see it now — a couple of months after publication, a solitary copy finding its way to the back of the “Mind, Body and Spirit” section of a regional branch of Waterstones.
The non-virtual book may remain my ideal as a reader and writer. But the failings of the publishing industry have widened of late and now inevitably look like being filled by such new forms of popular guerrilla publishing.
As I was finishing writing the book I was getting on a plane to Holland. Just before boarding I am told of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in south London hours earlier. While it halts me in my tracks it is also not unexpected. Shortly after landing in Amsterdam I will pass near the street where Theo van Gogh was murdered by an Islamic fundamentalist. As I step off the plane I take a call asking if I can do a TV interview from the studio outside which Pim Fortuyn was assassinated (in that case by a non-Muslim who objected to his views on Islam).
In Britain now, as in Holland then, the familiar routine is gone through. The politicians all say that the murder has nothing to do with Islam. Then they say that all violent actions are a “betrayal” of Islam. Then they warn that although no Muslim must be tarred with any brush, the rest of society ought to be, as we are clearly all on the verge of an anti-Muslim pogrom. Almost all mainstream papers and periodicals follow suit.
The ever-predicted fear of a phantom backlash swiftly overtakes all consideration of the violence that actually has occurred. One Muslim contributor to the Telegraph even has the temerity to argue that while the Muslim attackers were being “anti-Islamic” the non-Muslim (actually Christian) woman who protected the dying drummer was in fact the one acting in an Islamic fashion. Only positive actions can come from Islam. Only negative reactions-or unwittingly good “Islamic” ones-can come from the rest of us. And so the horror will go on. We deceive only ourselves.
I am living in Paris much of the time. Travelling on the deepest rail network (the RER) from the airports and outskirts of the city you see an eruption of rioting just waiting to recur. But above ground this is still a city of lotus-eaters.
Being here means enjoying the opportunity of repeat visits to sites which cannot be appreciated in a single visit. At the top is the Louvre. Like the Prado in Madrid it is just too big to take in on one trip. So I chop up the museum into sections. Last week I focused on the Poussin and Rembrandt rooms. They are so packed with treasures that many of the paintings are all but lost in the stacking from floor to ceiling. But most of the best are still at eye-level. They include the Poussin I looked forward to seeing most and found most moving. That beautiful rustic scene at a tomb, the wiping away of dust and an inscription still legible: Et in Arcadia Ego.