Sarah Khan from India Ink (New York Times) chats to Azad Essa
It’s the kind of book cover guaranteed to generate stares when pulled out in public: the title, “The Moslems are Coming: Encounters with a Desktop Terrorist,” is emblazoned above a menacing image of a man brandishing a firearm, but a closer inspection shows a USB flash drive sticking out of it.
It’s a provocative image, but that’s precisely the point. Azad Essa’s book is nothing if not irreverent, politically incorrect and defiantly subversive, not to mention hilarious. Unemployment, the 2010 World Cup, climate change, Somali refugees, Bollywood, racism — everything is fair game, and hardly anything escapes the scrutiny of the Al Jazeera journalist’s scathing worldview.
For example, Mr. Essa, an ethnic Indian who is also Muslim, tackles France’s ban on burqas in his satirical essay “Shape Without Drape: Muslim Fashion du Jour,” all the while maintaining that he’s hardly a fan of the garment: “Truth is, I often don’t know how to act around a woman in such attire, because no one teaches you what etiquette to follow when someone pitches a tent around her body and then stands next to you.”
“The Moslems are Coming,” released by HarperCollins India in April, is an India-only update of Mr. Essa’s earlier book, “Zuma’s Bastard,” which became a best seller in his native South Africa last year. (The title is a play on the well-documented personal and political troubles of President Jacob Zuma of South Africa.)
In an e-mail interview, Mr. Essa, 30, told India Ink why he wrote an Indian edition of his book and who he thinks should read it.
Q. How did “Zuma’s Bastard” happen?
A. I was a make-believe writer twiddling thumbs at university trying to get in through the back door. As a writer I wanted to play on my terms, but then I managed to win best political blog in South Africa, and young folk started reading and mullahs started misbehaving and everything changed. The money, dope, the girls — they all started flowing. Not quite, but I managed to get the book deal.
Q. Describe the transition from “accidental academic” to “desktop terrorist” to “incidental journalist.”
A. The original idea was to open channels for young folk to engage with ordinary, mundane issues in an engaging and hopefully more refreshing way. I didn’t want to be held responsible for mass suicides, but I did want to move beyond the pretense of academia and the rhetoric of daily news reportage. I aimed to take the debate beyond partisan allegiances, hoping to promote a cool kind of critical thinking — whatever on earth that means.
My attitude to academia while working at university as a bitsy bob lecturer and researcher apparently made me an “accidental academic.” I reckon it was a euphemism for being a poor academic. Before long I became known as a “desktop terrorist” for my splattering across the Internet. I guess I was a little angry back then. Now I am an “incidental journalist.” I don’t know how people come up with these labels.
Q. How did this Indian edition come about?
A. The original book covers a lot of international themes as well as themes related to being Muslim and being a part of the large consignment of Indians packed off to infiltrate different parts of the world. It relayed the ambivalent relationship we folk sometimes known as “of Indian origin” can have with India — at once enamored by the idea of the motherland and yet repulsed by some of the eccentric and archaic cultural practices and mutants still puzzling the streets. When I was introduced to the amazing team at HarperCollins India, they were amused and reasonably convinced that the time was ripe to unleash the Moslems back on to the subcontinent.
Click here to continue reading the interview on The New York Times.