An often humorous compilation of short stories, memoirs, artworks and cartoons, Don’t Panic, I’m Islamic was commissioned by London-based publisher Saqi Books in response to the US travel ban.
Among the many things confirmed by Trump’s election—including the fact that an annus horribilis, even mispronounced, can indeed be personified—one strikes as particularly unintentional: the literary world’s capacity to look upon itself and marvel. Where else could the crumbling of a tenebrous liberal consensus, replaced by nationalist, xenophobic, clueless discord, give rise to such displays of self-regard? “Now more than ever,” or so the call to arms resonates since November, “the world needs writers.” A piling up of goodwill which could at times be mistaken for premature congratulations; a little closer to never more than now, rather than anything else.
That is being a little harsh, of course. After all, the most precious feature of a successful political group is the rare ability to welcome every opportunity for debate, no matter how hopeless the contest. Politics is a struggle in which courage under fire, that is, the audacity to present your ideas and challenge those of others, should never be dismissed. And yet…
And yet, what piercing writ has been produced to combat the rising turd? A couple of good essays, which are de rigueur, at this point (even if political journalists still tend to be much more insightful in this exercise), and some unimpressive short fiction, all amid a rush towards dystopian classics. Not a whole lot, so far, and one wouldn’t be faulted for thinking the literary establishment, like its favored party, suffers from a general lack of ideas.
The sudden arrival of Don’t Panic, I’m Islamic this month, then, feels a little like the first fulfillments of an important promise. Here is an unpretentious, funny, and even pretty little book, taking an often satirical aim at the nastiest of Trump’s early policies—the so-called Muslim Ban—and the culture that has allowed it to fester. Edited by Lynn Gaspard, publisher at Saqi Books, it features eclectic works from 34 contributors across a variety of medias, from art and photography to short fiction, memoir, and what should best be described as miscellaneous comedy.
If compilations of this kind can sometimes be inconsistent, Don’t Panic, I’m Islamic manages to maintain a remarkable standard throughout, marred solely by the odd bout of banality. Amid colorful artworks and cartoons, the pieces oscillate between comedic and serious tones—the last peppered with occasional hints of tragedy—making for an unusual, and more rewarding, reading experience. Highlights include Arwa Mahdawi’s guide to extreme vetting, Omar Hamdi’s fake academic study (which finds that Islam isn’t a religion, but a “useful identity”), and Amrou Al-Kadhi’s account of how he learned the “queer art of drag” from his devout Iraqi family. Meanwhile, the likes of Leila Aboulela, with her short story “Majed,” and Hassan Abdulrazzak with “Tuesday’s Child,” offer darker themes in the form of alcoholism and psychosis. The reader will appreciate the breadth of topics on offer.
If Moris Farhi’s fantasy story “Of Dolphin Children and Leviathans,” in honor of Hrant Dink (the Turkish journalist was murdered ten years ago), is perhaps the most unexpected piece of writing in the book, my heart goes to comedian Negin Farsad’s memoir-ish essay “My Own People Don’t Like Me Very Much.” It is an insightful, funny effort on growing up foreign in the United States, which I, from the heights of my own New York upbringing, couldn’t help but find necessary. Yes: peoples and cultures are never remotely close to what caricatures, or other forms of disguised ignorance, make of them… that is, I suppose, with the exception of the toffee mop in the White House. But then again that’s the problem, isn’t it?
Don’t Panic, I’m Islamic is out everywhere now, and launching in London next week with a one-off comedy show featuring a few of the book’s contributors. Which just about sounds like the way every book should be launched, really.
DON’T PANIC, I’M ISLAMIC:
Words and Pictures on How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Alien Next Door
192pp. | $18.95 | £12.99
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.