Radical Skin, Moderate Masks explores a voice trapped by the War on Terror. How can a Muslim speak about politics? And, in what tone can they argue? In today's climate can they "talk back" without being defined as a moderate or radical? And, what do the conditions put on their political choices reveal about liberalism and its deep and historical relationship with racism? This timely work looks at ongoing debates and how they call for Muslims to engage in a "de-radicalisation" of their voice and identities. The author takes his lessons from Fanon and uses them to make sense of his many readings of Said's Orientalism. He reflects on the personal and scholarly difficulty of writing this very book. An autoethnography follows. It shows (rather than tells of) the felt demand to use a pleasing "Apollonian" liberalism. This approved language, however, erases a Muslim's ability to talk about the "Dionysian" more Asiatic parts of their faith and politics.
I. INTRODUCTION. بِسْمِ اللهِ/ 1. (My Other) Research Question / 2. Background (or the Muslim’s psychic register) to Question / 3. (My auto-ethnographic) Method, Outline & Objectives / II. FABULOUS / 4. Introducing (the First Act or) Case Study One / 5. (The “Fabulous” Mask of) Waleed Aly / 6. Finding(s) in Case Study One (the First Orientalism) / III. MILITANT / 7. Introducing (the Second Act or) Case Study Two / 8. (The “Militant” Mask of) Hamza Yusuf / 9. Finding(s) in Case Study Two (the Second Orientalism) / IV. TRIUMPHANT / 10. Introducing (the Third Act or) Case Study Three / 11. (The “Triumphant” Mask of) Maajid Nawaz / 12. Finding(s) in Case Study Three (the Third Orientalism) / V. CONCLUSION / 13. Social (Ir)relevance of Research / 14. (Questioning my) Contribution / 15. (The lack of a) Conclusion (or the Möbius strip) /Bibliography
“Look, a Muslim!” Thus Yassir Morsi brilliantly recasts Franz Fanon (and Edward Said), offering in Radical Skin, Moderate Masks a dense, searching and daring piece of writing. This remarkable auto-ethnography takes upon itself the impossible task of correcting “the ugly image of a violent Islam.” Without illusions and without cynicism, Morsi confronts the image. He scrutinizes the voices and faces, the gestures and the dress, the masks and the contortions of those called upon to speak, respond, reassure and assuage, disprove, condemn, apologize, vanish, affirm, confirm, defend, figure and disfigure themselves and others in the media or in the museum, in public or in private, in books and in performances. This is an urgent and welcoming book, a powerful and exemplary iteration of the imperative to “know thyself.”
Morsi brings a unique voice to contemporary international debates around Islamophobia and politics. In a refreshing approach, Radical Skin, Moderate Masks traces at the core of Western society two opposing forces (Apollonian and Dionysian) that guide how Islamophobia shapes the political present and Muslim subjectivity. Through a series of fragmentary reflections, Morsi assembles cultural scenes, events and texts into a powerful meditation on how the post-racial is intimately tied to the present condition of Muslims.
Radical Skin, Moderate Masks is an incisive analysis of how the War on Terror produces the Muslim as radical Other, then summons Muslims in the West to prove themselves otherwise – an impossible demand. It is equally an unflinching portrayal of the “moderates” who must live in that trap. Sparing no-one, not even himself, Morsi’s book is a ferocious, lyrical, no-holds-barred auto-ethnography in the finest Fanonian tradition.
Whilst my journey to remove my “moderate mask” and reveal my “radical skin” to liberate myself from the claws of structural racism, Islamophobia, and whiteness only began properly in mid-2015, what Morsi’s book has done is empowered and inspired me to increase the speed with which I travel. This sense of empowerment and inspiration it therefore gives the reader makes Radical Skin, Moderate Masks a book that will remain relevant and relatable for Muslims and people of colour for many years to come.
Yassir Morsi lectures in Politics and Philosophy at La Trobe University, Australia. He is a regular contributor to The Guardian.