Preface

The long night of the title is a sleepless night I spent in Kuala Lumpur trying to unravel the enigma of the ubiquitous presence of a matching pair of Arabic names: a diptych both symbolising a creed and embodying its own antithesis. The resolution of that dilemma marked the dawn and end of the forty-year-long night I had spent under the spell of the crescent moon.{1}

The discourses are a collection of my letters, essays and aphorisms written in Edinburgh and Indonesia in recent years. They describe a thought journey returning from that of a liberal Muslim apologist back to the agnosticism of my adolescence. The world events I encountered on that journey helped me to realise that consumerism and religion were nothing more than twin wreckers; using the false lights of fear and hope to lead the human species onto the rocks of terror and apathy. What was needed was for the beacons of intelligent anger and gratitude to be re-lit and humanity steered back on its proper evolutionary course: the development of thought itself.

The idea behind this collection is to show how I have been thinking and how my thoughts have changed over recent years. I want the chance to record my thoughts and observations in a more permanent, collected and public way than would be possible in private correspondence and in the ephemera of news media.

I grew up in London and became a Muslim in my late teens. I believe that, from a long experience of both Muslim and secular perspectives I can bring an authoritative insight into the current debate about the rise of Islam and global capitalism, the divergence of world views and the roots of current and potential conflict. I hope this collection may also be useful for those who have their own dilemmas of belief as well as for those who are concerned about the challenges of freedom of expression, multiculturalism and the promotion of critical thought.

I have been extremely fortunate in having very patient friends with whom I could rant and rave to my heart’s content. From time to time I have taken my fury to the letters’ editors and online comments sections of The Guardian, The Jakarta Post and the BBC. I owe them all a huge debt of gratitude.

I am also most grateful to my friends who have patiently and kindly agreed to read over my meanderings and point out some of the many misplaced hyphens, dashes and missing apostrophes as well as some of the umpteen incongruities, repetitions and over-complexities. I have given them such an immense task that there are bound to be plenty of errors and ghastly passages left. For readers who are irked by them I offer my sincere apologies in advance.

I hope my friends will not mind if, in acknowledging my debt to them, I do not mention them by name. I respect their privacy and see no reason to drag them unwillingly into the limelight with me. I do not think that failing to mention people’s names (which would be meaningless to most readers) in any way diminishes the expression of my gratitude to them.

A large proportion of this work consists of personal letters and letters intended for publication. It is important for me to explain the conventions I have used.

What I reproduce are my letters and not, with a few noteworthy exceptions, those of my correspondents. To reproduce our correspondence in full might be interesting, but it would distract from the intention of the book. This is my book and I am the sole author. The result will inevitably seem one-sided. To attempt to redress that gap, and to try to put the letters in context I have added italicised comments.

I have included some of the letters of my principal correspondent with her kind consent. They are so apt and witty that, I’m sure most readers would agree, I would be a complete Philistine if I were not to include them. I have italicised them to distinguish their authorship.

I have edited the personal letters slightly to anonymise my correspondents and other non-public figures and to remove purely personal matters not of general interest.

Letters written to the media for publication are usually altered when they are published. Letters to The Jakarta Post, for example, are changed to US spelling and most letters are shortened. Where I still had the originals, I have reproduced the letters that I sent to the media rather than the edited version they actually printed. I claim the luxury, in my own book, of saying what I originally wanted to say.

Readers with time on their hands are free, of course, to search the websites of the relevant media if they want to see the published versions. Where letters were not published I have said so. I have given the date of publication where they were published, the date of writing where they were not.

Short replies to online discussion groups have been included under the
noms de plume used. I have otherwise referred to my correspondents anonymously.

I originally intended to combine both correspondence and essays in one chronology since I wanted to show the development of my thought. My friends have advised me that doing it that way makes for difficult reading. Some essays are heavier than others and the mood and style writing to different correspondents is necessarily different. The discourses are meant to be dipped into and separating the work into categories might help people suit their browsing to their mood.

Other friends have pointed out that a collection of essays and letters is rather an old fashioned idea. Many people get their ideas across in the form of a novel, enticing the reader with thrills and romance and building empathy through character development. Lecturing the reader with the author’s point of view can be tiresome and boring.

Authors of novels are often at pains to point out that they have written works of fiction. They may be based on the authors’ own experiences but writing fiction gives them the chance to play around with facts and real people and to invent events and characters to suit their plots.

Being an awkward cuss, I thought I would write a novel and this collection and combine them in the same tome. Of course I am aware that this would cause trouble for libraries and publishers in deciding how to categorise A Long Night. It is also breaking the writers’ equivalent of The Magic Circle by allowing the reader to see how fiction is manufactured from fact. The schadenfreude of upsetting box-fillers is, of course, not my main motive. I want the reader to share and enjoy my journey whichever way they like most. Trevor/Farid is a fictional character but, of course, he is based heavily on me and his thought journey is pretty similar.

The two plates, scanned or photographic reproductions of works by Vincent van Gogh and William-Adolphe Bouguereau, were downloaded from Wikipedia. They are claimed to be in the public domain or to be subject to a GNU free documentation licence. The original artists died more than 70 years ago.

 I thoroughly recommend readers who are able to do so to download high resolution images of Bouguereau’s works. They have brought me immense pleasure and I cannot thank highly enough all those who have made them accessible.