Convicted criminals and even convicted terrorists do significant intellectual work (think of Antonio Negri, co-author of the acclaimed Empire). Still, it took me aback, as the Sami Al-Arian trial is underway, to receive a serious volume of essays, Islamic Thought in the Twentieth Century, co-edited by a defendant in that trial. Basheer M. Nafi's name comes up all the time in the court hearings. (For a selection of news items on the trial that pertain to Middle East studies, see the Campus Watch page on the University of South Florida.) Specifically, he is charged with "conspiracy to murder, maim or injure persons outside the United States."
In this book, Nafi (for brief bios, see here and here), of course does his best to sanitize radical Islam. Here is the conclusion (on p. 34) to his discussion of Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab (1703-92), the thinker whose work still inspires the Wahhabi movement.
Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab's acute recovery of the creed of tawhid, with its liberating force, from the heavy burden of the dense Islamic traditions propelled the appeal of the Wahhabi enterprise well beyond the traditional and Sufi counter-response and Ottoman political and military reactions.
Elsewhere in the volume, writing with his co-editor, Nafi calls Hasan al-Turabi, the man who, as I put it in 1992 (to his face) "helped turn a poor country in the throes of a decades-long civil war into one of the most wretched places on the planet," one of the "most illustrious Muslim intellectuals of the twentieth century." And so on.
Comments: (1) How can a self-respecting academic press, in this case I.B. Tauris, publish a book co-edited by an accused terrorist who remains on the lam? (2) I await the reviews of Islamic Thought in the Twentieth Century with interest, expecting that not a single one will make reference to Nafi's circumstances. (August 19, 2005)
Aug. 23, 2005 update: I did not have long to wait. The Asia Times columnist who goes by the pseudonym Spengler in today's issue respectfully cites "the Islamists Suha Taji-Farouki and Basheer M Nafi" on the topic of radical Islam's demographics. There's nary a word about Nafi's being under indictment for supporting terrorism.
Aug. 30, 2005 update: "Spengler" gracefully acknowledges this entry in a note appended to his column today and concludes:
I did not know of the accusations against Nafi before reading Pipes' comment, but should have Googled him before citing him. In retrospect, I am not surprised. The Muslim intellectuals who best understand the demographic and social predicament of Islam are more likely than anyone else to employ violence to achieve theocracy while there is still time.
To which I reply that Spengler is too hard on himself and taking on too much responsibility; writers cannot check the biographies of each person they cite. But it is important that the word get out that the U.S. government considers the co-editor of a seemingly respectable academic study to be an accessory to murder.