BEYOND BELIEF

CLASSIC NONFICTION BY V.S. NAIPAUL

Penguin Books, 1998
ISBN 014-027935-0
In Beyond Belief, a travel sequel to Among the Believers, V.S. Naipaul reminisces about his excursions among the converted peoples and the real life stories collected in four Islamic countries: Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran and Malaysia.
         Beyond Belief reiterates a major theme: Political philosophy cannot and should not be combined with the religious faith. The confluence of Islamic faith that Mr. Naipaul observes has done little to alter the living standards of people. In Iran, for instance, a country dominated by mountain ranges, deserts and the ideas of extremist fundamentalism and faith, the revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini in the name of religion not only failed to uplift the country but shelled the young and innocent Iranians to death. They became forced-martyrs.
         The peoples of the Islamic countries, according to Mr. Naipaul, were poor, fragmented, backward, dispirited and confused. Neither the advocates of the religion nor the rulers of the state could bring them a positive difference. Even the benefits of science could not protrude the dark spots of these countries.
         Beyond Belief is a compilation of interviews, interspersed by the author’s remarks and judgments. The book is not entirely unbiased. One could almost listen to anti-Islamic thoughts of the author, not in whispers, not hidden but in shouts, revealed.
         The book can mislead the wider non-Islamic readership into the belief that Islam is a backward religion, that Islam advocates terrorism and religious fanaticism, that Islamic peoples are averse to progress and lead miserable lives, that they have no forethought, that they are incapable of competing with the rest of the world. The book fans the already dominant opinion of many that behind every turbaned Muslim, there lives a potential suspect, a terrorist.
         Mr. Naipaul’s narration is at times pretentious, especially in the concluding paragraphs about the landscapes of Iran. Why should Mr. Naipaul use the standards of the West as a comparative scale when there is little in common between the two?
         Mr. Naipaul’s deductions are the result of mere observation and self-taught theories which turn out to be incorrect. What we expect from Mr. Naipaul, a powerful representative voice of the Third World, is a deeper enquiry, a search below the surface and into the truth.
         It is possible, going by the ethics of Beyond Belief to visit a country, select men and women at random, interview them and gather enough material to create a book that supports your pre-formed hypothesis. Though Mr. Naipaul cautions his readers not to arrive at any conclusions based on his work,—how is that possible?—it is easier to jump than to think.
         It is illogical to resort to random sampling as a method to categorize people. Peoples cannot be categorized; their behavior cannot be predicted.
         History has taught us that hatred towards a particular community is a dangerous feeling capable of eliciting horrifying consequences. We have terrible accounts of brutality, genocides, and annihilations, resulting out of the feeling of hatred. It is better to be uneducated than to be ill-educated.
         To discover the reality of the Islamic societies hidden behind the giant purdah, vulnerable to be perfectly misunderstood, we need to be willing to travel beyond our accumulated beliefs. We may, then, witness dejected and innocent peoples, struggling to tear from their past, yearning sincerely to embrace an unrealized dream—peace.