Carlos Fraenkel writes:
Salman Rushdie’s latest novel is a version of The Arabian Nights – two years, eight months and 28 nights adds up to 1001 of them. But it’s updated in every way. The climax, set in present-day New York, is an apocalyptic battle between reason and unreason, good and evil, light and darkness, with all the bells and whistles of a Hollywood blockbuster – X-Men, The Avengers, Star Wars, to name a few of the movies and comic books Rushdie nods to. Rushdie’s stand-in for Scheherazade is, of all people, the great 12th-century Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushd, better known in the West as Averroes, a commentator on Aristotle and one of the last representatives of falsafa – the grand philosophical tradition of medieval Islam – in Muslim Spain. In Rushdie’s retelling, Ibn Rushd’s commitment to ‘reason, logic and science’ got him into trouble with the ‘Berber fanatics who were spreading like a pestilence across Arab Spain’. They ‘disgraced’ him ‘on account of his liberal ideas’ and ‘burned’ his writings. The clash between reason and fanaticism – mostly of the Muslim variety, though Catholic bigotry and Hindu nationalism are sniffed at as well – is at the heart of the novel; fanaticism, with its punishing God, is for Rushdie (quoting the inscription on an etching by Goya) the monster that ‘fantasy’ breeds when ‘abandoned by reason’.