LETTER: Islam isn't all black and white

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The Independent Online
Sir: I am surprised that you continue to give prominence in your pages to the divisive views of Conor Cruise O'Brien ("The lesson of Algeria: Islam is indivisible", 6 January). Frustrated by the failure of the peace process in Northern Ireland to break down as early as he predicted, he seizes on recent events in Algeria to warn your readers that all Muslims, following Muhammad's instructions, are bent on a war for world domination.

Dr O'Brien is typical of Cold War intellectuals who, nourished for too long on binary oppositions, now crave the restoration of a world of absolute categories lined up in convenient pairs.

Anyone who suggests that all human beings are alike in some ways, that categories are always internally differentiated or that contrasts can often be blurred is dismissed as woolly-minded. Yet it is in this complexity that hope for a world society freed of ruinous polarisation lies.

No doubt Dr O'Brien, frustrated again by the failure of race war to break out in South Africa, would describe Nelson Mandela's non-racial political experiment as "woolly, ecumenism", while advising your readers that the world really is black and white.

Yours faithfully, KEITH HART Director, African Studies Centre University of Cambridge Cambridge 6 January

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