As winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Literature, V.S. Naipaul has many claims on our attention. Here we take up only one: Naipaul's treatment of religion.

In his 1981 book, Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey, his 1998 book, Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Conquered Peoples, and many other writings, Naipaul has issued some of the most unsparing accounts of the contemporary Islamic world anywhere on record. "I was interested in these convert societies," Naipaul said in an August 2001 interview in the Literary Review. In Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, and Pakistan, he says, "history now begins in Arabia. It's as though they have no history before the coming of Islam." Nor does Naipaul limit himself to Islam's modern face. He has said that centuries of Muslim rule crushed India's Hindu civilization.

The Reuters story reporting Naipaul's Nobel discreetly avoided any mention of Islam. "Naipaul's views of religion"—note the generic term—"have raised some eyebrows," Reuters said:

"If you follow the whole oeuvre of Naipaul, he is very critical of all religions," Academy board member Per Wastberg told Reuters. "He considers religion as the scourge of humanity, which dampens down our fantasies and our lust to think and experiment."

In fact, as we'll see, Naipaul's view of religion is more complex than Wastberg suggests. But the missing subtext in the Reuters story is Naipaul's scathing critique of Islam. The timing of the award has suggested to many observers that the Nobel committee chose to honor Naipaul (long regarded as a strong candidate for the prize) this year in response to the events of September 11. At the same time, Wastberg's comments and remarks by other committee members indicate that the Swedish Academy wants ...

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