For a memoir of the child of an abusive, Satanically-obsessed schizophrenic absentee father whose youthful obsession with professional wrestling indirectly leads him to convert to Islam, Impossible Man is surprisingly boring. Knight has been touted as the Hunter S. Thompson of Islamic literature, but Hunter Thompson was always funny, whereas Knight’s prose, while definitely solid, is pretty consistently humourless.
His first introduction to Islam comes in high school through Public Enemy and the autobiography of Malcolm X, but for some reason his sharp and relentless criticism of White Christian America is never applied to the various countercultures he passes through on his journey of self-discovery. He’s certainly very intelligent, but one wonders why he’s so credulous when learning about anything except what he’s been taught, particularly since there’s so little resistance from his family and friends to his new life’s purpose.
Reading Impossible Man, one always expects that Knight will fall in with radical Islamists before coming to his senses, and the cover copy certainly suggests that, but it never really happens–to his credit, both Knight and his teachers in Pakistan recognize immediately that a Palestinian preacher who cites the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is “insane,” and when teenage Knight asks to go from Pakistan to a certain Middle Eastern madrassa, his teacher vetoes the idea, warning that the people in that place would turn him into a terrorist.
Given the mostly positive experiences that Knight has with Islam, and the complete support and cooperation of his mother in his religious quest, it’s even more puzzling what makes him turn apostate–at least partly, though he still considers himself Muslim–soon after his return to America. The book is worth a read, but I think that it’s the novelty of Knight’s image as “Punk Rock Muslim” that’s going to sell it, rather than any lessons that he actually learned on his journey. (Richard Rosenbaum)
by Michael Muhammad Knight, Soft Skull Press, $15.95, 336 pgs, 19 West 21st Suite 1101, New York NY, 10010, USA