A Shi’ite skinhead and his female punk-hippie partner in crime abduct a movie star to threaten Hollywood into making films in which Muslims don’t all appear to be bearded, blood-thirsty terrorist meat puppets. “Just one movie where we’re not these two-dimensional Al-Qaeda stereotypes,” the Amazing Ayyub insists, keeping Matt Damon for ransom. The actor negotiates for reason with the kidnappers, though, trying to convince them they have played into the media and government’s hands by using antagonistic force.
Michael Muhammed Knight is the author of this story, titled Osama Van Halen, which is just out from Soft Skull Press. It’s Knight’s most elegantly provocative book, mixing the surreal elements of his own marginalized life (son of a paranoid schizophrenic and white supremacist, the most prominent literary voice for American Muslim punks) with a newfound venom for the plastic consumer’s prison around us.
Knight first made an impression with The Taqwacores, a short novel about extreme progressive young men and women living in a Muslim-punk group house in New York, mixing up this generation’s embittered iconoclasts with those of fierce hope-based faith in the same raging gutters. “Sex, dope, and religion” was enough of a combination to get Knight praised highly everywhere from Maximum Rocknroll to Newsweek (“A manifesto for the Muslim punk movement”), and also gotten his work set upon by the hounds of censorship.
That first novel inspired Knight to write his memoir “Impossible Man,” where he explicitly showed how his violent redneck upbringing squeezed him into provoking authority, and submitting to a higher love. His writing is as thoughtful as his lifestyle has been tenacious, which has led him to be both poet and teacher of the underground.
Soft Skull has published all these books, and they’re all outstanding in their own ways. Knight knows New York, Hip-Hop, punk rock, the Sufi faith, riot grrrls, and other mystical spaces enough that the Taqwacores is going to be a movie soon, and I can’t imagine Osama Van Halen won’t be soon to follow, perhaps starring Matt Damon himself (hint, suggestion).