At this moment of sequester and belt-tightening, the U.S. government has delivered a reading list on Islam.
The National Endowment for the Humanities has joined with two private foundations, Carnegie and Duke, to fund "Muslim Journeys," a project that aims to present "new and diverse perspectives on the people, places, histories, beliefs, practices, and cultures of Muslims in the United States and around the world." Its main component is the "Muslim Journeys Bookshelf," a selection of 25 books and 3 films on Islam sent to nearly 1,000 libraries as well as a website and some other activities. Marvin Olasky, who brought this project to public attention, estimates the whole project cost about US$1 million.
As one of the taxpayers who unwittingly contributed to this project as well as the compiler of my own bibliography on Islam and the Middle East, I take interest in the 25 books NEH selected for glory, spreading them around the country.
Softness characterizes its list: the 25 books quietly ignore current headlines so as to accentuate the attractive side of Islamic civilization, especially its medieval expression, and gently promote the Islam religion. It's not so exuberant an exercise as the British 1976 World of Islam Festival, described at the time as "a unique cultural event that … was no less than an attempt to present one civilization—in all its depth and variety—to another." But then, how can one aspire to such grandeur with all that's happened in the intervening years?
NEH's list and mine do share minor commonalities: for example, one author (the Moroccan writer Fatima Mernissi) and one series (the Very Short Introductions series issued by Oxford University Press).