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Almost Human [DVD]
Almost Human [DVD]
Dvd ~ Joe Begos
Price: £5.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Xtro-lite., 18 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Almost Human [DVD] (DVD)
When I was a budding young horror fan one of the very first 18-rated videos I managed to persuade my parents to buy for me was an especially nasty British Alien rip-off titled Xtro. That film told the tale of a father who was abducted by aliens, only to be returned in an altered form years later. His mission was to retrieve his son, and to perhaps to begin the colonisation of the planet with more of his own kind (the film was hazy on the details). Xtro found a minor cult following over the years due to its grotesque and memorable images, such as a woman giving birth to a fully grown man, an evil clown, a murderous life-size action man-style doll and an inexplicable panther - all of which are explained away via the father's psychic alien powers.

Almost Human follows an extremely similar path to Xtro, but ditches much of the surreal and grotesque elements that made Xtro so memorable.

Taken on its own terms the movie isn't too bad. The acting is consistently impressive, and the first few minutes make for a captivating and tense opening act. However, with that having been said, there's no getting around the fact that there really isn't all that much material to sustain the film till its grisly finale, meaning that Almost Human tends to feel a tad stretched. Whereas Xtro would throw in one of its random set pieces every so often to keep things moving along, Almost Human has to strain for suspense. Unfortunately, when it does finally pull out all the stops towards the end the film just winds up being silly rather than scary.

Bottom line: this low budget horror film certainly isn't bad, but it's really not worth rushing out to see either. If you're an undemanding horror fan who feels like seeing a reboot of Xtro then you might want to give it a look. Otherwise, don't make it a priority.

Guilty Crown Series 1 Part 1 (Eps 01-11) [DVD]
Guilty Crown Series 1 Part 1 (Eps 01-11) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ai Kayano
Price: £20.61

3.0 out of 5 stars A very mixed bag, but mostly entertaining., 26 Oct. 2014
Guilty Crown is one of the most lazily written, derivative and nonsensical anime series that I've seen in recent times. But, with all of that having been said, it still somehow manages to be consistently unpredictable and entertaining throughout. Sure, every part of this series has been stolen from somewhere else, and granted many of the pieces don't click together very well, but that's part of Guilty Crown's anarchic charm; it really is all over the place, and I defy anyone to predict some of the bizarre turns the story takes later on! Also to the show's credit is the lovely artwork and music, as well as the dub (it's from Production IG, and was released by Funimation, so all of that is a bit of a given.)

If you're an undemanding anime fan who doesn't mind wading through all of the usual clichés for the zillionth time then this series is definitely worth a look - though it really shouldn't be a priority with so many other great shows on the market at the moment. It's fun, but not fantastic.

A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History
A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History
Price: £10.44

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A troublesome book, 21 Sept. 2014
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Wade's provocative new book is curiously schizophrenic. The first half is a detailed and fascinating, while the second half is no less interesting, but far less rigorous. In all fairness, the author does warn the readers what to expect in advance:

"Readers should be aware that in chapters 6 through 10 they are leaving the world of hard science and entering into a much more speculative arena at the interface of history, economics and human evolution." (paperback edition, P15)

Well, quite. This mostly boils down to Wade repeatedly asserting that the stability of different social institutions is indicative of an underlying genetic basis:

"…in situations where culture and political institutions can flow freely across borders, long enduring disparities are harder to explain. The brisk and continuing pace of human evolution suggests a new possibility: that at the root of each civilization is a particular set of evolved social behaviours that sustain it, and these behaviours are reflected in the society’s institutions. Institutions are not just sets of arbitrary rules. Rather, they grow out of instinctual social behaviours, such as the propensity to trust others, to follow rules and punish those who don’t, to engage in reciprocity and trade, or to take up arms against neighboring groups. Because these behaviors vary lightly from society to the next as the result of evolutionary pressure, so too may the institutions that depend on them." (P13-14)

Or as he puts it elsewhere:

"Institutional continuity that extends over many centuries, and over millennia in the case of China, may thus reflect the stability provided by the institutions’ genetic components. One indication of such a genetic effect is that, if institutions were purely cultural, it should be easy to transfer an institution from one society to another. But American institutions do not transplant so easily to tribal societies like Iraq or Afghanistan. Conversely, the institutions of a tribal society would not work in the United States – indeed, many of them would be illegal – even if Americans could figure out what tribe they belonged to." (P127)

And again:

"The social institutions of the four civilizations had considerable inertia, meaning that they changed very slowly over time. Institutions that endure for many generations are strong candidates for being rooted in a genetically framed social behavior that maintains their stability." (P147)

Wade is sometimes shy (or just plain cautious) about spelling out the implications of this idea, but every so often he will drop some clues:

"Variations in human social behavior and in the institutions that embody it have far-reaching consequences. Developmental economists long ago learned that it is not just lack of capital or resources that keeps countries poor. Billions of dollars’ worth of aid have been poured into Africa in the past half century with little impact on the standard of living. Countries like Iraq are rich in oil, but their citizens are poor. And countries with no resources, like Singapore, are rich.” (P148)

Wade then goes on to write, “What makes societies rich or poor is to a great extent their human capital” (ibid.) One needn’t be a devout follower of PC orthodoxy in order to see something subversive and sinister in the above paragraph, given the racialised context.

It must have taken some serious cajones to write those words. It will also take some rather serious evidence to justify them. So how does Wade fare? Well, Wade is consistently reductivistic on historical, economic and sociological issues, but he does nonetheless manage to include at least one eye-opening section (P50-57) which, firstly, highlights the role of the hormone Oxytocin in creating trust (but doesn't relate the findings to the issue of race), before then moving on to discuss the role of the MAO-A gene in regulating aggression (which he does place in a racial context.) These are intriguing asides in themselves, and at least provide some serious food for thought. However, wade is quick to acknowledge that these findings are anything but conclusive – they simply provide some a priori support to the idea that there could be important genetic factors to consider on these matters. As the point stands, it provides very little direct support for his grand socio-biological thesis, but it should at least help to challenge those of us who tend to underplay the role of genetics in human affairs.

Naturally, Wade’s critics will (correctly) point out that the author has moved well beyond the bounds of the available evidence to make his case – something that Wade himself acknowledges. They will also (again, correctly) charge that his speculations could provide cover for the most sinister and retrograde social agendas. Despite Wade’s casual dismissal of such fears, I think that his critics would be right to be alarmed and concerned.

What, then, is to be done about this book and the issues it raises? Should it be dismissed or discussed? That question might prove more divisive even than the deeply flawed but interesting book that it’s addressing.

Noriko's Dinner Table [DVD] [2005] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Noriko's Dinner Table [DVD] [2005] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Kazue Fukiishi

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but perhaps not what you're expecting., 14 Mar. 2014
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In recent years Japanese auteur Sion Sono has made quite a name for himself among cinema buffs. His films tend to gravitate around the theme of self-destructive alienation. In that regard Norikio's Dinner Table is perhaps the quintessential Sono film, incorporating and emphasising this theme, as well as telling it's tale in a typically bloody and cryptic fashion.

Before I get into the plot synopsis I should probably address the issue of how this film relates to Sono's earlier Suicide Club. Is this movie a sequel, or a prequel, or what? Well, some of the events in this film do take place before those of Suicide Club, but there are just as many that take place afterwards. In this sense, the film might be thought of as a companion piece that expands the world of its predecessor in either direction. However, it should also be noted that this film has only a very loose relation to Suicide Club, so if the viewer is expecting this film to answer all (or even any) of those niggling questions that the previous film left hanging... then they'll be disappointed. If anything Noriko's Dinner Table raises even more questions than before. One gets the impression that the director had an original idea for a film in mind, but he found himself pressured into capitalising on the success of his earlier hit, and as a result he wound up half-heartedly re-jiggng his idea to connect the two. The result is a curious chimera that only bares a very tangential relation to its precursor. It's a very contrived connection, at that. One would have to look long and hard to find a more obvious case of ret-conning. So, as a companion piece to Suicide Club the film is frankly quite lacklustre. On the other hand, if you can bring yourself to approach the film as a stand-alone work then you might be pleasantly surprised and challenged.

The film is about a teenage girl (the eponymous Noriko) running away from home to live in Tokyo. Once there she gets involved with a surrogate family that's more like a cult. This group makes a living by acting out various roles for their customers. So, for example, a widower might wish to be "reunited" with his dead wife for an evening. That's where Noriko and her new friends come in. The only trouble is that when one spends all their time involved in these acts it can become difficult to distinguish truth from fiction, and little by little Noriko finds her original identity eclipsed by her new personas. Meanwhile, her dad sets out to find her - an investigation that results in him being drawn into the mysterious world of the so-called "Suicide Club"...

Overall, this is another audacious and thoughtful film from Sono, but one that is likely to confound the expectations of anyone who goes in expecting a straight-up horror film like Suicide Club (also, please be aware that this movie is a full hour longer than that movie, so some extra commitment will be required from the viewer.) If you're a fan of the director's other, equally idiosyncratic, work then you will most likely find much to love in this sincere and personal film - but everybody else would do well to approach the title with some caution.

Meat Market: Female Flesh Under Capitalism
Meat Market: Female Flesh Under Capitalism
by Laurie Penny
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not terrible, but too sloppy to really recommend., 12 Mar. 2014
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First things first. I'm a man who's fairly sympathetic to the feminist cause. There are a few polemics in the genre which I wouldn't hesitate to give rave reviews to. This isn't one of them though.

I appreciate that this book isn't intended to be the final word on the subject. I'm fine with that. There are many modest little books that are effective precisely because of their focus and directness. With all of that having been said, there's still no getting around the fact that the rhetoric in this book is consistently sloppy. Sometimes this carelessness reaches the point where even sympathetic readers will have trouble taking the author seriously.

Things don't get off to a great start when the author declares, on the very first page, that:

" in five women in Britain and America is a victim of rape"
(Penny, Laurie (2011); Meat Market: Female Flesh Under Capitalism; Zero Books; Winchester, UK and Washington, USA; P1)

That's quite an astonishing statistic right there, and one that I personally find a little difficult to swallow. Unfortunately, Penny doesn't help matters here, seeing as she omits to include a source for her numbers. I would like to know how large the samples for this study/survey were and where they were found. I'm guessing that there's an interesting back-story to this shibboleth. Still, I will have to concede that in the absence of an actual source to look up my suspicions will have to remain precisely that. Suspicions, and nothing more.

This wouldn't be the last time that Penny set off my warning alarms though. In one of her most dumbfounding chapters she addresses the unjust division of household labour:

"There is a word for what happens when you trap someone within the confines of a house and make them work for no reward for generations and tell them they they're good for nothing else. There's a word for what happens when generations of children of both sexes are raised in environments underpinned by resentment and the control dynamics essential to getting women's work done for nothing. There's a word for what happens when home and work in the home becomes indelibly associated with self-negation, abuse and stifled rage, and the word is trauma. The entirety of Western society is still traumatized by our complex relationship to the economics of domestic labour. No family truly escapes."
(Ibid. P50)

Well, that's a bit much but it's not entirely off the mark. If she toned down the melodrama a tad and included a few substantial qualifiers then we'd be close to agreeing. Unfortunately, she goes on to further muddy the water by bringing in the issue of immigrant labour:

"...nearly all cleaners, childminders and nannies are female, and a large proportion are foreign-born, either legal or illegal migrants. Western women's despair at the very point of asking our male relatives to do their bit, our unwillingness to challenge the system at its root, is such that an entire generation has been willing to simply hand down their oppression to poor, migrant and ethnic minority women."
(ibid. P61)

Firstly, one might wonder in what sense these jobs could be legitimately called "oppression", considering that the alternative is unemployment or any number of even shadier and less legal occupations. What, pray tell, does Penny think these workers would be doing if they were liberated from their oppressive employment..? One cannot broach the topic of immigration without also grappling with the issue of global poverty. What, precisely, does Penny have in mind as a solution to this perennial challenge, and how would we realistically go about implementing her plan?

But wait a tick - she isn't finished yet. Having seamlessly segued into the issue of immigrant workers and the horrors of human trafficking, she launches into this bizarre rant:

"It would be soothing to think that the wealthy men and women employing these unfortunate women are largely ignorant of their plight, but this is not the case. In Westernised areas of the Middle East such as Dubai, the burning of domestics' passports is routine - and illegal residence in the country is punishable by death. In 2007, a wealthy couple from Muttontown, New York, were convicted of enslaving and torturing two Indonesian women who were brought to their mansion to work as housekeepers, and similar cases have come to light across the United States since federal anti-trafficking laws were brought into force in the year 2000. Across the world, disgusting damage is inflicted by our unwillingness to confront our terror of gender-specified drudgery."

Oh boy. Read that last line again. Is that really the first thing that springs to mind when you read everything that preceded it? And what's this about Dubai being "Westernised"? Is she seriously claiming that this is the reason for the atrocities that occur there (y'know, because passport burning and capital punishment for illegal immigrants is so common over here!) And as for people murdering their housekeepers... Just, wow. How on earth did we get here? We started off with men being criticised for not doing their fair share of the housework, and now they're being blamed for seemingly everything under the sun. Men won't do the housework, and that's why Dubai's ruling family and police are so ruthless, and why those guys in New York were psychopaths. If only men would wash the dishes then everything would be fine. Sure.

Need I mention that implicit in the notion of a division of labour is the acknowledgement that it is, indeed, labour? People (especially single people) with money, no matter how progressive and egalitarian, might still decide to invest in workers to deal with these unpleasant tasks. This will be the case even if there's no pressure on women to shoulder the burden alone.

Penny presents us with plenty of other wild claims to gawp at (did you know that a sizeable number of men are terrified of women with large breasts? -p32) but in all fairness I should admit that I did nonetheless find many parts that I roughly agreed with too. It's just that it's all been argued more persuasively elsewhere.

Even if you're sympathetic to the feminist cause and have an interest in the topic of women under capitalism, it's still safe to give this book a miss.

Rifftrax: Santa & The Ice Cream Bunny [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Rifftrax: Santa & The Ice Cream Bunny [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Bill Corbett
Offered by supermart_usa
Price: £1.19

4.0 out of 5 stars Manos redux!, 28 Jan. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
It's difficult to know quite how to rate a film like this one. First things first: this is a bad film. An uncommonly bad film. Indeed, an unbelievably, mind-bogglingly, brain-damagingly bad film. For fans of Rifftrax and MST3K that alone might be recommendation enough. This one can easily stand toe to toe with Manos.

The thing is that for all its awfulness, this movie doesn't really belong in the "so bad it's good" bracket. At least, not for the most part. Nine tenths of the film are pure teeth-gnashing torture. Make no mistake about that. If you watch this DVD, you're going to suffer. The Rifftrax guys try valiantly to make light of the situation and to protect the sanity of the viewers, but they were doomed from the start. This is one war that they never could have won. Game over man, game over.

But then, in the final 10 or so minutes a miracle happens and suddenly you're watching THE FUNNIEST DAMNED THING EVER. Those final few minutes make the DVD an essential purchase for any true bad movie buff. Like I said before though, before you can get to the good stuff there's a whole world of pain and tedium to venture through. God help you, brave adventurer.

The DVD also includes an amusing short featuring Punch and Judy as well as the original version of Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny, sans riffs. Only a mad man would dare to watch the latter though.

Wolfman [DVD] [1979]
Wolfman [DVD] [1979]
Dvd ~ Earl Owensby
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £3.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Mediocre, but moderately entertaining all the same., 21 Dec. 2013
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This review is from: Wolfman [DVD] [1979] (DVD)
Colin's father has just died, prompting Colin to return back -after many years- to the home that he grew up in. It soon becomes clear that something is wrong though. Our hero comes to suspect that his father's will as been forged. This is only the start of the intrigues and horrors that await Colin though. Unbeknown to him, his real inheritance will be the curse of the werewolf!

This film has an endearingly hokey feel to it, from the lame miniature model mansion in the opening shot, to the wobbly walls on some of the sets, to the goofy transformation effects. Then there's the plot holes... (3 full moons in a row!?) Likewise, the acting is consistently sketchy throughout. On the one hand we have the wild scenery-munching overacting of the satanic reverend character, and on the other we have the painfully wooden performance from leading man (and producer) Earl Owensby. Make no mistake, this film was a low budget labour of love, and boy does it show!

The film can be a bit slow at times, and Owensby's duller-than-dull acting style threatens to turn every conversation into an endurance test. Like most movies in this genre, it's also extremely predictable.

That having been said, I did get a few chuckles out of the movie, so I can't complain too much. All in all, it's a so-so entry in the genre. If you're a werewolf movie completest then it's worth a look. As for everyone else, it's safe to give this one a miss.

Miami Connection [DVD] [1987] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Miami Connection [DVD] [1987] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Maurice Smith

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tae Kwon Do rockers Vs biker ninjas. Seriously., 11 Dec. 2013
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Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to Dragon Sound, an 80's pop-rock band who live in Orlando, Florida (as opposed to, say, Miami) and like to sing songs about friendship, loyalty, and fighting ninjas. They're a loveable bunch but due to a breath-takingly contrived series of events the band finds itself under attack from gangsters and biker ninjas (they're bikers by day, and ninjas by night. It says so in a song.) With such formidable threats presenting themselves, it's fortunate that Dragon Sound is made up of badass Tae Kwon Do experts, who are more than a match for their colourful nemeses.

I realise that the above plot synopsis doesn't make all that much sense. What are ninjas doing in Orlando, for example? The thing you need to understand is that the film itself doesn't make much of an effort to make sense or to help the audience suspend disbelief. Either you roll with it, or you get left behind.

So, with that having been said, rather than concern ourselves with the flimsy plot to this fiasco let's instead address the tone and style of the film. In a word: the film is... confident. It's confident in that special way that only a goofy 80's action flick can be - which is to say, the makers of this film were convinced that they could do no wrong. The results are frequently hilarious. When one hears about a film that features BIKER NINJAS it's not unreasonable to assume that said film was made with tongue in cheek. In this case that simply wouldn't be true though. The makers of this film were absolutely serious. In these times of ultra-cynicism and super-self-awareness it's rather refreshing to see a film as deliriously misguided and sincere as this one. You won't find any irony here, pal. It's all played totally straight. There are also quite a few major "dramatic" moments along the way, and boy are they funny!

So if you have a taste for extremely cheesy 80's action movies, or you just like to watch films that are "so bad they're good" then Miami Connection might just be what you're looking for.

In a similar vein you might want to also check out Samurai Cop and Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare.

Fright Night 2: New Blood [DVD]
Fright Night 2: New Blood [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jaime Murray
Price: £3.00

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Another reboot. Another step down for the franchise., 9 Oct. 2013
Here's what you need to know: this isn't a sequel. It's another reboot.

This time around the action is set in Romania and the vampire is a chick. Aside from that, it's more or less the same story as before.

So let's talk comparisons. How does this one stack up against its predecessors?

Here's the cons: it's a straight to DVD flick so it feels somewhat cheaper than the last film. That's not a big deal though. What is a serious problem is the sloppy writing. Now, I know that the writing had never been the series' strong point, but in this version the bar noticeably drops a couple of notches. This applies to the plotting, which is painfully contrived at times, but more importantly also effects the characters. Put simply: this is the first time in the series that I genuinely didn't care about -indeed, even disliked!- our heroes. Ed is the worst casualty, in this regard. In this version Ed is reduced to a horny douche along the same lines as the guys from the Hostel films. In the previous Fright Night flicks, Ed was so pathetic that I found myself feeling sorry for him. His attention-grabbing pranks were obviously just a mask to hide his insecurities. Not here though. In this one, Ed's changed from being a sad loser to being a generic, obnoxious jerk. Not only does he fail to make any connection with the audience, he doesn't even seem to have much of a friendship with Charley either!

Now on to the pros: Jaime Murray (who you might remember from the second season of Dexter) steals the show as the villain. She's never given much material to work with, but she sure knows how to grab the viewer's attention. Likewise, one gets the impression that Sean Power's macho rendition of Peter Vincent could have been a lot of fun, if he'd been given more screen time. Another major plus is the atmospheric and evocative locations used in this film. The cinematography really shines in some scenes too. Visually, the film is very nice. Much better than one might expect from a straight to DVD flick.

Bottom line: so long as you know that this is a reboot and are in a forgiving mood, then this film should keep you somewhat entertained. It's not really worth getting angry about, but it's not a cause for celebration either. It's just... OK.

Postmodernism and Islam: Predicament and Promise
Postmodernism and Islam: Predicament and Promise
Price: £34.19

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An erudite and accessible book that should be read by Muslims and non-Muslims alike., 7 Oct. 2013
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Some time ago I found myself reading through an essay in which the author started by noting the recent conflicts between Muslims and all things Western and modern, before going on to make this well-meaning suggestion:

"Perhaps a more propitious and realistic option for Islam is to engage with postmodernism, not with modernism."
(Forward, Martin; "Faith in the future? Islam and Postmodernity"; Ursula King ed. (1998); Faith and Praxis in a Postmodern Age; Cassell; New York; P139)

At the time I had thought that the notion of mixing Islam with postmodernism was nonsensical. Islam is nothing if not the Grandest of all Grand Narratives. So how is one to reconcile Islam with postmodernity? The answer is simple: one doesn't. Now let's turn to Akbar S. Ahmed's book Postmodernism and Islam:

"In Muslim society postmodernism means [...] a shift to ethnic or Islamic identity (not necessarily the same thing and at times opposed to each other) as against an imported foreign or Western one; a rejection of modernity; the emergence of a young, faceless, discontented leadership; cultural schizophrenia; a sense of entering an apocalyptic moment in history; above all, a numbing awareness of the power and pervasive nature of the Western media which are perceived as hostile."
(Kindle Edition P32 Loc 766)

Careful readers will notice that there is no talk of deconstructing, problematising, relativising or otherwise investigating the hegemonic Islamic discourse. In other words, what Akbar is referring to is a situation in which Islam continues to exist as an unquestioned orthodoxy, but in the midst of an otherwise postmodern socio-political context. In this respect he finds himself in the company of numerous other conservative theologians, such as the Evangelical Christian Alister McGrath, who want to reap the rewards of a postmodern society, without acknowledging the deleterious effect it ought to have on their own favoured religious narrative.

The most telling clash between Western-style self-critcism and the demands of traditional orthodoxy can be seen in the following anecdote, provided by Akbar:

""You keep on saying to Akbar... why don't you accept the human origin of your religion? Well, he can't", Ernest Gellner said sharply, coming to my rescue, in a television discussion on Islam. "Islam has not", he further explained, "been secularized. This is the great mystery about it. All the other religions have softened, have permitted the ambiguity of meanings." Gellner was right. For those who believe in Islam, the choice is between being Muslim and being nothing: there is no other choice."
(P42 Loc 960)

Ah, but the game is given away by the last line: "for those who believe in Islam..." One could just as easily replace it with "for those who are Marxists" or any other ideological affiliation, and have it end the same way. Again, we can see Akbar having his cake and eating it.

Still, none of what I've written here so far should lead the reader to think that this is a bad book, or that Akbar S. Ahmed is a sloppy thinker. On the contrary, his book is filled with incisive comments and intriguing suggestions, which is why I recommend it.

It's just that the reader needs to know right from the outset that what they're getting isn't postmodern Islam, but rather Islam in the midst of postmodernity.

Needless to say, one needn't agree with everything an author writes in order to be profitably informed and challenged by their take on the issue. Regardless of one's philosophical, political or theological orientations, this book will still be a thought-provoking and enjoyable read, even if it's not nearly as iconoclastic as I might have hoped.

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