The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Profile: Salman Rushdie

The Blanket will feature a biography of each of the 12 signatories of Manifesto: Together Facing the New Totalitarianism, along with each of the Danish cartoons their number represents.

This is the ninth in the series.

Anthony McIntyre • 16 May 2006

Salman Rushdie is one of those names that is etched on the mind of a generation of adults. Better that than have it inscribed on a grim tombstone in memory of a writer murdered by some theocrat in the service of Allah or the prophet. In the H-Blocks at the time of the fatwa issued against Rushdie, I recall the poem by a fellow republican prisoner, the writer Gino McCormack, protesting the edict to murder. The Derry man's chant-like prose 'Salman, Rushdie, Salman Rushdie,' glided effortlessly to 'some man must die, some man must die.' Rushdie had received the fatwa from Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran in 1989 as punishment for blasphemy over his depiction of the Prophet Mohammed in The Satanic Verses written the previous year. That the term blasphemy can have any meaning in the modern world rather than being a quaint relic of a bygone age is a reminder of how contaminated with the poison of religion the well of human society remains. Presumably for this reason Rushdie opposed the British government's proposed introduction of the Racial and Religious Hatred Act.

That religion is often a noxious substance is evident from its toxic adulteration of the language contained in the fatwa issued against Rushdie by Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini.

In the name of God Almighty. There is only one God, to whom we shall all return. I would like to inform all intrepid Muslims in the world that the author of the book entitled The Satanic Verses, which has been compiled, printed, and published in opposition to Islam, the Prophet, and the Qur'an, as well as those publishers who were aware of its contents, have been sentenced to death. I call on all zealous Muslims to execute them quickly, wherever they find them, so that no one will dare insult the Islamic sanctities. Whoever is killed on this path will be regarded as a martyr, God willing.

So much for a loving and peaceful God.

In his 2002 book Step Across the Line Rushdie dealt with his attitude to that fatwa and the life he felt compelled to live during 'the plague years' in which he endured almost a decade of round the clock protection, secret locations and looking over the shoulder until Iran lifted the Fatwa in 1998. At one point he slept in thirteen different beds over a twenty day period. He hoped that his book based on a series of lectures he had delivered at Yale in the same year would lay the matter to rest allowing him 'really never have to talk about it again.' In spite of this in 2003 Iran's Revolutionary Guards once again called for Rushdie's murder.

Salman Rushdie was born in Bombay in 1947 but moved with his family to Pakistan while still a teenager. The partition of India cut his family in half. He arrived at England just around the time the Berlin Wall was being built and the first thought to strike him was that Europe was now facing partition as well. Crossing partitioned lines, both literal and metaphorical, has been a preoccupation for him since. He graduated from Cambridge in 1968. During his student years he experienced racism. On leaving England to reside in New York he was subjected to the wrath of the 'attack dogs' in the British press, who had previously welcomed him with open arms. Seemingly his departure was an act of apostasy.

New York for Rushdie is 'a city whose culture is created by successive waves of migration' and therefore not surprisingly happens to be the only city in the world since Bombay where he feels normal 'or at least everybody else is abnormal in the same way.' He denies feeling American but very much feels a New Yorker.

He holds a certain ambivalence towards Islam which he has characterised as 'that least huggable of faiths.' Describing Islam as 'an extraordinarily civilized culture with a great interest in beauty, a great interest in poetry and architecture and philosophy' he also views it as a belief system which can 'cut people's hands off if they're thieves, stone them to death if they're adulteresses.' He strenuously opposes the way in which 'Muslim societies have constructed themselves into prisons … into places where people are constantly instructed and commanded and ordered around.' He has always felt 'that dichotomy inside Muslim culture. It's got something to do with the exclusion of women from the central places of the culture.' Consequently, he believes that women will lead the fight to reform Islam.

I remember receiving enormous numbers of very moving letters from Muslim readers of The Satanic Verses. Particularly from Muslim women, who thanked me for opening a door, you know … I think the Islamic reformation probably does start in the West and it probably starts with Muslim women. Because they're the people who've understood the problem of Islam better than anyone else, certainly better than Muslim men.

He mourns the cultural death of cities like Beirut, Kabul and Damascus which were 'fantastically open' cities of culture but which have since suffocated under the weight of the veil. 'It just won't do to endlessly blame the West. Because these are self-inflicted wounds.' He is a fan of the Czech writer Milan Kundera and in particular the way Kundera has been shaped by the endless shifting borders within European society. Kundera is also one of the great writers to emerge from within the anti-totalitarian tradition. Because Rushdie accepts that where there is power there is resistance he refuses to despair:

If you look, everywhere in the Muslim world there are all kinds of very courageous and forward-thinking people. Islam is not just the mullahs and the Taliban. It's not just al-Qaida and the Taliban. In fact, remember that those people oppressed Muslims before they attacked the West. The first victims of the Taliban were Afghans. The first victims of the Iranian mullahs were the people of Iran. And from my knowledge of those countries the most hated group in any Muslim country is always the mullahs. Always, always hate them everywhere, for good reason … One of the things I know about the Muslim world is that the mullahs are the most hated figures in it. Mullahs in Pakistan are notorious for their corruption and their misbehavior, and it's not even their sexual misbehavior.

Unlike some of those writers he has he has lined up alongside to face down totalitarianism he does not hold to the view that Islam must always equal repression and reaction. When interviewed by Irshad Manji, who asked him if Islam can be divorced from oppression, he responded:

it's difficult. It was difficult in Afghanistan. But you know there are places in the Muslim world where a much more open society does begin to obtain, if you go to Dubai …women walk around non-shrouded and actually dressed in western dress and so on, and people don't stone them or abuse them or call them names.

A writer of some substance prior to the publication of the Satanic Verses, it was this 1988 novel that established his reputation and placed his name on the tips of many tongues. It was banned in India, then South Africa. With the die cast, further prohibitions on the book followed. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Somalia, Bangladesh, Sudan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Qatar amongst them.

The book was publicly burned in Bradford. A bookstore which stocked the novel was torched in California, as were the offices of a New York newspaper which ran an editorial defending the right of people to read what Rushdie had written. The Japanese translator for the book was stabbed to death near Tokyo. Its Italian translator was lucky to escape with his life when stabbed in Milan. A Belgian Mullah who defended Rushdie's right to publish was murdered in Brussels. The book's Norwegian publisher was shot and wounded in Oslo. Deaths occurred elsewhere as a result of clashes between police and protestors and in one case 37 people died as a result of an arson attack on a hotel in Sivas in protest against Rushdie's Turkish translator.

A year after the book appeared Rushdie offered a public apology of sorts which did him little good and only won him opprobrium from some of those who had sided with him during the dispute. Taslima Nasrin who signed the Manifesto Against Totalitarianism with him was one of the critics.

Rushdie has irritated many people throughout his career and not just with his writing. He is said to be haughty and pompous. But it is his writing that has thrust him into mortal combat with the totalitarian theocrats. His rejoinder to those who urge caution in the face of the theocrats is blunt but inspirational:

'freedom is scary, and it's not peaceful either. It's turbulent. 'Speak' is what I would say. How many people can they shut up?'



See also:

MANIFESTO: Together Facing the New Totalitarianism
Freedom of Speech

Salman Rushdie
Ibn Warraq
Chahla Chafiq
Philippe Val
Antoine Sfeir
Maryam Namazie
Taslima Nasrin
Irshad Manji
Ayaan Hirsi Ali

The Muslims America Loves
Freedom of Expression: No Ifs and Buts
Manning the Firewalls
Ulster Muslims' Fury at Web Cartoons
For Freedom of Expression
Muslim News Interviews The Blanket
Who Fears to Speak
Cartoons and Caricatures: An anarchist take on the cartoon row
Taslima Nasrin (2000)
The Clash of the Uncivilized
Misunderstandings Abound
A Vital Question Not Easily Washed Away
Zen and the Heart of Blasphemy
Closer to Home
The Right to Offend
Wrong to Claim Freedom of Speech
The Parameters of Free Speech
Unreal Paradigms
Cowardice on Cartoon Controversary

Standing Up to the Enemies of Free Speech
Irish Republicanism and Islam
Real human rights - without any religious blackmail
Resisting Censorship
Controversy over the publication of cartoons
Stereotypes Must Be Challenged Openly
New Convert
About the Possible Posting of the Muslim Cartoons
Well Done
A Muslim's Response
Straight Talk vs Orthodoxy

One Man's Terrorist is Another Man's Prophet
Christ Collage
An Eye for An Eye
Glad to See Someone is Not Afraid
There Are No Sides to Peace
Rights and Responsibilities

Censorship: The Blanket's first article (2001): Silence is Not Golden; It is Complicity



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
- Frank Zappa

Index: Current Articles

28 May 2006

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Eamon Sweeney

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Enough, Enough of Stormont
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John Kennedy

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Fred A Wilcox

No Rest In Peace
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'Penetrated' Has Become the Sinn Fein Brand Mark
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Code Red
Dr John Coulter

Review of the Field Day Review 1: Debut Issue, 2005
Seagh�n � Murch�

Profile: Salman Rushdie
Anthony McIntyre

Freedom of Speech index

16 May 2006

'The Blanket' meets 'Blanketmen'
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Former Blanketman Speaks Out Against ‘Vitriolic Attack’
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"What Future for Republicans?"
Public Meeting Announcement

An Open Letter to Gerry Adams and the IRA's Chief of Staff of the Army Council
Dr John Coulter

Paper Over the Cracks
John Kennedy

The Famine Season
Russell Streur

DUP Pressure Cooker: About to Blow?
Dr John Coulter

Oil Prices
John Kennedy

Profile: Ibn Warraq
Anthony McIntyre

The Muslims America Loves
M. Shahid Alam

Freedom of Speech index



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