We’re all excited about the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, but this weekend, there’s another anniversary that is just as important for anyone concerned with religious freedom and free speech.
The effects of that incident are still felt today; it’s rare you see books critical of Islam. Authors don’t want the lives of themselves and their family members in danger because they dared to criticize the religion.
Even cartoons critical of the religion have ignited violent worldwide reactions from Islamic fundamentalists.
The Independent (UK) asked writers what they thought of the fatwa’s effect. These two responses stood out to me:
I do think in the current climate… most Western authors would think twice before writing anything concerning Islam… I personally don’t want to write about Islam, since not only do I harbour a broad contempt for all religion across the board, but I resent the reason that we are now supposed to be so all-fired fascinated with the Muslim world: we’ve been bombed into being interested. But if I were drawn to this material, I wouldn’t act on the impulse if I knew what was good for me. After my 12 years in Northern Ireland, this is the primary lesson I learned about terrorism: it works.
The Rushdie Affair was a wholly negative phenomenon… It empowered both Islamism and liberal imperialism and set up the “straw man” dualism in which, globally, writers of Muslim origin are perpetually expected to display loyalty to one or other of these extremist positions… All novels are political, but this book became a political football in which the only winners were the hooligans.
How can you celebrate this occasion?
Read a book critical of Islam — or any religious faith for that matter. Realize the risk the author and the publishers are taking to get those words to you and appreciate what they’ve done.