Another Anniversary is Approaching

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.

Saturday, February 14th will mark the twentieth anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini‘s fatwa against Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses.

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:

Lionel Shriver

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.

Suhayl Saadi

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.

(via Bookslut)

  • Morgan55

    Coincidentally I just finished reading The Satanic Verses, which my mother lent me after a conversation about Islamic extremism. She bought the book shortly after the fatwa against Rushdie was declared as her own protest against the fatwa. Go Mom!

  • inkadu

    Shriver is absolutely right — terrorism works.

    Terrorism seems 63to work better in Europe, for some reason. Maybe American muslims are better integrated and so don’t feel so alienated from the mass culture. Or maybe Europeans have less of a free speech tradition, or a more “inclusive.”

    In America, the same people who think we should go to war against all arabs because they hate our freedom, are the same people who, in religious debates, will say, “You wouldn’t say that to a muslim!” The psychology of violence is something American chauvinists and Islamic fundamentalists share.

    As for Rushdie, I can’t say I recommend “Satanic Verses.” I could barely get through the first chapter. Yeah, I know, I bought it to stick it to the Islamic crazies. But Satanic Verses is probably up there with Brief History of Time in the canon of purchased but unread books. Instead, support the author and try Rushdie’s much more readable, read his much more readable “Midnight’s Children.”

  • withheld

    Ok, so I was flying to Malaysia for work about 15 years ago, and decided to bring along my copy of Midnight’s Children. Probably not the wisest move in my life, but at least the big “Salman Rusdie” on the cover went unnoticed.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    inkadu: You’re right that “The Satanic Verses” probably is one of the most widely “purchased and then unfinished” books. But IMO, this is a tragedy. I think the book is wonderful: it’s challenging, especially at first, and it takes some time to get into, but it very much rewards the effort. I found it not only great literature but a vastly entertaining read.

    Of course, everyone I knew told me the same thing about “Gravity’s Rainbow,” which I couldn’t stand…

    If you don’t like something, you don’t like it. But I strongly encourage readers to give “The Satanic Verses” a try.

  • Yossarian

    Not completely unrelated, too, is the fact that it is the 30th anniversary of the islamic revolution in Iran.

  • http://religionvirus.blogspot.com Craig James

    Most people think the fatwa failed because Rushdi is still alive. But in fact, the fatwa was quite effective.

    According to a great article by Christopher Hitchens (a personal friend of Rushdi) in Vanity Fair (Feb. 2009):

    * Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator, was stabbed to death on the campus where he taught literature

    * Ettore Capriolo, the Italian translator, was knifed in his apartment in Milan

    * William Nygaard, the novel’s Norwegian publisher, shot three time in the back and left for dead outside his Oslo home.

    * Several very serious attempts, backed by Iranian Embassies, were made on Salaman Rushdi himself.

    This was no idle threat or publicity stunt. This was cold-blooded assassination.

  • inkadu

    Greta – I might give Satanic Verses another try, then, if I know it’ll all be worth it by the end.

    I never even bothered with Gravity’s Rainbow. But did enjoy the “poor man’s Rainbow” – the Crying of Lot 49.


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