Dear Brother Powers (a parody)

From the desk of Ayatollah Hassan Sanei
Expediency Discernment Council, Tehran

Mr. John Powers
c/o 89.3 KPCC

Dear Brother Powers,

Please forgive me for using a business address for such a personal letter, but I cannot seem to find your home address on Google Maps.

When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent me a link to your review of Salman Rushdie’s memoir, I thought Punk’d might be returning to MTV. Oh, I know that too many Westerners see Mahmoud as eccentric and even a little dangerous. I hope that someday the world will meet the same man I know: a backslapping practical jokester who loves nothing more than slipping another one past the imams of greater Tehran.

As I began listening to your review, I was unsure whether you were really Fresh Air’s critic at large or a transgressive right-winger with shadowy ties to Breitbart.com doing a sly parody of an NPR nebbish. Your weightless voice, your staccato delivery, your contented verbal italics on each rhetorical flourish — all of these left me asking: Is it real or is it performance art?

But I powered through these doubts and then it hit me: this man speaks truth to power, and I am that power. After all these years I have realized that L’Affair Rushdie, as we like to call it in Iran, was not a question of blasphemy. It was not even about whether issuing a fatwa, as such, has a chilling effect on our world’s ever-fragile interfaith conversation.

It was, at heart, a question of literary integrity: Had I read the book before renewing the Rushdie fatwa? My face was crimson with shame. I had been called out as a fraud, and by a man who writes for Vogue from the West Coast of Babylon.

I took your challenge to heart, my gentle brother. I have since read every subtle page of The Satanic Verses, and I now realize that if Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had done the same in 1989 we could all have been spared 23 years of misunderstandings and unpleasantness.

I have learned deeply from this experience. I expect to turn next to God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens, as I have heard that he and Rushdie were pals and that he too had a wry sense of humor. Perhaps after that I will make time for Robert Bly.

You made all of this possible, dear sir. Had you not found the insight to challenge me to read the book, I would have drifted about for the rest of my life with lingering anger and control issues. Thank you, gentle brother, thank you.

One qualifier: I speak only for myself and for no other imam.

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  • Matt

    Yes, his reading voice is a bit much, but I had a better reaction to the piece from having read it before hearing it. It seems a relevant point to call out people who condemn without engaging with what they condemn.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    This parody is apparently too subtle for me. Why is it out of bounds to call people out on being willing to kill someone for writing a book they haven’t read?
    Even if they are unlikely to change their mind from reading it, why is it wrong to point that out?

  • Douglas LeBlanc

    As with any joke, explaining the intended punch line kills the humor. I’ll let this post speak for itself, except to say the parody nowhere claims that John Powers was wrong or out of bounds to make the point that he did.

  • Jerry

    Given that I was recently asked why a suggestion of minecould be considered a news story for GR, I now have an answer – it’s more newsy than this blog post :-)

  • Matthew

    I’ll second Jerry here. Please finish this sentence: This is news because…….?
    To be honest I actually scrolled up to make sure I was still on the Get Religion blog.

  • mollie

    I love the parody. I was just speaking to a group in Montana and the folks out there were asking why the media covered certain aspects of religion so naively. One of the examples they gave dealt with radical Islamist activists. Naivete — suggesting that the underlying problem with fatwas on Salman Rushdie and others would somehow be improved if the opponents just gave it a good look or read — is not a good journalistic approach.

  • Mark Baddeley

    Thank you. That was hilarious and genuinely illuminating of the issues.

    Jerry, Matthew, from memory of some previous discussions, the GetReligionastas usually avoid editorials and the like, but hold the right to occassionally dip into them when they think they address something that genuinely illuminate the media’s ubiquitous (but not universal) inability to get religion.

    This parody drives that home pretty well. If someone really thinks that the problem of the fatwas is fundamentally about not reading before condemning – as though reading it would make the average fatwa-heeding Muslim change their mind – then you really are locked into a liberal arts view of that religious grouping, and don’t ‘get’ them. And so we have a media type person communicating a fairly profound inability to understand where the fatwas are coming from.

    The subject of the post is arguably (in my view, tmatt might come along and indicate otherwise) not at the heart of their project from what I’ve seen (hence these kind of posts are rarer), but it is certainly ‘fair game’ for GetReligion, from what I’ve seen over the years.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    If someone really thinks that the problem of the fatwas is fundamentally about not reading before condemning

    When did Powers state that was “the” problem – as opposed to a problem? Are we lacking in people pointing out other problems with the Fatwas?

  • http://www.doulos.at Wolf Paul

    I think that even raising it as “a” problem is ludicrous — because on some level it DOES suggest that if they still had arrived at the same conclusion AFTER reading the book, their fatwa and call for violence would have been somehow less inappropriate or more justified.

    As or “where’s the news?” — since when is this a news site? It is a commentary site, isn’t it? Commentary on how journalists often don’t get the religion aspect of the news they report. This fits within this brief.


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