Rather than libel, other novelists’ honorable response to the 1989 fatwa condemning Rushdie to death would have been to admit failure to protect a brave author, writes Doctor Binoy Kampmark.
HE has survived death threats and assassination attempts since February 1989. But Salman Rushdieluck almost ran out Chautauqua Institutionsouthwest of Buffalo, New York.
On August 12, in a place historically famous for having brought education to all, the writer was said to have been stabbed incessantly by a fanatic who later show little guilt or remorse. the accused, Hadi Matar only had eyes for Rushdie’s neck and abdomen. Following the attack, the perpetrator is likely lose the sight of one eye and possibly lose the use of one arm.
It was a chilling reminder that the fatwa sentencing him to death never risked stalemate, even though he could have been put in some form of archived cold room.
Said by the sickly spiritual leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah KhomeiniRushdie’s notable crime was to have blasphemed against the Muhammad the Prophet in his novel satanic verses. It seems that the supreme leader – having barely distinguished himself in a bloody war against Iraq – needed a supreme distraction.
The whole exercise was an example of how irony and humor have no place for an austere and dogmatic priesthood. How dare an author in a work of fiction playfully and plausibly claim that the Prophet was not the sole editor of the message in the Angel Jibreel / Gibreel (Gabriel) and that Satan had brazenly inserted his role in it? And that it was done using the medium of The Hallucinations of Gibreel Farishta?
Dare Rushdie did, and this exhortation to the state-sanctioned murder of an author and all those associated with the translation and distribution of the book exposed the belly of cowardice that often accompanies attempts to defend literary freedoms.
Rushdie’s translator Hitoshi Igarashi was, in fact, murdered, while its Norwegian publisher, Guillaume Nygaard, was seriously injured. Turkish Translator, Aziz Nesinescaped a mob aggression which left 37 dead in Silvas, Turkey.
It was one thing to find fanatics who had never read the book and wanted to get rid of the author in a fit of state-sponsored fanaticism. But then there was that camp: those who, in principle, opposed the fatwa but still wished to attack Rushdie as an act of cultural understanding and solidarity with his enemies. (Graeme Wood of Atlantic call them “The team to be sure”who denied the West’s defense of Rushdie’s free speech, saying the harm could have been avoided if he hadn’t been so prone to offend.)
The events of 1989 cast a long shadow. There were those in holy orders who thought the Ayatollah was right. There was Robert RuncieArchbishop of Canterbury, who call for a strengthening of blasphemy laws to cover religions other than Christianity, although he was also careful to “…condemn incitement to violence, whatever the source…”. Very Church of England.
And there was the former US president Jimmy Carterwho seemed like a problem that an author’s rights were considered fundamental even in the face of insulting religions. And the insulted? Where would their anger go?
at Rushdie First Amendment freedoms might be “important,” but, according to Carter, there had been:
‘…little acknowledgment that this is a direct insult to those millions of Muslims whose sacred beliefs have been violated and are suffering in restrained silence…’
In other words, the intended homicide against a perpetrator was excused, even if the “death sentence” was an “odious response”. It was even more infuriating to see other novelists maim the outsider, showing how solidarity between scribes is rarer than one might think.
marxist author John Berger didn’t think much of Rushdie’s case, hiding behind a false argument that the production of threatening literature might well endanger “the life of those who are innocent of writing or reading the book”.
Berger’s flattering note was an attempt to convince other Islamic leaders and statesmen to avoid:
‘…a unique holy war of the 20th century, with its terrifying righteousness on both sides…’
Roald Dahlman of dysfunctional virtue and author of tales for deranged children, decided in a letter to The New York Times that Rushdie was a “dangerous opportunist” — as if we should avoid indulging in irony on these subjects.
He must have been “aware of the deep and violent feelings his book would arouse in devout Muslims”. His suggestion: a modest dose of self-censorship.
“In a civilized world, we have a moral obligation to apply a modicum of censorship to our own work to enforce this principle of free speech.”
Censors from Moscow to Tehran reportedly approved.
Not more than John the Squareaccomplished writer of spy novels, disagrees.
He said The New York Times in May 1989:
“I don’t think it’s given to any of us to be sassy with big religions with impunity.
In November 1997, Le Carré complaining of being unjustly labeled an anti-Semite, Rushdie wrote a pointed reminder, saying:
“It would be easier to sympathize with him if he hadn’t been so willing to join a previous smear campaign against another writer. It would be gracious if he admitted that he understands the nature of the thought police a little better now that, finally, in his opinion, he is the one in the line of fire.
The square drawn back accordingly, taking the position he claimed to have held in 1989:
‘…that there is no law in life or nature that says the great religions can be insulted with impunity.’
Little time has been spent then and now on the malevolent and sinister nature of religious totalitarianism which has been a monstrous burden on sober expression, criticism and thought. Instead, the creator of Smileys and “The Circus” wanted to hit a ‘less arrogant, less colonialist and less self-righteous than what we heard of camp security from his admirers’.
like wood saidthe honorable response to the attack on Rushdie would have been to admit a failure to protect a brave author and to declare that ‘we’re all Rushdie now’.
Read his work; throw his name at the regime’s apologists and their murderous fools. After all, although the Republic of Iran has claimed to have lost interest in killing the author, it will not object to an independent enthusiast doing the same.
The decision encouraging Rushdie’s murder declared by Khomeini’s successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei:
‘… is a ball for which there is a target. He was shot. He will hit the target one day sooner or later.
This crippling seed of author assassination is embodied in more common forms, without the lethal element: nullify culture – the desire to actively practice its offended disposition to liquidate, banish, and root out your adversary’s opinions. They offend because you, one way or another, have indisputable answers.
Assassination is, quite literally, the most extreme form of censorship – an attempt to silence and kill the vibrant chatter that sustains an intellectual world.
Unfortunately, as Rushdie recovers, the “maybe the crowd“and their complicity must be noted, their names marked on the high walls.
The inner censor assassin is everywhere.
Dr Binoy Kampmark was a Cambridge Scholar and is a Lecturer at RMIT University. You can follow Dr. Kampmark on Twitter @BKampmark.
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