Salman Rushdie

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Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie (b. 1947) is a British-Indian author who is best known for writing a book that ticked off the Islamic world. The Satanic Verses, (1988) was deemed anti-Islamic by the Ayatollah Khomeni, who issued a fatwa calling for his death. Due to the threats to his life, he went into hiding in different parts of Europe, surfacing long enough to publish new books, or do quick interviews, or appear onstage with Bono and U2, then head back underground. According to the Irish band, "For a man in hiding, it was remarkably easy to find him".

Much of his writing is set in the Indian sub-continent, often dealing with conflicts of religion, however his range of topics includes a non-fiction study of the politics of Nicaragua and a self-described "alternative" history of Rock and Roll, The Ground Beneath Her Feet.

The Satanic Verses controversy

The Satanic Verses, Rushdie's fourth book, attracted worldwide controversy when published in 1988 as Muslims and adherents of other religious groups, saw it as an insult to Islam. The Islamic world reacted with its usual level of restraint, i.e. not much, and various fatwa's were issued, including one from Iran's then spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, that placed a price on Rushdie's head.[1] The book's title refers to a controversial incident in early Islamic history, the Satanic Verses - which is one of the reasons why so many Muslims reacted violently to its publication.

The response in the west was not much better. European-based Muslim groups, such as the Union of Islamic Students' Associations and the Muslim Parliament, were supportive of the fatwa - as was pretty much any Muslim with a microphone thrust in front of him.

Outside of Islam, the picture wasn't much better. The then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, in the spirit of cross-religion relations, agreed with Muslim demands that Britain's blasphemy laws be modified to include support for Islam. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, the then leaders of Britain and the United States respectively, condemned the death threats, but Reagan joined many others in expressing the view that Rushdie must have known what he was getting in to when he wrote the book.[2] Germaine Greer, the noted feminist writer, described Rushdie as being "a megalomaniac, an Englishman with dark skin" (even though she herself left the Lucky Country for the Mother Country), equating him to an Islamic equivalent of a "house negro". Roald Dahl, most famous for his children's books, labelled Rushdie "a dangerous opportunist."[3] While 70's wash-up Steven Demetre Georgiou (aka Cat Steven's, Yusef Islam, or whatever-the-fuck-is-his-current-name) wanted Rushdie dead [4] but later tried to backpedal, the more musically and socially relevant U2 essentially co-wrote the song The Ground Beneath Her Feet.[5] based on Rushdie's book of the same name. Here's the video.

Some writers, such as Christopher Hitchens, offered unequivocal support for Rushdie's right to free speech, but most tended to follow the Reagan approach of being unsupportive of the death threats while still blaming Rushdie for insulting Islam.

Since then, he's been knighted and apparently survived an assassination attempt (which killed a Hezbollah activist in London--it was the Will of Allah). He is also getting bolder. A year or so ago he compared political and militant Islamicism to that of the Soviet Empire, and claimed that it was as vulnerable to a collapse.

See also

Footnotes

  1. Iran MPs back Rushdie fatwa Curiously enough, Khomeini died the following year in 1989, while Rushdie remains very much alive. God must have misheard the fatwa.(It was the Will of Allah.)
  2. Rushdie's Book Is An Insult
  3. Literature Held Hostage: The Holy War Against Salman Rushdie Turns 10.
  4. Cat Stevens' comments about Salman Rushdie
  5. The Ground Beneath Her Feet (song)
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