Guest Opinion: Who Is Salman Rushdie?
Who Is Salman Rushdie?
By Firas Al-Atraqchi
A few weeks ago, infamous author Salman Rushdie published an article, which was carried by various media, in which he attempted to explain his personal theory of Islamism and its relevance to the events of the past two months. Perhaps feeling vindicated for the 1989 fatwa issued against him, and hurriedly jumping on the warhorse bandwagon of “Strike Against Terror”, Rushdie has once stirred the pot of controversy.
Firstly, it is prudent to question why Rushdie has taken it upon himself to explain to the rest of us illiterates what the nature of Islam truly is. Having briefly, yet meticulously read through Rushdie’s C.V. and scholastic background I saw no mention of his record (nor acclaim) as a scholar of Islam, so-called Islamic fundamentalism, Islamic Law, sociology, or anthropology. It was, therefore, quite amusing to see Rushdie propose order from the rubble of the chaos of the past two months.
After a 1968 graduation from King’s College, Rushdie returned to work in broadcasting in Pakistan. This was followed by stints as an actor with a theatre group at Oval House in Kennington and from 1971 to 1981 Rushdie was a freelance copywriter for Ogilvy and Mather and Charles Barker. By this time, Rushdie had published Grimus and Shame, two early novels.
Let’s fast-forward to November 2001; in an article titled Islam Versus Islamism, Rushdie asks “Why the routine anti-Semitism of the much-repeated Islamic slander that "the Jews" arranged the hits on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon...”. The question is valid; the ‘Islamic slander’ terminology is not. In essence, it equates anything Islamic, or with the Islamic prefix, to be rooted in slander. It also exposes the distate that Rushdie has for the entire faith of Islam; hardly the stance of an intellectual looking from within rather than an unabashedly biased opinion.
Rushdie goes on to state that “For a vast number of "believing" Muslim men, "Islam" stands, in a jumbled, half-examined way, not only for the fear of God - the fear more than the love, one suspects - but also for a cluster of customs, opinions and prejudices that include their dietary practices, the sequestration or near-sequestration of "their" women, the sermons delivered by their mullah of choice, a loathing of modern society in general, riddled as it is with music, godlessness and sex, and a more particularised loathing (and fear) of the prospect that their own immediate surroundings could be taken over - "westoxicated" - by the liberal, western-style way of life.”
This is profound literature indeed. I do not remember reading that Rushdie is an expert on Islamic tradition or that he has lived and openly engaged Muslims in theological debate, whether they be practising or non-practising adherents.
At this point, the objective reader, having already questioned Rushdie’s expertise in Islam, begins to wonder why there is so much hate-spewing in Rushdie’s article. Perhaps, it has to do with Rushdie’s illustrious past.
Rushdie labels Islam a paranoid faith. The sense of paranoia, however, plays quite the prominent role in Rushdie’s life. Take for example the quotes below, taken from a PBS interview with David Frost: "I don't think there is a need for an entity like God in my life," says Rushdie, followed by "What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it cease to exist." I am sure that this welcome advice to such proponents of the United Nations Charter or the Unites States Constitution. Freedom is the right to offend.
Then we are to understand that when President Bush tells Arab allies that they are engaged in a war to save freedom; what he is really saying is that he wants the freedom to tell the Japanese they talk funny, the Arabs are ragheads, and the Brits have poor hygiene. An interesting smell Rushdie has discovered.
However, it far from ends there. In a letter to Bangladeshi-born Taslima Nasrin, condemned for speaking out against treatment of women in Islam, Rushdie says “How sad it must be to believe in a God of blood! What an Islam they have made, these apostles of death, and how important it is to have the courage to dissent from it!”
One must pause here and make note that it is not Rushdie’s opinion that is scrutinized, but rather the platform from which he incites racism and hatred against Islam and its followers. This is not journalism, nor is it constructive discourse. When one is in a position of scholarly fortitude, it is unbecoming to engage in name-calling and slander. Debate and exchange of differing opinions are the pediments of social and intellectual development.
According to a critique by John Esposito, Rushdie insulted and slandered 1.2 billion Muslims with passages in The Satanic Verses “that questioned the authenticity of the Quran, ridiculed the Prophet and the contents of the Quran and referred to Muhammad as "Mahound," a term used in the past by Christian authors to vilify Muhammad.
The book also had prostitutes assuming the identity and names of Muhammad's wives, and the very Quranic symbol for their seclusion and protection, "the Curtain," is transformed into the image of a brothel, which men circumambulate as worshipers do the sacred shrine ( Kaaba) during the pilgrimage to Mecca. “
Is this literature or simple Islamphobia? I am reminded of the artistic rendering of Mary using elephant faeces in the Met in New York in 1998. Then-Mayor Guiliani saw it as highly provocative and an insult to the Catholic community and had it removed. I am also reminded of the incessant ridicule and harassment mitigated to anyone who questions the Holocaust. Why then is it an expression of freedom when Rushdie so intricately defames the entire notion of Islam?
In 1997, famed auteur-extraordinaire John le Carré criticised Rushdie’s attacks on Islam when he stated; “My position was that there is no law in life or nature that says great religions may be insulted with impunity.” Rushdie responded to le Carré by calling him a pompous ass and that any defense of the Islamic outcry is a “philistine, reductionist, radical Islamist line that The Satanic Verses was no more than an "insult," and ... anyone who displeases philistine, reductionist, radical Islamist folk loses his right to live in safety.”
In 1993, prolific religious studies author Karen Armstrong is quoted as saying; "Up came all these neo-crusaders defending the cause of free speech, but from a standpoint of ignorance. They were protesting against the burning of the Satanic Verses as if the Christians had never ever set fire to books with which they disagreed. I was forced to ask my friends why the blasphemy laws in England only applied to Christianity."
Perhaps Rushdie would like to ‘respond’ to Armstrong in the same tone.
Consequently, it is apparent that Rushdie does not maintain an air of objectivity. He does not consider the Islamic community from a sociological or anthropological point of view but from a personal bias. Rushdie is on a mission and with an agenda. I would favor to say that Rushdie and Bin Laden are sociopathic twins: both have a hatred for other people, both speak in vile terms and extort racism and prejudice. Where Bin Laden directly advocates murder, Rushdie performs the task indirectly by inciting hatred and bigotry against people simply for the faith they follow. While Bin Laden wields a sword, Rushdie wields the pen; equally destructive.
History must not be forgiving of those who encourage hatred. To name a few: Timothy McVeigh, who showed no remorse for killing scores in the explosion at the U.S. federal building in Oklahoma. Zionists like the late Meir Kahane, who made a holy mission out of pushing every Muslim out of Israel and the Israeli-occupied territories. The list is far too long to discuss here.
A Postscript: Kudos to Former President Bill Clinton: On November 7th, Clinton in a speech to nearly 1,000 students at Georgetown University's ornate Gaston Hall said: "In the first Crusade, when the Christian soldiers took Jerusalem, they first burned a synagogue with 300 Jews in it and proceeded to kill every woman and child who was a Muslim on the Temple Mount. I can tell you that story is still being told today in the Middle East and we are still paying for it."
It is best to accept responsibility for all inhuman acts of violence and aggression, be they Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist or atheist.
- Firas Al-Atraqchi is an Islamic American journalist living on the Pacific Coast.