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Salman Rushdie

Sir Zero
The approach of Rushdie (and others) has zero effect in dampening the waves of Islamic extremism


June 17, 2007

The Rushdie saga has now climaxed.  Unless there is an intervention from whichever angel Mr. Rushdie believes in, he will be Sir Salman Rushdie, Knight of the British Empire.  I kid you not!  Well, the exact title will depend on which bag of peanuts they toss him. 

Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” has a special meaning to me.  I could almost say that it was my awakening.  I remember when I passed by a bookstore in 1988, and a stack of this book was selling like hot cakes.  I was a teenage boy at the time and had been in the US for only four years by then.  

Along with my suitcases, I had brought with me the naiveté that my oppressor’s enemy must be my liberator.  I wholeheartedly believed that Western governments, although at times mischievous, are in general the ultimate manifestation of liberty and democracy. 

Rushdie’s book introduced the first crack in a cascade of cracks that brought down that misconception.  It took many years and other books like “King Leopold’s Ghost” and “Heart of Darkness” to even begin to grasp how the cogwheels of imperialism turn.

I bought “Satanic Verses”, and I made an honest attempt at reading it.  The novel in my opinion did not flow well and towards the end I gave up.  This is not to suggest that Rushdie’s writing is bad.  On the contrary, his other works speak for themselves. His genre is just not my cup of tea. 

My final conclusion from “Satanic Verses” was that it was insulting.  I think calling for his death and stabbing several publishers and translators around the world was flatly wrong.  In fact, that is why I bought it.  I thought that the Fatwa was extreme and wanted to read the book to see what it was all about.

Regardless, to the people of faith, the book would be offensive.  If it was another religion, then I guarantee that portraying that religion’s prophet in the same manner would have offended his followers.  None of this, of course, justifies calling for Rushdie’s (and other’s) death.  Rushdie ought to have the right to write and publish what he wants.  Muslims ought to have the right to be offended and express themselves PEACEFULLY.  However, the focus in the media at the time was Islamic extremism and issues of freedom of expression.

I have no problem with freedom of expression and I fully support it.  But to connect only Islam with extremism is absolutely unfair and counterproductive.  All you have to do is to tune into one of the televangelist programs on TV.  The likes of Pat Robertson could teach the Muftis of Cairo and the Mullahs of Tehran a few things about preaching extremism.  However, none of that is ever scrutinized as much as Islamic extremism.

Plus, the Muslim leaders can get a band of fanatics on the streets to burn a few effigies and cars.  Pat Robertson can muster enough support for an American president to invade two countries and murder over a million people.  Which one is more extreme? 

Or consider the hatred spewed out by some Israeli rabbis.  It is shocking that a people who went through the Holocaust would speak of other human beings in that manner.  However, the Rushdies of our times only have enough courage to give a lopsided criticism of Islamic extremism.  I should be clear here.  Islamic extremism is absolutely wrong and must be addressed.  But, in the same breath other relevant forms of extremism ought to be condemned also.

To take an example, Rushdie along with some other ideological clones of himself penned their names to the “Manifesto.” They claimed it was a stance against a “global totalitarian threat: Islamism.”  They wrote and published this letter around the time of the cartoons printed in the Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten.  Now, this really gets my goat.  The one piece of vital info that was ignored by the signatory to the “Manifesto” and much of Western mainstream media was that the same paper had three years earlier rejected satirical cartoons of Jesus Christ!!!  You can read about this story here.

The editor of the paper had written in the rejection email, that "I don't think the readers of Jyllands-Posten would be pleased with the drawings. I think they would cause an outrage. That's why I won't use them."   So much for freedom of expression, and Rushdie’s chicken-hawk support for it!  I do wonder what would have been the reviews of his book had he wrote a novel turning the account of Temptation of Christ into a farce.  In my opinion, it would have been offensive.

It’s not possible to stand against Islamic totalitarianism, while ignoring all the other forms of extremism and, more importantly, who is supporting the Islamic totalitarians.  Just the same, you cannot tell one of your children to stop running around the house, while you ignore your other child’s marathon around the kitchen.  You won’t teach discipline and you will foment deep rooted resentment in your children. 

The approach of Rushdie (and others) has zero effect in dampening the waves of Islamic extremism.  In fact, the likes of him exacerbate this phenomenon by their uneven treatment of it.  I don’t want to be misunderstood.  The Muslim community’s violent reaction to the cartoons was criminal at best.  Even the boycott that had a devastating effect on Danish economy was at the very least unjust.  However, the answer to these issues is nowhere in Rushdie’s approach.

It’s not just Rushdie.  Malcolm X put the problem very elegantly.  In the slavery days, there were some slaves that lived with the master in his mansion.  They were lighter in complexion and enjoyed some of the amenities in the master’s house.  They were the “house Negros.”  The other slaves, the “field Negros,” had a much more dismal life.  The house slaves were quicker to defend the master than the master himself.  If the field slaves would complain about the cruelty of the master, the house slaves would rebuke them and blame the field slaves for the master’s behavior.

Similarly, Tariq Ali extends this analogy to the Arab world.  He says that today there are Western educated Arabs, who are more eager to defend the injustices committed by Western governments than any Western pundit.  These “house Arabs” have little invested in their home countries.  All they aim for is a thin veneer of democracy so that on their vacations back to the “plantation fields,” they don’t feel uncomfortable.  And as always, they are more than eager to point the finger of accusation at the Muslim world, without ever addressing the roots of the problems.  

'We too have our ‘’house Persians.”  These proud “Aryans” (another farce!) are the ones trumpeting the current sentiments of Western government.  Now days, they are falling over each other trying to beat the drums of war harder than the “masters.”  After all, they won’t feel the sting of “shock and awe”, just as the house slaves rarely, if ever, would feel the sting of the master’s whip.

So, here we are, full circle around.  And Indian-born, Muslim is a Knight of the British Empire, the very same empire that... well, no need to go through all that.  It is one thing to change one’s citizenship because of current sociopolitical factors.  That’s a choice.  It’s something all together different to accept membership to an order whose motto is “for God and the Empire”, while the footprints of the Empire are still stamped on one’s rear end. I hope that when this Indian Sir Knight arises, he does take a good look at the jewels in the crown and ponder the shame of the “honor” he has accepted. 

By the way, for as much as Rushdie condemns the unequal treatment of women in Islam, he should know that Dames of the British Empire are not treated exactly the same as the Knights of the British Empire.

I am ashamed of what my government did to Rushdie.  I can only begin to understand his suffering.  But, I’m also ashamed that the likes of him are portrayed as the voices of reason in the West.  If Rushdie believes anything that he preaches, he would do what Benjamin Zephaniah did upon being nominated for the Order of the British Empire.  He refused it and said “it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalized.”  

I don’t expect that kind of courage from Sir Salman Rushdie, KBE.  For now, dance Rushdie, dance!

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