25 years after the Rushdie fatwa, the President of the United States is on record saying, “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” instead of being what he should be: the world’s foremost defender of the principle of the freedom of speech. The freedom of speech is under active, explicit and unapologetic international attack from the 57-government Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which has been trying for years to compel Western governments to criminalize criticism of Islam. Twenty-five years after Rushdie, instead of lessons being learned about not giving in to violent intimidation and the importance of defending free speech and free inquiry, the OIC could actually attain its goal.
“The Rushdie fatwa: 25 years on,” by Shamil Shams for DW, February 12 (thanks to Fjordman):
25 years after the Iranian fatwa, author Salman Rushdie is still hated by many Muslims but he is not being hunted down as aggressively as before. What remains unchanged is the challenge to the freedom of expression.
On February 14, 1989, Iran’s former religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a religious edict calling for the death of British-Indian novelist, Salman Rushdie, for writing the controversial novel, The Satanic Verses, which many Muslims regarded as demeaning their Prophet Muhammad. The term “Satanic Verses” refers to a set of alleged Koranic revelations that allowed prayers to be made to three pagan Meccan goddesses.
The book sparked violence around the world and was banned in several countries including India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Pakistan. Those associated with the publication and translation of The Satanic Verses were attacked. Rushdie’s personal freedom was severely limited for 13 years and he was forced to live under police protection.
“When he was first accused of being offensive, he was genuinely perplexed. He thought he had made an artistic engagement with the phenomenon of revelation; an engagement from the point of view of an unbeliever, certainly, but a proper one nonetheless. How could that be thought offensive?” Rushdie writes in third person in his memoir Joseph Anton about the fatwa, which he believed was “baseless”.
A right to offend?
“If you feel offended by something, it’s your problem,” Rushdie said in 2012 at a book launching ceremony of his autobiography in Berlin. “To be offended by a book is quite difficult; you have to work very hard at it. When you close the book, it loses its power to offend you,” he added.
But is the anger directed by Muslims at The Satanic Verses unreasonable? Was the fatwa against Rushdie really uncalled for, and is Rushdie unjustifiably maligned? Do the writers have the right to offend in the name of the freedom of expression?
Dwayne Ryan Menezes, a scholar of religious history at the University of Cambridge, says he finds it hard to empathize with those who do not recognize the richness and diversity of the Islamic world. “However,” Menezes adds, “the ability to tolerate dissent and allow for freedom of expression testify to the strength and maturity of civilisations. Hence, it confounds me as to why the very same people behind some of the richest civilisations are not also the leading advocates of tolerance in the world today.”
The expert also says that the fatwa issued against Rushdie clearly breaches Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which stress that everyone has the right to the freedom of thought, conscience and expression. “I, hence, find the fatwa somewhat immature and certainly unjustifiable,” Menezes told DW.
Relevance of the fatwa
On March 7, 1989, Britain broke diplomatic relations with Iran over the Rushdie controversy. But after almost a decade, the ties were restored when the then Iranian leader Mohammad Khatami gave a public commitment that his country would “neither support nor hinder assassination attempts on Rushdie.” Iranian hardliners, however, still reaffirm the “death sentence.”
In September 2012, an Iranian religious organization by the name of “15 Khordad Foundation,” increased the bounty on Rushdie’s head from 2.1 million euros to 2.5 million.
The controversy surrounding the author re-emerged after violent protests broke out in a number of Muslim countries against a low-budget US-made film titled “Innocence of Muslims.” Pakistan and Afghanistan blocked the internet access to this film and banned the video-sharing website YouTube altogether.
“Many Muslims saw the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ as an echo of Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, said Emrys Schoemaker, a communication analyst and researcher at the London School of Economics….
Rushdie is not the only person who has prompted the ire of Muslims. In 1993, Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasrin wrote the novel Lajja (Shame), which offended many Muslims in the Indian sub-continent. The author had to go into hiding in India because of death threats by Bangladeshi Islamist groups. In 2005, Muslims protested widely when a Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published satirical cartoons by the artist Kurt Westergaar depicting the prophet of Islam.
Experts say that since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the subsequent US invasion of Afghanistan, the Muslim world has radicalized manifold. The threat which was once faced by Rushdie and Nasrim has now extended to a number of authors and intellectuals in the world.
Lindsey German, convener of the London-based organization Stop the War Coalition says there are political reasons to people’s reactions. She believes the Muslims’ hatred for Rushdie should also be looked at in a broader political framework.
“I do not agree with the fatwa that was passed on Rushdie or the increase in bounty on his head. But this is not just about one author. It is about the Western governments’ policies in the Middle East. Until western governments change their policies in Muslim countries, these things will continue to happen.”
Does she honestly think that if Western governments change their policies toward Muslim countries, that Islam’s death penalty for blasphemy will disappear or fall into disuse?
Karachi-based Shiite activist Syed Ali Mujtaba Zaidi told DW it was “necessary to remind (the West) again and again that we will not allow blasphemers to continue with their activities, and will make their lives miserable so that others will not follow them.”…
Islamic supremacist enemies of the freedom of speech such as the Hamas-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Reza Aslan’s Aslan Media, and the Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University are trying to do the same thing here.
“The Satanic Verses is a badly-written novel,” believes Mohsin Sayeed, a journalist in Karachi. “What Rushdie wrote was acceptable in Britain and the West, but not in Muslim countries,” said Sayeed. “The West shows double standards when it comes to issues it deems sensitive.”…
The Satanic Verses is indeed a badly-written novel, but Rushdie has a right to write and publish badly-written novels. There should be no double standards, if indeed there are any: there should be freedom of speech. But it is rapidly vanishing.