Muslim Hate of Authors


Uproar over The Satanic Verses

Sir Salman doesn't deserve the vituperation heaped upon him by the Muslim world.

Shamim Hunt

Friday, 6 July 2007

When Queen Elizabeth knighted the author of the 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie, last month, there was rage throughout the Islamic world. Although Sir Salman, as he is now to be called, was not honoured specifically for this controversial novel, many Muslims interpreted the award as a poke in the eye for Islam. "The latest act of the British government was shameless and imprudent and can not be interpreted to anything but blind hostility and absolute brainlessness," declared the speaker of the Iranian parliament speaker, Gholamali Haddadadel.

The Satanic Verses is not my favourite novel, but it has a place in my life's journey. When the book first came out in 1988, I was a devout Muslim. By 1996 I had left the religion, and I bought it to see what the fuss was all about. When my then-husband saw the book on the coffee table, he left me with three small children. He had never read it. This lack of effort to understand, appreciate and build bridges is not uncommon amongst Muslims.

Back in 1989 Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa condemning Rushdie to death. I wonder if he had read it. Then an Iranian businessman offered a US$3 million bounty for his death. I wonder if he had read it. In 1991 the Japanese translator was stabbed to death. I wonder if his murderer had read it. In fact, most Muslims who aver that they are willing to kill Rushdie have probably never read The Satanic Verses. According to Islam, one cannot say or think anything against the prophet Mohammed. Even if a Muslim were to read the book out of curiosity, he/she would be blaspheming the prophet, even if he/she respected the prophet in his/her heart.

When I first read the book in 1996, I was not a skilled reader of literature. But even then, I thought that it was just a novel, and although the character Mahound was obviously an allusion to the Prophet, Rushdie was not writing history and not suggesting that Mohammed was actually possessed by demons.

Eleven years later, after further study at university, and after having become a Christian, I re-read The Satanic Verses. Although I enjoyed it, I now realise that post-modern style makes it a very difficult text for many readers, not just Muslims. As an example of the genre of "magical realism", Rushdie parodies certain events and persons from the Qur'an and the life of the Prophet. But the plot is so bizarre and far-fetched and the characters so distant from reality that it is difficult to discern the author's true intentions.

I would venture to say that it is impossible to understand The Satanic Verses without an appreciation of post-modern irony. Because of the multi-vocal nature of irony, naïve readers who can only grasp univocal utterances will be baffled. For more sophisticated readers, the genre of magical realism offers great compensations. Irony -- sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, sometimes wry or perplexing -- enriches the literary dish. It keeps us on our toes, inviting us to dig through layers of possible meaning and competing significations.

No doubt Rushie anticipated that not everyone would comprehend his ironic treatment of a holy text and of the figure of the Prophet. What he failed to foresee was that Muslim incomprehension would lead to a fatwa, book-burnings and violent demonstrations.

In my experience, Christians are much more tolerant and appreciative of literary texts. For instance, in modern literature the use of Christ figures has almost become a cliché -- Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, Neo in the Matrix trilogy, and even Superman in Superman Returns. The works of the devout Catholic Flannery O'Connor contain many characters which suggest Christ. Many of these are somewhat less than Christ-like, which may be felt as disrespectful by many people, but neither the Pope nor Billy Graham ever issued fatwas.

Let me say a few words in Rushdie's defence against intolerant Muslims (and also against too-literal Westerners). Apart from its ironic comedy, one reason that the book has been so hard for fatwa-waving ayatollahs to understand is that it is a critique of post-Christian Western society. It speaks to a sceptical generation that has cast off its traditional ties to religion and is longing to get back home to be with its "Father." In my reading, it is a New Testament story of redemption and "rebirth". In this case, the prodigal son returns home to India, to the jahilia, the town of ignorance. Jahilia is an offensive term for Muslims because it implies that Arabia is a jahilia. In fact, Rushdie is suggesting that our so-called progressive, irreligious world is restless and schizophrenic. Surely there is something in this diagnosis. More people, especially children are being diagnosed with depression than in any time in history.

It is impossible for Muslims to see all this in the book. They are not familiar with Christian themes of rebirth, redemption, baptism, Lucifer and so on. Rushdie has written a novel which mixes Christian and Muslim motifs in a most unsettling way. Essentially it is not a novel about Mohammed, still less about Islam. Sadly the outrage over an obscure novel by an "apostate" Muslim is one more confirmation of the West's difficulty in communicating with conservative Islam.

Shamim Hunt is currently a PhD student in the Institute of Philosophic Studies program at the University of Dallas in Texas.


Salman Rushdie attacks 'censorship by fear' over The Jewel of Medina

August 16, 2008
Times Online

Salman Rushdie has criticised his publisher for withdrawing a controversial novel about the Prophet Muhammad and his child bride because of fears of a violent backlash from Muslims.

Random House, which published Rushdie's recent books Fury and Shalimar the Clown but not The Satanic Verses, cancelled Sherry Jones's debut novel, The Jewel of Medina, in the latest showdown between Islam and the Western tradition of free speech.

Rushdie, who spent years in hiding after Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa — death edict — for The Satanic Verses, accused the US publisher of giving in to intimidation.

“I am very disappointed to hear that my publishers, Random House, have cancelled another author's novel, apparently because of their concerns about possible Islamic reprisals,” Rushdie said.

“This is censorship by fear and it sets a very bad precedent indeed.”

The withdrawal of Jones's book has renewed the debate over self-censorship in the treatment of Islam.

Random House feared igniting violent protests such as those that followed the release 20 years ago of The Satanic Verses and the publication of Danish cartoons of Muhammad in 2005 — or even a repeat of the murder of the Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh after his documentary about women in Islam.

The Jewel of Medina is a first-person narrative of the life of A'isha, often described as Muhammad's favourite wife, from her engagement to the Prophet at the age of 6 until his death, when she was 18.

The author avoids graphic sex scenes between the two. But A'isha says: “This was the beginning of something new, something terrible. Soon I would be lying on my bed beneath him, squashed like a scarab beetle, flailing and sobbing while he slammed himself against me. He would not want to hurt me, but how could he help it? It's always painful the first time.” After consummating her marriage to the Prophet, she says: “The pain of consummation soon melted away. Muhammad was so gentle. I hardly felt the scorpion's sting. To be in his arms, skin to skin, was the bliss I had longed for all my life.”

Jones, a journalist from Spokane, Washington State, has never visited the Middle East but spent several years studying Arab history and learning Arabic. She insisted the novel brought together all she had learnt.

“They did have a great love story,” the author said of Muhammad and A'isha. “He died with his head on her breast.”

Random House bought the novel last year in a two-book deal worth a reported $100,000 (£53,000). This spring Jones began making plans for an eight-city book tour to follow the August 12 publication.

After sending out advance copies of the book, however, Random House deleted it from its list. The deputy publisher, Thomas Perry, said the company had received “cautionary advice” that the book “could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment”.

The spotlight soon fell not on a radical Muslim cleric but on an American academic, Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas. Ms Spellberg had been sent an advance copy of The Jewel of Medina for review. She strongly objected to the fictionalised account of A'isha's life.

She alerted the editor of a popular Islamic website, who sent out an e-mail saying that Ms Spellberg found the book “incredibly offensive”. Word spread and a strategy was proposed to force the author to withdraw the book.

Ms Spellberg said: “As an expert on A'isha's life, I felt it was my professional responsibility to counter this novel's fallacious representation of a very real woman's life.

“It . . . counts on stirring up controversy to increase sales,” she wrote in a letter to The Wall Street Journal.

Jones noted on The Washington Post website, however, that Random House acted “not because of terrorist threats, mind you — but because of threats of terrorist threats. Because, in other words, of fear”.