Have you ever read Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses? Though it was about twenty years ago, I recollect enjoying a vibrant, florid, atmospheric novel. (The lasting image I have is of some queen(?) cloaked with living butterflies. Beautiful!) At the time, I kind of got why it might have made some uncomfortable (if they read it); although I found the fatwā and the frothing book-burners far more disturbing. I think I will re-read my copy, in part to try and understand better why it offends. But I will still say “So what?!”
Were I to live in the author’s country of birth, and been able there to read this work of fiction (- yes, fiction! Fancy that.), I would likely have had to keep quiet about it, and kept my copy hidden from view. Nor would I have been able to enjoy seeing him at the Jaipur Literature Festival a few days ago: he was forced to cancel late due to (now questionable) reports suggesting the likelihood of a contracted underworld attempt on his life.
I’ve often wondered about the fatwā that was supposed to have demised along with its decreer, but apparently hasn’t: was it really about any perceived insult to the fragile dubiosity of ‘revealed’ words? Or more to do with ensuring that the less book-ish faithful were minded not to read it, for fear that corrupted minds might dissent and challenge the established theocratic order? Consequently, there ensued the double irony of public book-burning by people who hadn’t read the thing, flame-fanning a controversy which encouraged its sale and actual reading. How to contend against the latter? Take out any uncowed publisher. The dictatorial upholding of ignorance, and its bullying elevation to threats – and actual violence: ‘The tyranny of certainty’ (not my phrase; I can’t recall where I heard/read it).
Consider the notion of it being taboo, a ‘sin’, to write and/or read something? The absurdity of “You can’t say that!” (An absurdity, incidentally, which occasionally occurs here on NN.) The prevention of human beings from doing what evolution has equipped us to do particularly well – communicate. Rushdie’s adopted Blighty blighted by the paradox of many so-called ‘liberals’ equivocating their support for one of their fellow citizen’s right to write. And the continued denial and/or apologetic ignorance of such fascism at work here in Britain, where last week the ‘One Law For All’ campaign against the misogynist, homophobic, bigoted imposition of (the contemporary rigid version of ) Shari’a Law, was forced to cancel a meeting due to an openly credible threat of violence.
In response to this and other recent examples, a rally for the defence of free expression is to be held on Saturday 11th February. So, if you are in around London that day, you might be interested in supporting this stand.