Arise, Sir Salman, and we’ll blow you away
Cranmer was intrigued to see how the reporting of this story developed. According to Sky: ‘Muslims would be right to launch suicide attacks over the Queen's decision to award Salman Rushdie a knighthood… If someone exploded a bomb on his body he would be right to do so unless the British government apologises and withdraws the 'sir' title.’
The BBC was more moderate: ‘If someone commits suicide bombing to protect the honour of the Prophet Mohammad, his act is justified… Britain's knighthood to the author Salman Rushdie contributes to insulting Islam and may lead to terrorism… The minister later said he had not meant to condone or incite terrorism but stress its origins.’
But the knighthood was indeed condemned by the Pakistan’s National Assembly, and Iran said that it is proof of ‘Islamophobia' among British officials. And if Britain does not withdraw the award, all Muslim countries are called to break off diplomatic relations. (His Grace is scared.)
It would seem that Mr Rushdie’s knighthood has ‘hurt Muslim sentiments’ because The Satanic Verses was deemed to be blasphemous and resulted in Ayatollah Khomeini issuing a fatwa in 1989, ordering the execution of the ‘apostate’. This seems to be the universal opinion of the entire Islamic world, but Cranmer has never met one Muslim in agreement with this view who has actually bothered to read the novel. Britain's fist Muslim peer, Labour's Lord Ahmed, said he was ‘appalled that someone like Salman Rushdie, who has been very provocative and insulting to Muslims and Christians, has been knighted.’ Well, there are some who are appalled that this twit was ever awarded a peerage, but they don’t go around threatening acts of terrorism.
Cranmer has some sympathy for Sir Salman. Being religiously misrepresented and spiritually misunderstood by theologically ignorant clerics and historically illiterate politicians is conducive to neither enlightened discussion nor progressive politics. Indeed, whipped up by a ‘feral media’, the lawless mob is encouraged to bay for blood, and there will be no satisfaction until there is the scent of death. The problem is that it is customary in Islam to execute apostates, while it has become customary in Christianity to award them bishoprics or academic chairs at élite universities.
And yet there is something of Sir Salman’s award that has a slight echo of Pope Benedict’s speech in Regensburg. While the Bishop of Rome is is no theological lightweight, he is not known for his empathetic disposition. He might have expected his quotation of a 14th-century Byzantine assessment of Islam to elicit a degree of contention, but not the global Mohammedan furore that it did. One may therefore conclude that the provocation was accidental. But while Tony Blair is indeed a theological lightweight, he is a master of the public mood, and is fully aware of every possible nuance of every conceivable headline. The decision to award Salman Rushdie a knighthood for services to literature in his final Queen’s birthday honours is an obvious provocation. Indeed, it seems somewhat insensitive to the volatile religio-political situation in which we live, and incongruent with his conciliatory mode of politics.
Cranmer, however, agrees with the Mohammedans to this extent – the award should not have been bestowed. Not because Sir Salman has blasphemed Islam, disrespected ‘the Prophet’, or hurt Muslim sentiments, but because he is a grossly over-rated author with an interminably dull literary style and his books simply aren’t very good.