Saturday, February 14, 2009

Salman Rushdie and ‘The Satanic Verses’ – 20 years after the fatwa

Rather like Keith Vaz proudly announcing that he had never seen Geert Wilders’ Fitna, though he just knew it was not good; so almost all of those who condemned Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses did so without reading a page. There could never have been a book in history which has had such a seismic reaction yet such a minute readership. Since its publication in 1988, it has become more symbol than literature; more the embodiment of the principle of freedom of expression than a book to be read.

It is dull. But so, in Cranmer’s humble opinion, is Mr Rushdie’s entire literary canon.

But aesthetics aside, it is worth considering the allegory which resulted in Mr Rushdie’s fatwa. For its declaration on February 14th 1989 by Ayatollah Khomeini was the precursor of all that his since ensued in the religio-political debate around the Al-Qaeda school of Islam .

It is just 70 pages in the third section of the novel that we read of a prophet who founds a religion in the desert. The episode is inspired by an apocryphal incident in the life of Mohammad which (in the West) is referred to as the ‘Satanic Verses’. These are suras of the Qur’an which Mohammad is said to have retracted, because they were ‘the prompting of Satan’ rather than being revealed to him by the Angel Gabriel, as he said the rest of the Qur’an was.

But Salman Rushdie did not recount the story as history; he created an Arabian Nights allegory. He called his prophet called Mahound: ‘Living in a city built of sand, Mahound founds a radical religion as revealed to him by the Angel Gabriel. Slowly, Rushdie introduces doubt over the nature of this revelation, until one of his disciples expresses his disillusion. He "began to notice how useful and well timed the angel's revelations tended to be, so that when the faithful were disputing Mahound's views on any subject, from the possibility of space travel to the permanence of Hell, the angel would turn up with an answer, and he always supported Mahound".

He purposely did not call his prophet Mohammad, or mention Mecca, or refer to Islam. His work is not therefore offensive, heretical or blasphemous.

But those who interpreted it as so are responsible for the climate of fear that has gripped race relations and freedom of speech. Since 1988, the UK has become more censorious. It is not only liberty which has been compromised, but creativity, artistry and political discourse.


Blogger Hugh Oxford said...

There could never have been a book in history which has had such a seismic reaction yet such a minute readership.


14 February 2009 at 14:21  
Anonymous Gnostic said...

Maggie, where art thou?

14 February 2009 at 14:25  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

His Grace may find this lengthy (sorry about that, but it's worth it I think) quote from the Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence (CHAPTER LXIII) of interest as it pertains to spirituality and the desert -

"Upon the water-cleansed and fragrant ledge I undressed my soiled body,
and stepped into the little basin, to taste at last a freshness of
moving air and water against my tired skin. It was deliciously cool. I
lay there quietly, letting the clear, dark red water run over me in a
ribbly stream, and rub the travel-dirt away. While I was so happy, a
grey-bearded, ragged man, with a hewn face of great power and
weariness, came slowly along the path till opposite the spring; and
there he let himself down with a sigh upon my clothes spread out over a
rock beside the path, for the sun-heat to chase out their thronging

He heard me and leaned forward, peering with rheumy eyes at this white
thing splashing in the hollow beyond the veil of sun-mist. After a long
stare he seemed content, and closed his eyes, groaning, 'The love is
from God; and of God; and towards God'.

His low-spoken words were caught by some trick distinctly in my water
pool. They stopped me suddenly. I had believed Semites unable to use
love as a link between themselves and God, indeed, unable to conceive
such a relation except with the intellectuality of Spinoza, who loved
so rationally and sexlessly, and transcendently that he did not seek,
or rather had not permitted, a return. Christianity had seemed to me
the first creed to proclaim love in this upper world, from which the
desert and the Semite (from Moses to Zeno) had shut it out: and
Christianity was a hybrid, except in its first root not essentially

Its birth in Galilee had saved it from being just one more of the
innumerable revelations of the Semite. Galilee was Syria's non-Semitic
province, contact with which was almost uncleanness for the perfect
Jew. Like Whitechapel to London, it lay alien to Jerusalem. Christ by
choice passed his ministry in its intellectual freedom; not among the
mud-huts of a Syrian village, but in polished streets among fora and
pillared houses and rococo baths, products of an intense if very exotic
provincial and corrupt Greek civilization.......

....... By contrast with this fixity, or with my reading of it, the old man of
Rumm loomed portentous in his brief, single sentence, and seemed to
overturn my theories of the Arab nature. In fear of a revelation, I put
an end to my bath, and advanced to recover my clothes. He shut his eyes
with his hands and groaned heavily. Tenderly I persuaded him to rise up
and let me dress, and then to come with me along the crazy path which
the camels had made in their climbing to and from the other water-springs.
He sat down by our coffee-place, where Mohammed blew up the fire while I
sought to make him utter doctrine.

When the evening meal was ready we fed him, so checking for some
minutes his undercurrent of groans and broken words. Late at night, he
rose painfully to his feet and tottered deafly into the night, taking his beliefs, if any, with him. The Howeitat told me that lifelong he had wandered among them moaning strange things, not knowing day or night, not troubling himself for food or work or shelter. He was givenbounty of them all, as an afflicted man: but never replied a word, or talked aloud, except when abroad by himself or alone among the sheep
and goats."

14 February 2009 at 14:33  
Anonymous GnosticHater said...

Islam is a virus in the code of humanity and there will be no simple solution. Eventually it will become so repressive that a contemporary reaction will manifest extreme conditions everywhere. The 'bury your head in the sand approach' that underlines present thinking will continue for some time, until the virus begins to spill over into ivory tower street. Its a bit like what happened when disease started to spread throughout London during the Victorian period. When it was just the lower class scum which was being wiped out there was no need for any intervention, but when it spread into ivory street, the entire sewer system was redesigned.

The analogy here between Islam and a sewer system should not be discounted when the time comes for drastic action. But in the mean time, I am afraid its going to be a long long uphill walk to mecca for all of us.

14 February 2009 at 14:35  
Blogger Wrinkled Weasel said...

"It is not only liberty which has been compromised, but creativity, artistry and political discourse."

May I commend this:

to His Grace and his readers.

It begins:

Britain’s contemporary artists are fêted around the world for their willingness to shock but fear is preventing them from tackling Islamic fundamentalism. Grayson Perry, the cross-dressing potter, Turner Prize winner and former Times columnist, said that he had consciously avoided commenting on radical Islam in his otherwise highly provocative body of work because of the threat of reprisals.

Perry also believes that many of his fellow visual artists have also ducked the issue, and one leading British gallery director told The Times that few major venues would be prepared to show potentially inflammatory works.

“I’ve censored myself,” Perry said at a discussion on art and politics organised by the Art Fund. “The reason I haven’t gone all out attacking Islamism in my art is because I feel real fear that someone will slit my throat.”

14 February 2009 at 14:51  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But surely, Your Grace, 1989 is only twenty years ago, not thirty as you state in your post's title?

14 February 2009 at 14:58  
Blogger Oldrightie said...

But those who interpreted it as so are responsible for the climate of fear that has gripped race relations and freedom of speech. Since 1988, the UK has become more censorious. It is not only liberty which has been compromised, but creativity, artistry and political discourse.

It's called socialist equality. I prefer socialist arrogance and control.

14 February 2009 at 15:34  
Blogger Cranmer said...


Quite so, quite so.

It was more a slip of His Grace's burnt stump of a finger than a manifestation of his arithmetical shortcomings.

He has amended.

14 February 2009 at 15:44  
Blogger Goodnight Vienna said...

"It is not only liberty which has been compromised, but creativity, artistry and political discours"

Read and weep.

14 February 2009 at 16:09  
OpenID BL@KBIRD said...

Your Grace, if I might make one correction. It would be incorrect to say that Ayatollah Khomeini is the source of AL Queda. The Ayatollah is a Shia and advances the cause of the 12th Imam who will return when the world is in chaos and make the world Shia Muslim, Al Queda are affiliated with Sunni Islam . They are not believers in the 12th Imam and have their own agenda.

So your Grace we are faced with a double Jihad, the Shia is perhaps more dangerous because they have to create the chaos to wake up the 12Th Imam. They will use the nukes they are working one to bring about the chaos they seek. The Sunni's are led and paid by Saudi Arabia largely and they follow the traditional Jihad, infiltrate, intimidate, terrorise and overthrow.

So it is two distinct enemies with differing ways to the same end. World dominance. They will devour one another but they will pause and work together if it weakens the unbeliever.

14 February 2009 at 17:11  
Anonymous Shaven-headed tattooed knuckledragger said...

Your Grace's communicants may not be aware of the nature of the disputed verses.

Apparently in Koran (rev. 1), Allah had three pagan daughters - el-Lat, el-Uzza, and Manat. These had dissappeared by Koran (rev. 2).

This information may prove useful when the paedo-worshippers start blithering their usual spiel "Allah has no Son ... Allah has no partners ... yadda yadda yadda ... "

Allah may not have had a son, but he did have three wayward daughters. Possibly their unexplained deicidal dissappearance is a cosmic example of honour killing.

14 February 2009 at 17:33  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Mr Bl@ckbird,

His Grace did not say Khomeini was the source of Al-Qaeda; merely the debate in the UK (or even the West) on the political nature of their brand of intolerant Islam.

14 February 2009 at 18:05  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only people Islam is tolerant to is muslims(except when they want to leave Islam that is) , then they see exactly how tolerant Islam is!

14 February 2009 at 18:33  
Blogger mike said...

well said. but i'll never find my Sir Rushdie to be dull. Satanic Verses explores the negative intricasies of a misused religion. Aesthetically beautiful and very complex. the fatua is still on, therefore, Sir Rushdie should not be decieved. Why is Rushdie not a Nobel prize winner in literature?

14 February 2009 at 18:37  
Blogger Theresa said...

I was a student when the Satanic Verses came out; it was about 3 months before all the fuss blew up. It appeared in our university bookshop. I was intrigued by the title, so I picked it up, read the inside flap and thought, 'Sounds weird, probably someone trying to win the Booker' then I checked the price which was £20. I dropped the book like a hot tattie and thought no more about it, until I saw it getting burnt on the telly.

Hugh, agree with you about Ulysses. I quoted it in I don't know how many essays, but the one time I tried to read it, I didn't get past the first page. Have to say I'm a believer in the saying 'Nothing odd will do for long' (Samuel Johnson).

14 February 2009 at 19:37  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I read it once, and I found it a slog to start with, but I took the advice on the blurb and hung in there. I managed to finish it to the end, and I did enjoy it, but I couldn't do it again. I have done this with many books that have initially bored me to death, and I can say that in the end I have taken something from them.

But the thing is we are all individuals and what suits one will not suit another, and this is were we differ from the fanatics.

14 February 2009 at 20:46  
Blogger Atlas Shrugged said...

So it is two distinct enemies with differing ways to the same end. World dominance. They will devour one another but they will pause and work together if it weakens the unbeliever.

This may well be the case but please try to keep your feet on the ground, in the real world.

It simply is not going to happen, under any imaginable circumstances whatsoever.

What is self evidently infinitely more likely to eventually happen. Is that Islam is going to either self destruct. Or the powers that REALLY run this world of THEIRS are going to very much help Islam to do the self destructing in a very big way indeed.

Islam is being set up for one hell of a fall. I do not have a clear idea why the Islamic worlds big wigs can not see for themselves that they are clearly being set up. However the fact that they are being so, is as clear as the nose on my face.


In the mean time it is just best we all try to get along as best we can. The way the world is going these days feeding ourselves while keeping a roof over our own heads, should be priority one, two and three.

14 February 2009 at 21:47  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am looking forward to everlasting peace to be honest with you guys. And I do not believe in any conventional God. The return to nothingness appeals to me greatly. I don't see the point in going through all this torment and then pop up in some sickly spiritual place, I don't want it. The universe used to be a noble and mysterious place full of beauty and wonder for me. It feels like it has caught some kind of terminal disease. We have chained it down somehow and ridiculed everything that was good about it. Poisoned, that's what it feels like. Poisoned and contaminated. It didn't have to be like this, it could have been an amazing place, a happy place, but we've made it a dark and restricted hellish place. kids don't know any different, which is just as well, they don't have to mourn what it was that we have pissed away in our selfish narrow minded pursuits. Not for me if you don't mind, keep your fluffy clouds and angel wings, I quite liked it down here once before you screwed it all up! Just leave me be down the hole and let the soil do what it does, there is far more dignity and peace in this for me. Everlasting peace.

14 February 2009 at 23:29  
Blogger Catholic Observer said...

Anonymous, your post reads like pure poetry. I have no idea what it's about, but it's still quite beautiful nonetheless.

15 February 2009 at 00:30  
Anonymous BNP knuckledragging stereotype said...


"The final act features young Muslim men, several of whom are Bin Laden-admirers, while others are drug dealers or muggers.

"It is offensive towards ethnic minorities," argues Ismail. "It is particularly offensive towards the Irish and Bangladeshis. Those involved in staging this production need to explain themselves and be brought to account."

Rushdie revisted? Are we to see 10,000 angry Muslim stereotypes plus 10,000 Guiness-swilling Irish stereotypes besieging the limp-wristed luvvy stereotypes in the National theatre? Will this play be banned NuLabour Ministry of Truth stereotypes on the grounds of 'community cohesion'?

15 February 2009 at 01:16  
Anonymous len said...

Anon 23:29
The bad news is there are two appointments you must keep.
1 Death
2 Judgement
The Good news is
Jesus Christ stood in your place at both.
His part was difficult ,
Your part is easy, accept.

15 February 2009 at 10:46  
Blogger Morus said...

I disagree a little with Your Grace's post - Mahound is, and always was, recognised as a derogatory term for the Prophet. It was offensive, heretical, and blasphemous (even though those who found it extremely so never actually read it). That does not make it less-worthy of being defended - indeed, perhaps the fact that it was offensive, heretical, and blasphemous is precisely why we should defend it: a book that was simply misunderstood would not be worthy of such a staunch defence on the grounds of Freedom of Expression.

I also must complain about a man of such clear intellect and taste as yourself condemning Rushdie's literature as 'dull'. I am less fond of a couple of the more recent novels, and I found Satanic Verses the least inspiring, but there is no doubting that his is one of the great novellists in English.

What must we do to convince you?!

15 February 2009 at 11:09  
Anonymous Remember Bamiyan said...

Islam's compulsive aggression and profanity .

16 February 2009 at 00:33  
Anonymous Hereward said...

Item from teh BBC:

I think this quote says it all:

"Whatever this tragic episode, however it turned out, wherever it ended, I personally think - and I don't really care what non-Muslims think - I think what the Muslims did had to be done."

So, the Muslims took to their form of protest because they wanted their opinions taken seriously, yet here's one who doesn't care what non-Muslims think. Nice.

16 February 2009 at 12:16  

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