By Gurnam Singh | Opinion |
I was shocked to hear of the attack in New York today on arguably one of our greatest living writers, Salman Rushdie. Though it is too early to say who is responsible for what is seemingly an attempted murder, given the historical context, it is highly likely to be religiously motivated.
I first came across Rushdie when I read his novel, Midnights Children, which won the Booker Prize. The book is based on the events surrounding the end of British rule in India in 1947. In his characteristic mix of magic realism, historical fiction and self-reflection, he provides a unique insight into the connections, disruptions, and migrations between Eastern and Western civilizations. Deploying temporal and geographical discontinuities, the reader of his books is taken to different places and times, particularly between the Indian subcontinent and the West.
But it was arguably his most impressive book, Satanic Verses, that proved to be his Achilles Heel. Following a fatwa (religious edict) issued in 1989 by the Iranian cleric Ayatollah Khomeini for the allegation of blasphemy. At the time, following the Iranian revolution, there was considerable political fallout between the new regime in Iran and the West, and it seems like Rushdie became something of a political football.
LATEST: Salman Rushdie’s agent has said “the news is not good” after the author was stabbed at an event in New York state. He was attacked on stage, and is now on a ventilator and unable to speak, Andrew Wylie said in a statement, adding that the author may lose one eye. – BBC (13 Aug 2022)
Rushdie’s literary flair and satirical references to Islam struck many Muslims as blasphemous and a reward was placed in his head, possibly resulting in today’s attack in New York. If that proves to be the case, I say two wrongs do not make a right and violence against Salman Rushdie or anybody else for that matter, simply because one disagrees with their point of view, is totally unacceptable.
The tragic irony of Satanic Verses is that those most opposed the book appear to have never read it, or at least made little effort to understand the nuances of the story he was trying to tell! Had they done so, they would have realised the book was not an attack on the Prophet Mohammed at all but a commentary on feudal attitudes, especially towards women, and the way these are often conflated with Islam teachings. The truth is that though many Muslims supported the Fatwa, there was and remains considerable disagreement amongst Muslims about the status of the Fatwa, and/or the threat of violence.
I totally respect the right of freedom of belief and speech, which means defending both the rights of Muslims to be angry about any case of blasphemy and also Rushdie’s right to practice his trade as a novelist. Of course, freedom of speech is not an absolute right; with it comes responsibility. Moreover, I absolutely accept Muslims have been subjected to terrible Islamaphobia for decades, especially following the 9/11 attack in the UK.
But if there is one truth about history that is that the pen is mightier than the sword. This truism is so powerfully demonstrated in the longevity and power of most religious scriptures, as well as teachings/writings of the great saints and prophets, which universally advocate love, peace, learning and tolerance. Moreover, in truth, the issuing of the Fatwa and the various protests and public book-burning ceremonies probably meant that many more people read Satanic Verses than would have been the case; talk about scoring an own goal!!
To conclude, I say a resounding yes to freedom of speech and conscience, yes to the responsible sensitive exercise of this sacred right, but absolutely NO to violence simply because one disagrees with another’s perspective. Voltaire’s hit the nail on the head when he said “I (may) detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.”
Gurnam Singh is an academic activist dedicated to human rights, liberty, equality, social and environmental justice. He is an Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Warwick, UK. He can be contacted at Gurnam.email@example.com
* This is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
Miracles and Godmen (Asia Samachar, 31 July 2020)
ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs / Punjabis in Southeast Asia and beyond.Facebook | WhatsApp +6017-335-1399 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter | Instagram | Obituary announcements, click here |
We are not that far different than that this fatwa bounty call. Just recalled what happen when someone made a statement of Dasam Granth. Although our gurus were believer in the free speech not for some sikh organisations.