Monday, February 14, 2011

Pop History Moment: Khomeini Issues Fatwa Against Rushdie

On this day in 1989 Iran's theocratic dictator Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (shown, bottom right) took literary criticism to a new level when he issued a fatwa against Indo-British author Salman Rushdie (shown, below left) and his publishers over Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses*; naturally enough, many of those who were so mightily offended by it (including him) had never even bothered to read it - which is precisely the sort of assertive ignorance usually favoured by the professionally censorious.

PhotobucketThe provocation in Rushdie's book began with the title... It seems there's a passage from the Qu'ran which was dubbed the Satanic Verses by the historian Sir William Muir; since, in the opinion of the Prophet Muhammad, the words contained therein** hadn't been from Allah but rather from the Devil they were later redacted by him, and ever since then merely referring to this passage has been considered sacrilegious.

By entitling the book thusly, Rushdie had therefore instantly branded his whole work as being the work of the Devil, at least among orthodox Muslims - as personified by the Ayatollah. Since Rushdie was raised a Muslim, he must have known that his portrayal of the Prophet would be likely to raise some ire, but there you have it...

PhotobucketOf course, anyone familiar with Rushdie's work would know firstly that he holds nothing sacred except for his own iconoclasm, and secondly that he is not in the least religious; what the uber-religious consistently fail to understand about their threats of damnation (as happened in this instance) is that they only work on their own faithful and on no one else. Of course, Khomeini's condemnation of Rushdie wasn't religious but political in nature - although like the Ayatollah himself it was politics concealed in cleric's clothing. The very real threat of being murdered did, however, force Rushdie into hiding, necessitating a huge expenditure by the United Kingdom to nevertheless make a valid point that the quality of a society is determined by the artists it nurtures as much as by the safety those artists are given to comment upon and thus help to shape that society.

PhotobucketKhomeini's fatwa was a first in modern times for the West, but it wouldn't be the last - even that bitch who has everything, Barbie, is the subject of her own (no doubt bright pink) fatwa; what each subsequent experience has highlighted is the extent to which fundamentalist Islam is identical to other fervently religious communities in its desire to destroy culture and even those who create it if necessary.

The fact is that the 'issue' of Rushdie's wrongdoing wasn't an issue for moderate Muslims; they more sensibly felt that Rushdie's ultimate reckoning would be with his creator - whose wisdom in assessing what, if any, blasphemy had occurred would would be far superior to the judgement of any mere human. Except, of course, that Khomeini - whose personality cult fed his paranoia and ego to the extent that he felt he and he alone spoke for Allah on Earth - wasn't in the least bit reasonable.

Ultimately, Khomeini's fatwa and the ongoing jihad against the West it caused has been to the detriment of Islam, in much the same way the current zeal for identity politics hampers any reasonable dialogue about bigotry to occur, by reacting to the potential offense of an unenlightened inquiry rather than seeing it as an ideal opportunity to enlighten.

*Published in September 1988 and the winner of that year's Whitbread Award the following November 8th the bannings and the bombings it inspired began occurring more or less simultaneously. By March 1989 Britain had broken diplomatic ties with Iran as a result.
**The offending passages allow for prayers of intercession to be made to three Pagan Meccan goddesses - Allat, Uzza, and Manah - in direct contravention of Islam's monotheistic principles.

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