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Salman Rushdie, Unafraid
October 24, 2011 6:26 AM   Subscribe

Looking back on the past, Haaretz interviews Salman Rushdie, who discusses the upcoming film adaptation of Midnight's Children, analyzes the Arab Spring, and reflects on the controversy caused by the publication of The Satanic Verses: "British Airways refused to accept Rushdie as a passenger, fearing the plane would be blown up in midair. A Pakistani film portrayed the writer as a pro-Israel alcoholic who murders Muslims. British censorship prevented the film's screening, but Rushdie, always a fierce advocate of freedom of expression, demanded that it be shown." Previously on MeFi: Rushdie (2, 3); Haaretz.
posted by reductiondesign (27 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
i love that picture of him and his first wife. she's all "what the hell have i gotten myself into..."
posted by fetamelter at 7:22 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love that the interviewer asked him about The Wire and The Sopranos.

"Everybody loves 'The Wire' and I think it's okay, but in the end it's just a police series. I love 'The Sopranos.' 'Deadwood,' which didn't last long, was a series I liked a lot; it had more filthy language than I've ever heard on television anywhere in my life, but it was brilliantly written. I like some of what is on now, like 'Breaking Bad' and 'Dexter.'

"I mean, there is always a lot of junk; most novels published are bad novels, most plays put on are bad plays, most movies that come out are bad movies and that is also true of TV. Nineteen times out of 20 you fall asleep. There was a series called 'Game of Thrones' which was very popular here in the United States, a post-Tolkien kind of thing. It was garbage, yet very addictive garbage - because there's lots of violence, all the women take their clothes off all the time, and it's kind of fun. In the end, it's well-produced trash, but there's room for that, too.
- Salman Rushdie
posted by postel's law at 7:31 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually British Airways was not afraid the plane would get blown up by terrorists. In a press release, they announced that Rushdie's presence increased the likelihood of "the plane splitting open like an egg" and "passengers turning into goats." A spokesman for BA was not available for comment.
posted by miyabo at 7:32 AM on October 24, 2011 [12 favorites]


*still reading*
posted by likeso at 7:33 AM on October 24, 2011


*finished reading*

i love that picture of him...
I love that the interviewer asked...


And I love Salman Rushdie. Such fierce intelligence and calm rationality. Such a wickedly funny, gentle soul.
posted by likeso at 8:06 AM on October 24, 2011


The fatwah was the greatest thing for his career. The amount of publicity it generated really helped his career.
posted by 2manyusernames at 8:30 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Every fatwah has a silver lining.
(You know what a fatwah is, right?)
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 8:43 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


The fugitive writer moved from one safe house to another at the behest of Scotland Yard; in the first four months following the fatwa, Rushdie slept in 56 different beds. According to media reports, six detectives watched over him 24 hours a day in three shifts.
...

In Pakistan the book was the object of a stormy demonstration ("Liquidate the heretic," the inflamed demonstrators called ) in which six people were killed. An English imam burned copies of the book in front of his mosque. One person was killed and dozens injured in a demonstration against Rushdie in Kashmir.
...

In the summer of 1989, a bomb exploded in central London, destroying two floors of a hotel. Years later, it turned out that a young man on a mujahideen mission to assassinate Rushdie had been preparing a bomb when it accidentally went off.
...

In July 1991, the book's Japanese translator was murdered. In the same month, its Italian translator was attacked by a man claiming to be an Iranian who tried to force him to divulge Rushdie's whereabouts
...

In July 1993, 37 people died when a hotel was burned down in Sivas, Turkey, during a demonstration held there against a public reading of passages from "The Satanic Verses." All the fatalities were guests or workers of the hotel
...

In October 1993, the book's Norwegian publisher, William Nygaard, was shot and seriously injured.

Yeah you're right, 2manyusernames, we should all be so lucky.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 8:48 AM on October 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Thanks for the post, reductiondesign; I thought it was a great and rangy interview. And this

"For example, at Emory University in Atlanta I taught a course in the 'best case scenario,' when a really exceptional book gets turned into an exceptional film. I taught Visconti's film 'The Leopard,' based on the book by [Giuseppe di] Lampedusa, where both the film and the book are masterpieces.

is a class I very very much want to take.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 8:53 AM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Salmanazars Rushdie's book 'Midnight's Children' is excellent, I actually read bits of 'The Satanic Verses' it was terribly BORING! I simply could not stick with it long enough to find the alleged 'blasphemy' .
Maybe some observant Muslim MeFite who has read the book could help out.
MeMail me if you want.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:31 AM on October 24, 2011


I actually read bits of 'The Satanic Verses' it was terribly BORING!

It took some time for me to get into it, but once I did I couldn't put it down. The book is organized into a series of short stories that ultimately tie together. So you can read the book in smaller chunks if that helps.

Maybe some observant Muslim MeFite who has read the book could help out.

I'm not a Muslim, but it was obvious to me where Rushdie was poking at the bloodshot eye of Islamic purity/literalism with his sharp narrative stick. The most clear case is the scene in which the angel Gibreel reveals that his revelation to Mahound was often Mahound's words, not God's. However, a careful reading of the book suggests that this (and other scenes) may simply be how actor Gibreel Farishta imagines those events to have happened and how he intends to portray them in film.

If you go right to the scene in question, it appears that Rushdie is directly and literally questioning the accuracy of the Koran. If you read the entire book, it is clear that Rushdie's novel is itself constructed out of shifting sands and is questioning authority of all kinds, not just religious or Islamic.

It is a fascinating read, well worth the effort.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:23 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah you're right, 2manyusernames, we should all be so lucky.

I don't think it is incorrect to say that for his career, The Satanic Verses situation was a net benefit. Again, for his career. It's a negative in all other ways.
posted by josher71 at 10:33 AM on October 24, 2011


a net benefit !!!!

truly one of the funniest MeFi threads I've seen in a long time. Thanks guys.

because what could be more gawd-awful-boring than two guys falling out of a plane that just blew up who are arguing like Felix and Oscar as an opening for a book?

also, because a fatwah (whatever the fuck that is) is good for your career.

Tie these two together and you get the perfect analysis of Rushdie: dude write a horribly BORING book but his career is saved by multiple attempts on his life!! Cool!! Got it!

Meanwhile, Midnight's Children The Movie (?) wow - if the film comes anywhere close to capturing the harrowing pain of the book then... is that a movie I could bring myself to see?
posted by victors at 10:38 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wait, what?
posted by josher71 at 11:03 AM on October 24, 2011


I don't think it is incorrect to say that for his career, The Satanic Verses situation was a net benefit. Again, for his career. It's a negative in all other ways.

I don't exactly disagree, it just seems like the most callous and least necessary observation one could possibly make. Dozens of people die and a man has to go into hiding for a decade because he wrote a novel and the takeaway is that boy, he sure got his name in the papers? Rushdie himself takes the much more mature and important perspective on this: he may be famous but "There is a Rushdie everywhere," many of whom are killed or silenced in near anonymity.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 11:24 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Callous or not, it is the truth. I think it is uncharitable to say that the takeaway is simply, "He is more famous than we would have been, otherwise.". There are many lessons to be learned from this situation, and thankfully the getting famous because of it happened to someone as smart as Rushdie.

I think this latest comment makes a lot more sense than your former snarky one to 2manyusernames, and that was what I was responding to.
posted by josher71 at 11:34 AM on October 24, 2011


There are many things that are both true and gratuitous to say. Whether or not Rushdie became more famous with a two million dollar bounty on his head is beside the point, he didn't ask for it and no one in his right mind would. The comment I was responding to was like jumping into a thread about the discovery of a mass grave to say it must have done wonders for the flowers, I think anyone who makes a remark like that should be reminded that we're talking about people's lives here, not column inches or book sales.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 11:44 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I still think the fact that it was indeed a mixed bag of positive and negative for him is interesting, but point taken.
posted by josher71 at 12:07 PM on October 24, 2011


I loved _Midnight's Children_, so I was not happy when I heard a film was being made. But, if anyone can handle the material, it is Deepa Mehta. If Shabana Azmi is in it, I may have to buy a copy.
posted by QIbHom at 12:08 PM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I should have finished the whole article before commenting.

I can see where someone could have immense problems with a religion which has as many stated rules as Islam does.

The Jewish religion also has many rules. I guess the big difference is how and whether you can make fun of some of it.

There are the wonderfully humorous tales of Nasrudin, almost every Bosnian- Muslim child, Turkish child
or Afghan child gets told these
stories. The Nasrudin stories do
make fun of many things right in
the culture of Muslims.
From what I have read, the religious leaders in Iran are very much against humor, any kind of humor. Khomeini himself pretty much condemned humor.
You can't really have any sort of culture with no humor, let alone a great one.
It's weird to me because the Muslim people I have known along the way tell jokes and laugh. This even is the case with people I knew who survived the genocide, who lost relatives.
One thing that bothered me about 'The Satanic Verses' was that the main character was called 'Mahound' in Medieval Europe this was a synonym for Satan. This was commonly used in Scots dialect. Anyone who has read Robert Burn's poem 'Tam O'Shanter knows this.
anyway, good post and there has been some excellent discussion.

I do want to see the film 'Midnight's Children' when it comes out.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 1:51 PM on October 24, 2011


I always figured that the fatwa was more about the Khomeni-type figure in the book than the Mohammad-type figure.
posted by rikschell at 2:02 PM on October 24, 2011


Victors, you're absolutely spot on. I picked up the Satanic Verses in 1989 with an attitude of 'Pah, go on, impress me' and it enthralled me from the first paragraph. In the years since I've grown sick of the number of people who've told me SV is a boring book and they gave up on it, and I ask them to describe the opening chapter to me, and surprisingly almost none of them can tell me. Anyone who isn't amazed by the audacious virtuosity of those first few pages—the ideas! the dialogue! the use of language!—is probably best left to their Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer novels.

By contrast I found Midnight's Children good but not memorable. A chacun son goût.

Actually my favourite Rushdie novel is Haroun and the Sea of Stories. His joyous, playful use of English is perfectly suited to children's literature.
posted by Hogshead at 2:07 PM on October 24, 2011


The fatwah was the greatest thing for his career. The amount of publicity it generated really helped his career.
posted by 2manyusernames at 4:30 PM on October 24


Oh, that's okay then.
posted by Decani at 2:58 PM on October 24, 2011


If it wasn't for the fatwa he never would have even won the Booker prize eight years earlier.
posted by dng at 3:34 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


One thing that bothered me about 'The Satanic Verses' was that the main character was called 'Mahound' in Medieval Europe this was a synonym for Satan.

Actually, the two main characters were Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha. Given the rest of the novel, I'm pretty sure Rushdie's use of Mahound was intentional.
posted by b1tr0t at 3:58 PM on October 24, 2011


I like Haaretz.
posted by bxyldy at 4:22 PM on October 24, 2011


Given the rest of the novel, I'm pretty sure Rushdie's use of Mahound was intentional.

I remember reading an essay where he says that.
posted by concrete at 4:26 PM on October 24, 2011


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