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September 10, 2012 9:53 AM   Subscribe

The Disappeared. "How a fatwa changed a writer's life." A third-person autobiographical essay, by Salman Rushdie.

23 years after the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa asking Muslims to execute anyone involved in the publication of The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie is publishing a memoir, Joseph Anton, about his life lived in hiding.

The Guardian (from 2009): How one book ignited a culture war

Daily Telegraph: "As Salman Rushdie publishes a memoir of his life in hiding, Sameer Rahim recalls the profound impact his infamous novel had on one young British Muslim."

The Atlantic: Salman Rushdie Gets Personal About 'The Satanic Verses'
posted by zarq (18 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Mefites in the Atlanta area may be interested to know that he will be speaking at Emory on Nov. 4. You can get tickets by buying an autographed copy of his memoir, or you can submit a ticket request via email and hope you get them.
posted by dortmunder at 10:22 AM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I enjoyed that Telegraph article, thanks.
posted by Abiezer at 10:29 AM on September 10, 2012


I remember that once, as a pretentious sixth-grade bookworm, I found a big, hardcover copy of The Satanic Verses lying around the house and, having detected the whiff of controversy around it, decided it would make ideal reading material for me to take on the long bus ride (and inevitable waiting-around time) of the lackluster band competitions we were marshaled into every so often.

So take it with me I did, even though it was a struggle toting around a saxophone, a backpack, and the wretched book. And of course I never finished it. When I started to read it on the bus it promptly made me feel nauseous and dizzy, something that had hitherto never occurred to me from reading in the car. And that was the end of that.
posted by Aubergine at 10:38 AM on September 10, 2012


Martin Amis had this personal experience of fatwa,
..under normal circumstances I would have walked out after ten or fifteen minutes. But these weren’t normal circumstances. Beside me sat Salman Rushdie. For various reasons—various security reasons—we had to stay. Thus the Ayatollah Khomeini had condemned me to sit through “Four Weddings and a Funeral”; and no Iranian torturer could have elicited a greater variety of winces and flinches, of pleadings and whimperings.
posted by Prince_of_Cups at 10:53 AM on September 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


Assassins of the Mind by Christopher Hitchens

I miss Christopher Hitchens.
posted by Fizz at 11:56 AM on September 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


The important thing to remember about the fatwa against Rushdie was that the religious have a vested interest in having secular society pander to their sensitivities. The level of danger Rushdie was or wasn't in (and testimonies differ on that point) is beside the point.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 1:01 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


What a great article, thanks.

I read The Satanic Verses - it's dense, like all his stuff, but it's perfectly readable. And as he says it's sort of befuddling it became an icon of anti-Muslim loathing.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:57 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fritz Langwedge: "The important thing to remember about the fatwa against Rushdie was that the religious have a vested interest in having secular society pander to their sensitivities. The level of danger Rushdie was or wasn't in (and testimonies differ on that point) is beside the point."

I think there's ample evidence that Khomeini's followers posed a serious threat. A representative from the Council of Mosques in Britain declared that Rushdie deserved to die. In 1991, Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses was murdered. If memory serves, a Japanese Muslim group stirred outrage there, after declaring that Igarashi's murder was justified. That same month, the Italian translator of the book, Ettore Capriolo, survived being stabbed. In 1993, William Nygaard, whose firm had translated the Norwegian version was also stabbed and survived.

This is really less an example of a religion demanding that "secular society pander to their sensitivities," and more of religious extremists using terrorism and fear to prevent dissent.
posted by zarq at 2:37 PM on September 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


Amidst all the talk of Khomeni's attempted murder of a writer for the crime of writing, it's worth remembering that The Satanic Verses is also a really, really good novel. It's rare that good books get censored---us free-speech types usually feel like Virginia Woolf did about The Well of Loneliness, "We must defend this dull book." But TSV is very smart, very slippery, evocative and beautiful. Khomeni is right that it's fundamentally an attack on Islam; I'd go farther and call it an attack on monotheism! And it's great.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:42 PM on September 10, 2012 [5 favorites]




Just to follow up on my last comment...

Terrorizing people into silence is a hallmark of religious extremism. Extremism of any sort, really. It's threatening people into self-censoring themselves, which is very different than a religious group or organization demanding special perks in a secular society, or portraying themselves to the world as above criticism.
posted by zarq at 3:50 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Great articles. Very moving.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:10 PM on September 10, 2012


What terrible misery will be unleashed upon us all should Khomeni's lone assassins find Rushdie? I do not doubt that the response by America would be out of proportion. Consider the voices forever silenced by the bombs and bullets that followed. Neocons get boners thinking about this scenario. Those are the ones we should be most afraid of.
posted by humanfont at 5:43 PM on September 10, 2012


And yet, rather than protect us all by committing a placatory suicide, Salman Rushdie is concerned with his own miserable skin, self-centred wretch that he is.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:03 AM on September 11, 2012


This is really less an example of a religion demanding that "secular society pander to their sensitivities," and more of religious extremists using terrorism and fear to prevent dissent.

Come on now. There's this liberal myth that we can separate the core values of a religion from the "fundamentalist" whackjobbery they inspire. We're quick to point out that considering the rantings of a medieval warlord sacred, and condemning blasphemers and apostates to death, are just weird misrepresentations of good-old-religion. But they're not. They're what religion actually is, before society puts a New Age happy face on it.

Let's not forget that plenty of nice, inclusive, liberal people were only too happy to criticize Rushdie's hubris, or that of Theo Van Gogh and the newspaper folks who published the Danish cartoons. It's common to hear people claim Rushdie et. al. share the blame for the violence their actions supposedly inspired, instead of defending them from the wrath of the righteous.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 6:03 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fritz Langwedge: "Come on now. There's this liberal myth that we can separate the core values of a religion from the "fundamentalist" whackjobbery they inspire. "

The idea that we can't is rather foreign to me.

Are you arguing that all theists are extremists?

Fritz Langwedge: "We're quick to point out that considering the rantings of a medieval warlord sacred, and condemning blasphemers and apostates to death, are just weird misrepresentations of good-old-religion. But they're not.

Most religions redefine themselves over time and are not static, unchanging entities. What they emphasize, believe and preach changes from generation to generation. What was acceptable a thousand years ago may no longer be so.

They're what religion actually is, before society puts a New Age happy face on it.

Actually, in many societies, it seems to me that secular culture creates social progress while religions play catch up. Either they attempt to adapt rather than be left behind and become irrelevant, or they insist that modern society itself must change to meet their beliefs. Depending on the issue at hand, these changes meet with varying levels of acceptance or rejection by the masses.

All but the most reactionary, rejectionist-of-modernity religions change to interact with modern society, in small and large ways.

Let's not forget that plenty of nice, inclusive, liberal people were only too happy to criticize Rushdie's hubris, or that of Theo Van Gogh and the newspaper folks who published the Danish cartoons.

One can be liberal in some ways and conservative in others. That may make one a hypocrite, but it doesn't mean they should be considered representative of the whole.

It's common to hear people claim Rushdie et. al. share the blame for the violence their actions supposedly inspired, instead of defending them from the wrath of the righteous."

Is it? To the best of my knowledge, it's been rather the opposite. Most of the people who spoke out against Rushdie, banned him from speaking at their events or burned his books seemed to be completely ignorant of what his book actually said.
posted by zarq at 1:43 PM on September 11, 2012


Actually, in many societies, it seems to me that secular culture creates social progress while religions play catch up. Either they attempt to adapt rather than be left behind and become irrelevant, or they insist that modern society itself must change to meet their beliefs. Depending on the issue at hand, these changes meet with varying levels of acceptance or rejection by the masses.

Not sure I agree totally. Religion has developed a lot of defense mechanisms that ensure its survival in societies where it doesn't enjoy the power to punish nonbelief. Certainly in the USA, religion gets a free ride when anyone tries to criticize it on the same basis we'd criticize the false claims of scam artists or quack doctors. The notion that "real" religion is an awesome thing that enriches people's souls and is a force for good in society makes it easy for people to dismiss the phenomenon of religious violence as some weird aberration.

But I'm not satisfied with judging religion on the basis of its most secularized believers. It has always seemed condescending when non-believers start lecturing on what "real" religion is. Why we're not supposed to take devout believers at their word about their religion is beyond me. No Muslim I know would ever agree with the nice, liberal idea that the Koran is just the words of some warlord and should be taken with a grain of salt, or that the concepts of sharia, hajj, and jihad are peripheral to true Islam.

Not every believer is an extremist or suicide bomber, because not every one has to be. Religion grooms its enforcers, then creates a shield of so-called moderate believers who will testify that "real" religion doesn't motivate people to do bad things. At the same time, the core values of religion--- even the devotion that results in violent acts ---are deemed worthy of respect and beyond reproach even by secular society.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 9:32 AM on September 12, 2012




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