Sunday, September 24, 2023

Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses and The Case of Free Speech

By New Age Islam Staff Writer 22 September 2023 Both The Islamists and The Defenders of Free Speech Learn a Lesson from The Rushdie Affair Main Points: 1. Ayatollah Khomeini had issued a fatwa of death against Rushdie. 2. Rushdie remained in hiding till 2002. 3. His novel Satanic Verses was burned in Bradford by Muslims. 4. He was attacked by a Lebanese origin youth in 2022. 5. He lost an eye in the attack. ------ Salman Rushdie/ File Photo ------ Salman Rushdie's novel the Satanic Verses had come out in 1988 and sparked worldwide protests by the Muslims as the novel had hurt the religious sentiments of the Muslims. Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini had issued a fatwa of death against him and a bounty on his head. The copies of the novel were burned in Bradford in January 1989. The Indian government led by Rajiv Gandhi banned the novel in India after the Muslim intellectuals represented by Md Shahabuddin demanded a ban on the book to prevent any violent backlash in the country. Dr Rafique Zakaria had also supported the ban and had written a rejoinder against the novel. However, the fatwa and the ban made the book even more popular and it became a bestseller. The fatwa compelled Rushdie to go in hiding and he remained in hiding till 2002. During the period, he had to change his residence constantly. This affected his personal life. In August 2022, a Lebanese origin American Muslim Hadi Matar attacked him on stage during a programme in New York. He sustained some injuries but recovered soon though he lost his right eye. Still, he did not show any signs of repentance or remorse. Instead he defended his right to free speech. Khomeini's fatwa, however, was the beginning of the emergence of an aggressive Islamism. Some critics are of the view that the fatwa led the Muslims on the road to jihad. What the West called freedom of speech was to them the means of blasphemy. The Islamists argued that freedom of speech as all other freedoms was not absolute and it needed to be monitored by self-censorship while the defenders of the freedom of speech argued that it was absolute and needed no censorship. On the contrary, the state must protect those expressing their views. The government of Sweden presents this argument while allowing Quran burning and providing protection to those burning the Quran. The burning of the Quran by Muslims in Bradford did not stop blasphemy against Islam and Quran but it only intensified and became a regular affair. Earlier, Jyllands Posten published cartoons that mocked the prophet of Islam. Next Charlie Hebdo published cartoons. Some films were also made showing Islam and its prophet in bad light. Each time the Muslims protested and each time they were labelled as fundamentalists not understanding the value of freedom of speech. In India too, blasphemy against Islam and its prophet was telecast in the mainstream media. Therefore, the fatwa of death against Salman Rushdie did not work as a deterrent to those criticising Islam. In the era of social media, Muslims are more helpless in the face of what they call blasphemy. In this scenario, Muslims need to learn a lesson and change their religious behaviour. They should learn to behave as a mature community and should not react violently at every instance of blasphemy. Even during the life of the prophet, his opponents used to make insulting remarks against him. He simply ignored them. Indian thinker and reformer did not issue a fatwa against the author of book against the prophet but wrote a book to counter his arguments. The author also warns those defending absolute freedom of speech against the misuse of the social media which has become a repository of hate speech. Now it is easier to make hate speeches on the social media. So, every expression of hate and malice towards anybody cannot be defended as an act of free speech. Today, the social media has got a wide reach and the main medium of expression. It impacts minds and thought process of its users. Social media groups are active and are used for dissemination of knowledge and information. Most of the time it is unmonitored and is used for propaganda against groups and communities. These groups spread hatred and sometimes orchestrate violence. Therefore, such propaganda or hate material cannot be allowed under freedom of speech. In fact, the notion of freedom of speech in the West and in the Islamic world differs. The Muslims respect and revere their religious symbols and sacred personalities. Their religion also enjoins on them not to speak ill of the sacred personalities or deities of other religious communities. The Muslims, therefore, have never published blasphemous cartoons of the saints and prophets of other religions nor any Muslim writer has written any book denigrating any sacred personality of other religions. Maqbool Fida Hussain is an exception. The Muslim community did not defend his alleged sketches as right or the Muslim media did not support him. This is what they expect from the western world. However, the violent attacks or fatwas of death against those showing disrespect to Islam cannot be justified as the Quran does not support it. It asks Muslims to demonstrate restraint and ignore such content. The western world too should review their concept of freedom of speech in order to ensure a peaceful co-existence in a globalised community. ----- The Rushdie Affair By Amir Ali 21.09.23 This year marks 35 years since the publication of Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel, The Satanic Verses. In October 1988, India became the first country to ban the book when the Rajiv Gandhi government was petitioned by the Muslim parliamentarian, Syed Shahabuddin. The Rushdie affair stands out in public memory because of the public burning of the book in the northern England town of Bradford in January 1989. On February 14, 1989, the Iranian spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued the infamous fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death. This made the Rushdie affair into an international and diplomatic event. It also resulted in the word, fatwa, being included in the English lexicon. The word has since mostly been understood as a binding legal diktat, when in classical Islamic jurisprudence it may merely mean a non-binding legal opinion. The Rushdie affair never seems to go away. In August 2022, Salman Rushdie was injured in a stabbing incident by the Lebanese-origin Hadi Matar in New York state, resulting in Rushdie losing vision in one eye. Rushdie himself has, over the years, become a figure associated with a valiant and principled defence of free speech. He has refused to be cowed down by those seeking to silence him. Despite the defence of free speech mounted by Rushdie and his peers, the principle is even more precariously positioned today than it was three and a half decades ago when the Rushdie affair first broke out. This may suggest that grandstanding defences of free speech have had the opposite effect. Ironically, even as the public burning of The Satanic Verses was denounced in the Western media as medieval and reminiscent of the Nazi era, there have been a spate of public burnings of the Quran in Europe recently. The problem of Islamic fundamentalism became further entrenched in the Western political imagination as the Rushdie affair was followed by the US-led war on terror. Among the many books written on the controversy was Kenan Malik’s From Fatwa to Jihad. Malik is otherwise a balanced and sensible political commentator. But the title of his book suggests that it is only a small step from fatwa to jihad to Islamic terrorism and, beyond, to a sharia-compliant and enforcing State. The reinforcement of an exclusive and uncritical association of Islam with terrorism seems then to be a fall-out of the Rushdie affair. This unfortunate association has been amplified by other influential members of the British literary establishment through their writings, such as Fay Weldon, V.S. Naipaul and Martin Amis, and, at times, by their defence of Rushdie. The Rushdie affair has become extremely important in terms of its political and philosophical implications for societies of the late 20th and early 21st centuries as they contend with fundamentalism, terrorism, Islamophobia and free speech. A historical parallel can be drawn with the Dreyfus affair of France in the late 19th century in terms of its implications and the anti-Semitism that it gave rise to in France and other parts of Europe. There are lessons to be learnt from the Rushdie affair. One big lesson for the Muslim side is to prioritise free speech, the lack of which must be acknowledged as a pressing problem. For the West, the Rushdie affair offers a lesson in how not to defend free speech. Free speech cannot be defended by merely asserting its significance ad infinitum. Free speech requires enabling conditions, such as ensuring education remains a public good, a press free from the malign influence of media barons, and prevention of the internet and the social media from becoming commercialised repositories of hate speech in the guise of free speech. Remarkably, the more vociferous voices have been in the West in making the case for free speech, quite often against Islamists, the more the principle has been undermined. The clue to this curious puzzle of wasted efforts in the cause of free speech could lie in the evisceration of every single one of the enabling conditions just mentioned. ----- Amir Ali teaches at the Centre for Political Science, JNU Source: The Rushdie Affair URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

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