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Satanic Verses

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Although the world-wide protests over the publication of the Danish cartoons of Muhammad are foremost on people’s minds, these incidents were not unique – they were very much like the protests against Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses. Perhaps we should consider why that book was so offensive.

Terror and Liberalism

In Terror and Liberalism, Paul Berman writes:

A lot of people, not just the ayatollah, figured that Rushdie’s novel was horribly disrespectful to Islam, and was meant to be disrespectful, and Rushdie was a nasty provocateur. But look at The Satanic Verses today. Rushdie describes the allure of ultra-radical, even lunatic political protest, in the immigrant neighborhoods of London.

He describes the allure of the most delirious of Islamic ravings, and he even conjures up religious ravings that, in their agonized confusion, distort and desecrate the Muslim faith. Rushdie has a lot of fun with those themes — too much fun, someone might say (though what is too much fun in a novel?). But Rushdie did not invent these themes. Critics like to call him a “magic realist.” But in The Satanic Verses Rushdie is, on the contrary, a social realist, faithfully reporting on the reality before his eyes. [emphasis added]

Why do Muslims protest in massive numbers against books and cartoons which associate Islam with violence, but don’t protest in similar numbers against violent terrorists who commit violence in the name of Islam and thereby establish in others’ minds a strong connection between Islam and violence? That Muslims would get upset at the former is entirely understandable; the reasons for that, however, should commit Muslims to being even more upset at the latter.

Whatever the reaction to the former, then, it should be dwarfed by the reaction to the latter — should be, but isn’t. The reality is that the protests against actual violence are few and far between, while protests against criticism are massive and themselves incredibly violent. We have to ask, then, whether Muslims are really protesting the act of connecting Islam to violence because it isn’t true, or rather because it is true and they don’t want to be reminded of this fact?

Are some Muslims feeling guilty about their lack of response to religious violence and, since they are too afraid to stand up to extremists within their community, find it easier to lash out at outsiders who dare to speak the truth? Are other Muslims deliberately trying to discourage the connection between Islam and violence in order to make it easier to commit violence in the future?

There are lots of possible motives for Muslims’ failure to protest actual violence as strongly as the protest disrespectful criticisms and I’m sure that within any given crowd, many motives are at work. Muslims themselves are going to have to sort through them and deal with these motives before they can move on — and they will have to start moving on at some point. Disrespectful criticism can’t hurt them or Islam, but the violent extremists are hurting Islam and the Muslim community. Outsiders can’t do much to deal with that and unless Muslims act decisively, they won’t be able to do anything either.


Written by vasuudev

May 27, 2009 at 1:43 pm

Posted in Books

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