Palestine, Short Skirts, Pork & Kissing [Part I]

Freakin’ AWESOME interview/article with Salman Rushdie from 2006. [H/T to Dr. Jones for sending me that other link from which I found this]

Because of Rushdie, the Muslim concept of “fatwa” (death sentence) came into the consciousness of the West in 1989 when he wrote things in his book ‘The Satanic Verses’ which Muslims found insulting to their prophet Mohammed (peanuts be upon him) and therefore received a threat on his life that was “officially” withdrawn in 1998 but which truthfully will always stand in the Muslim world as long as Rushdie is alive.

Even though hardline Muslims have been issuing fatwas since the inception of Islam, 1989 was the first time such a thing became a reality to those of us in civilized parts of the world who are taught to work out our differences with dialogue when we are offended. For most of us a death threat was something out of a movie. I remember it…I was a teenager and I remember thinking how surreal it was, how barbaric, how *not normal* it was, how shocking it was that such people existed in the world. In reality, Rushdie’s fatwa was a warning of things to come. In this interview from 2006 Rushdie makes some very timely remarks about this and other things pertaining to the Moon Cult. The entire interview is here. Read on for some excerpts. Please pay attention to the parts I’ve put in bold. Salman Rushdie has suffered and endured a lot for his crusade on behalf of free speech, freedom and equality. He’s now trying to share a new message and warning with us.

One morning, a few days after the fatwa, he woke up and switched on the television to see a British studio audience voting on whether he should be killed. He switched the channel to see tens of thousands of people in Pakistan, a country he had lived in and loved, burning his effigy.

Like in some cod James Bond plot, we did not utter his name, as though, almost 18 years after the Ayatollah Khomeini first uttered his call for murder, there are assassins waiting on every London corner for a whisper of his name.

Rushdie told the BBC that the battle against the veil was a battle for the freedom of Muslim women like his sisters. “Sheikh” Omar Bakri retorted gloatingly from Lebanon: “Rushdie will continue living his life in hiding. Any fatwa will stand until it is fulfilled. He is always going to be worried about a Muslim reaching him.” The message was old and simple and savage. This will never be over.

But this devout Muslim [Rushdie’s grandfather] was the antithesis of the book-burners who now attack his grandson. He remains, to Rushdie, “the model of tolerance. Whenever I think about open-mindedness, I think about him. You could sit there as an 11- or 12-year-old boy and say, ‘Grandfather, I don’t believe in god.’ And he would say, ‘Really? That’s very interesting. Sit down here and tell me all about it.’ And there would be no kind of attempt to ram something down your throat or criticise you. There would just be conversation.”

He fears that – in part as a result of this – “the good guys are losing the battle within Islam. There’s no question. The Islam that now exists is not the Islam that I grew up with.”

In the long shadow of the World Trade Centre, Rushdie’s story – of an Islam spiralling into spite – began to look different. It was no longer possible to dismiss him as an exception; he became a parable. For two decades, he has been scrambling to discover the moral to his story, endlessly tracking the “labyrinthine paranoia of the jihadi mind” as it tried to shred the secular values he knew and loved.

He fears that many people are wilfully misunderstanding the new Islamist virus that has spread through this new world. “People have been so knocked off balance by what’s going on that their normally well-functioning moral sense seems to have lost its footing.” After 18 years in the Islamist cross-hairs, Rushdie wants – needs – people to understand that this new Islamic fundamentalism is not simply the lump sum of all the bad things the West has done to Muslims, reflected back at us.

“If tomorrow the Israel/Palestine issue was resolved to the total happiness of all parties, it would not diminish the amount of terrorism coming out of al-Qa’ida by one jot. It’s not what they’re after,” he adds, his foot tapping against mine as he leans forward. “Yes, it’s a recruiting tool, rhetorically. Many people see there’s an injustice there, and it helps them to get people into the gang, but it’s not what they want. What they want is to change the nature of human life on earth into the image of the Taliban. If you want the whole earth to look like Taliban Afghanistan, then you’re on the same side as them. If you don’t want that, you’re not. They do not represent the quest for human justice. That, I think, is one of the great mistakes of the left.”

Within this Talibanist morality, there is room for great slabs of delusion and hypocrisy. In Shalimar the Clown, Rushdie shows sparingly how the jihadi fighters of Afghanistan have sex with adolescent boys, and the next day chop to pieces men they have dubbed “homosexual”. “One of the great untold stories of al-Qa’ida is that they are all these men who fuck little boys. They all have these disciples who they’re ostensibly training in the way of the warrior, but they’re also enjoying. For a while, then they go off – and they have their wives and families at home. It’s like Classical Greece.”

He senses soft racism in the refusal to see Islamic fundamentalists for what they are. When looking at the Christian fundamentalists of the United States, most people see an autonomous movement of superstitious madmen. But when they look at their Islamic equivalents, they assume they cannot mean what they say. “One of the things that’s commonly said by Islamists is that it’s acceptable to bomb a disco, because a disco is a place where people are behaving in a disgusting way. Go away and die – that’s all bin Laden wants you to do. It’s not just about Iraq, it’s about ham sandwiches and kissing in public places and sex with girls you’re not married to.” He pauses. “It’s about life.”

It horrifies Rushdie that so many people in his natural political home – the left – don’t get it. They seem to imagine that when people call for a novelist to be beheaded for blasphemy, they are really calling for a return to the 1967 borders, or an independent Kashmir, or an end to the occupation of Iraq…[…] But… but I remember after 9/11 that a lot of people did finally get it, and I remember thinking – it’s a shame that 3,000 people had to die for something pretty obvious to get through people’s heads.”

Part II to follow…

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