While listening to NPR's 'Talk of the Nation' yesterday, I was somewhat surprised to hear about the re-ignited furor over Salman Rushdie and his most infamous work, The Satanic Verses, sparked this weekend when Rushdie was awarded a knighthood by the Queen of England.
First of all, it amazes me that this 20-year controversy still has the power to move people enough to demonstrate and call (once again) for Rushdie to be killed. Or to wonder if it is all a well-planned action by religio-political groups? Muslim leaders in many nations have also voiced their outrage over his knighthood. The Pakistani Religious Affairs Cabinent minister was reported in The Independent as saying that,
For those who have not read the book, the furor basically goes back to a series of dreams that one of the characters, Gabreel, has. The story begins as Gabreel and Saladin fall through the air, victims of a terrorist bombing of an airplane. Over time, Gabreel, who has doubts about religion, dabbling in Christianity and Judaism as well as Islam, develops a halo and the appearance of the angel Gabriel (this is the angel that appeared to Muhammad in a cave on Mt Hira). Saladin grows horns and a tail, beginning to look like Satan. Gabriel's dreams involve a false prophet named Mahound, and here begins the basis for the much of the alleged blasphemy. Mahound is historically a derogatory name for Muhammad.
The mirage of a city shines below him in the sun.'
(Satanic verses, pg 93)
Rushdie, himself raised in the Islamic faith, has apologized to any Muslims who took offence. He has repeatedly said it was not his intention to criticize those who practice Islam, but to write a fictional story about one person's doubts. It is also interesting to note that the story was also largeley a critique on the Thatcher government. Yet, the British government has spend oodles of money in providing safe houses and other protection to Rushdie, and has now deemed to honor him with a knighthood. Huh.
That little human right known as freedom of speech seems to be getting a beating this year, particularly where religious issues are concerned. The 'chocolate Jesus' controversy that occurred around Easter, leading to the cancellation of an exhibit that included a chocolate sculpture of a nude, anatomically correct Jesus pops to mind.
I will hand it to the Guardian to give the understatement of the day,
'Rushdie was celebrating his 60th birthday in London yesterday and is not commenting on the latest threats to his life. It is understood he is anxious not to inflame the situation.'