It’s been 25 years since Salman Rushdie published his novel Satanic Verses and Iran’s head of state, the Ayatollah Khomeini, responded by charging him with blasphemy and placing a death sentence upon his head. Not surprisingly, Rushdie went into hiding when he heard the news. The next 10 years of his ordeal was recently chronicled in an article by Paul Elie. (“A Fundamental Fight,” by Paul Elie, Vanity Fair, May 2014 pg. 180 – 193)
At the time, Susan Sontag, a literary genius in her own right, showed courage by rallying cultural luminaries to support Rushdie. Many responded to her call, but others used the opportunity to display a surprising amount of venom. Prince Charles of England weighed in to express his view that Rushdie erred when he insulted the deeply held conviction of others. (Ibid pg. 191) Sadly, he didn’t stop to consider whether or not the punishment fit the crime. If Christians had held Mark Twain to a similar standard, he’d have been assassinated many times over.
While it may be bad manners to criticize someone’s faith, in the western world the right to do so is protected as free speech. What’s more, if holding a deeply held conviction made an idea unimpeachable, then slavery would still exist.
Salman Rushdie says he never wrote his book intending to offend anyone. He saw his novel as an entertainment. I believe him. But once a book leaves the writer’s desk, people are free to give it whatever interpretation they like. Whether they are amused or outraged says more about them than it does about the author. As for those who defended Rushdie and those who didn’t, their conduct speaks volumes, too.
(Courtesy of theguardian.com)