Anatomy of a madness, Part 2
I read The Satanic Verses in the winter of 1996-97, unemployed and frozen, and again in the winter of 2014-15, Charlie Hebdo on TV 24/7. The third time was in that magical realist summer of 2020, with a fresh-ish MFA to my name, to study the work as art. 12 August 2022: the author survived.
Barely thirty-three years have passed since Ayatollah Khomeini set off a major power trip inside Muslims’ heads, and made them almost as Muslim as it was possible to be. I say almost, for although they were ready to slay, it seemed unlikely that they were quite ready to be slain. The Ayatollah Khomeini was lucky. Muslims were still almost exclusively subordinate dependents. “We hear and we obey,” because that was still the only way most Muslims knew how to be. Any Muslim response to Khomeini’s fatwa other than what we saw and what horrified the civilised world so much was inconceivable to most. Issuing from Tehran along the airwaves to radios around the globe, a fascist announcement reached millions of ears, some left perplexed, others ecstatic. It went as follows:
In the name of God,
We are from God and to God we shall return:
I am informing all brave Muslims of the world that the author of The Satanic Verses , a text written, edited, and published against Islam, the Prophet of Islam, and the Qur'an, along with all the editors and publishers aware of its contents, are condemned to death. I call on all valiant Muslims wherever they may be in the world to kill them without delay, so that no one will dare insult the sacred beliefs of Muslims henceforth. Whoever is killed in this cause will be a martyr, God Willing. Meanwhile if someone has access to the author of the book but is incapable of carrying out the execution, he should inform the people so that [Rushdie] is punished for his actions.
May peace and blessings of Allah be upon you,
Ruhollah Al-Musavi al-Khomeini
At least some officials were not going to let that pass. According to the BBC, the British Foreign Office Minister, William Waldergrave MP, recounted when Iranian diplomats were summoned to explain the Ayatollah’s action:
I remember them saying, “Why’re you making such a fuss about this? This is just one of our apostates and we have to kill him. What’s the problem?” And that was a problem for us. They were perfectly capable of saying, ‘Oh that murderer who came and killed him, we didn’t send him.’ In what sense did they not send him or send him. They’d created the atmosphere in which that person would have come.
We will return to this remark in Part 3. Salman Rushdie, for his part, demonstrated his own unreadiness for what Islam was capable of. “It would be absurd to think,” the author said, “that a book can cause riots. That’s a strange sort of view of the world,” apparently forgetting that riots and much worse are exactly what the Qur’an causes. The strange sort of view of the world is, in fact, the Muslim view of the world and, of course, in their world not only does everything revolve around them, everything must revolve around them, on pain of death. Thus, for example, do they see only truth and lies, truth being that which affirms the honour of Muslims and lies being that which brings shame to them. Any work of fiction that explores questions straddling the line between honour and shame, especially if that line runs through the heart of Islam, is going to be zeroed in on and examined under a microscope, a kafir instrument that reveals the unseen world, ’a-uthu-billah! The book or the story are irrelevant. What counts are specific statements, phrases or even isolated words. Context? What context?
In India, a rerun of the subversive Khilafat Movement of a century ago unfolded as squads of literate Muslims became sleuths in the hunt for “insults to the Prophet.” They managed to photocopy and compile two pages of such “insults” out of Rushdie's 547-page book, and duly alerted the brothers in Britain. At “excitable discussions after prayers in the mosque,” according to a young Muslim student at the time, the two pages of incriminating snippets set them off, although unsubstantiated rumours of a single statement would have more than sufficed both for those who could not read and for those who would not. “This was not a work of simple imagination,” concluded the former student, clearly a highly-perceptive literary critic, but before the reader hastens to anticipate magical realism, hold on... “It seemed to me," he continued, "to be a targeted attempt to vilify and cause outrage.” That was not the cringeworthy Ahmed Deedat, but an educated Muslim.
Armed with the “evidence,” British Muslims marched themselves off to the Prime Minister’s office to appeal for the book to be banned and for its author to be charged with blasphemy. When the Thatcher government gave them short shrift, Muslims picked up just an inkling that the power wave they were riding was a chimera. “In effect, what we were being told as a minority is, ‘like it or lump it. You’ve got to take the abuse. You’ve got to take the vilification. You’ve got to take the disrespect. Muslims did not take it very well.” They were oblivious to the fact that everyone else took it as a normal part of living in a free society.
Western revulsion to the book burning truly baffled Muslims. They could not understand how anyone could be so upset over the burning of a book, and a very bad book at that, but have no sympathy for their hurt over insults to their prophet. In the streets, the crude ran amok, burning copies of The Satanic Verses and effigies of its author, while screaming themselves hoarse that Salman Rushdie must die, in scenes nothing short of mediaeval. The refined lounged in television studios, attempting to make fatwas as intelligible to the modern mind as they could, and openly hustled for empathy with Muslims who believed they were entitled to murder. Surely, any reasonable person must see that Salman Rushdie has to die.
Wherever Muslims were told what The Satanic Verses says, invariably the sentiments they expressed called for blood, because “He insulted our Prophet Muhammad Peace Be Upon Him.” Shari’a jurisdiction has no boundaries, and in Muslims’ supremacists minds, all earthly authority must bow down before theirs, Shari’a, the “Law of God.” What else? They have not read The Satanic Verses. This is not only because most of them cannot read, but because they actually fear looking, lest they become corrupted by the sight of the words on the page. Some even feared physically touching the book or coming too close to it. Such dangerous duties were left to the people of knowledge who were protected against this kind of evil.
The excitable ignoramuses wreaking havoc on our streets also knew nothing of Shari’a. It was not their place to know. They only know what the “scholars” vouchsafe for them to know and Shari’a was definitely forbidden knowledge. All that these mediaeval multitudes knew was that they were higher beings than everyone else in the world, and that “one of their own,” who had had the affront to leave Islam, for which he should long ago have been killed anyway, had now gone so far as to write a book that insulted their prophet. The barbaric rally of Allahu Akbar! and Rushdie must die! went on for months… 
To their eternal shame, many kufaar capitulated to the Muslims’ madness, but the deepest disgrace attaches to some otherwise renowned literary figures, who turned on their beleaguered fellow writer. Apparently, not all pens are mightier than the sword. So many of the great and the good cowered in the face of Muslim savagery.
One reason for the Ayatollah Khomeini’s subornation of Rushdie’s murder was that the old man was counting his days, and Sunni states were doing the running in the rapidly-developing “Satanic Verses affair.” In the month after its publication, October 1988, The Satanic Verses was banned from import into India. Over the following two months, the book was banned in Bangladesh, Sudan, South Africa and Sri Lanka. Khomeini saw his one and last opportunity to unite the entire ummah under Shi’a hegemony. His death being not far off, he would have to leapfrog them all, if he were to seize the leadership of the ummah and cement his legacy. This he would accomplish by doing what could only be done once, and never be undone.
Ayatollah Khomeini issued his notorious fatwa suborning the death of not only the author of The Satanic Verses, but of everyone associated with its publication. Khomeini was the Supreme Leader, there being no higher authority on earth than him, as far as Shi'as were concerned, and, more importantly, he was acting to defend Islam. Anyone who overturns his fatwa instantly becomes an apostate, and as such, must be killed. Still, there had to be more to this fatwa than Khomeini's vanity. Ali Ansari, an Iranian professor at St Andrews University, reflected:
The timing is interesting. If there was a theological point to make, if it was purely theological, you would have made it much earlier. You also have to say, why was it this particular book? There were many other insults that had been thrown at Islam, which have not received this sort of treatment. That cannot be understood outside [of] the political manoeuvrings that were going on in Iran at the time.
Indeed, by Salman Rushdie’s own account, the English edition of The Satanic Verses had been selling handsomely in Iran for six months before the fatwa was issued. Rather, it is my contention that Rushdie’s novel posed an existential treat to the Shari’a-decreed Islamic order. Although initially ignited by the clergy, lay Muslims started running with this issue without direction from the “scholars.” It threatened to turn Islam on its head. Yet the first to ban The Satanic Verses was not an alarmed Muslim country, but, to its eternal shame, the seemingly permanently dhimmified and incurably deluded government of India. Just to illustrate the point from a later context,
“In 2019, India made its maiden appearance at the OIC Foreign Ministers’ meeting, as a “guest of honour”. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj addressed the Inaugural Plenary in Abu Dhabi on March 1 2019, after having been invited by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Foreign Minister. The Ministry of External Affairs said then that the invitation was a “welcome recognition of the presence of 185 million Muslims in India and of their contribution to its pluralistic ethos, and of India’s contribution to the Islamic world.”
What better way for “the world’s largest democracy” to show its appreciation for the “Muslim contribution to India’s pluralistic ethos,” than by being the first to ban a book that Muslims would not like. By the time the Sunni states really got going, another non-Muslim state, racist South Africa, had also banned The Satanic Verses at the behest of none other than Sheikh Ahmed Deedat himself, who had not only called for Rushdie to be crucified for “causing mischief in the land,” but boasted to his congregation of how he had grovelled before the Apartheid officials to ban Rushdie from entering the country. Khomeini directed his fatwa at “the proud Muslim people of the world,” thereby upstaging the Sunni leadership in Cairo, as well as those elements in the Iranian clerical hierarchy not quite as visionary as him.
In 1998, ten years after publication of The Satanic Verses, Iranian Foreign Minister, Kamal Kharazzi, had the entire world standing to attention for his announcement: “The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has no intention, nor is it going to take any action whatsoever, to threaten the life of the author of The Satanic Verses, or anybody associated with his work.”
Of course this was tosh, and Sameen Rushdie, the author’s sister, was one person who smelt a rat. “I remember feeling a little cynical about what this might mean in real terms. Certainly, I did feel something had shifted on that day, although it wasn’t, ‘Hooray, it’s all over.’ …He’ll always be a target for some lunatic somewhere.” And how right she was, too, for one thing, the fatwa had not been lifted, and for another, there was the small matter of the proud Muslims of the world, who were, well, all over the world. This is why I have to disagree with Sameen Rushdie that, “It wasn’t a grassroots uprising. It was a political construct and Salman was a pawn in that game.” It was both, because it comes from Shari'a; the leaders and lay Muslims simply get there by different routes. The leaders can safely withdraw into the background, secure in the knowledge that lay Muslims will do the rest.
Archyde reports that Khomeini’s successor, Ayatollah Khamenei, on his website maintains that, “The decree is as Imam Khomeini issued it.” Of course it is. The 1998 Iranian government statement did not touch the fatwa at all. The Iranian government’s supposed setting aside of the fatwa was a case of classic Islamic deception. The fatwa does not call on the Iranian government to do anything. It calls on “the proud Muslim people of the world” to carry out the Ayatollah’s Shari’a murder. The supposed renunciation reads: “The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has no intention, nor is it going to take any action whatsoever, to threaten the life of the author of The Satanic Verses, or anybody associated with his work.”
The Iranian government’s 1998 undertaking leaves the fatwa perfectly intact. Of course it has taken every action to threaten the life of the author. When faced with pressure to go against an undertaking made to Allah, such as to kill Salman Rushdie, Shari’a provides for Muslims to make any promise, swear any oath, sign any agreement, ratify any treaty, etc., and then break it. Their undertaking before Allah must be fulfilled. Their undertakings to the kufaar are meaningless. Yet, the Western world whooped at the “breakthrough.” It is perhaps understandable that Rushdie would embrace this deception as meaning that his decade-long ordeal was over, but, and I am very sorry to say this, the man was deluded. His sister, Sameen, was not leaning on any profound geopolitical insights, yet her razor-sharp intuition was correct. This is crap.
The groundwork for the success of this deception had unwittingly been laid ten years earlier, the moment Western journalists first heard of the fatwa. The way the fatwa registered in their minds was the only way it could register. From the very first Western reports of the fatwa, it had already changed from what it was into something the Western mind could deal with. For example, immediately upon reading the verbatim printout, the BBC presenter James Naughty leapt into action to tell the world, “The Ayatollah’s extraordinary attack and his virtual order to Shi’ite extremists to attack Mr Rushdie was reported on Tehran Radio this morning.” Tehran Radio had reported nothing of the sort, but the only sense that Naughty could make of this order, was that it was a virtual order, those to whom the call was made had a choice. The intended audience of the fatwa being all Muslims in the world, made sense to the Western mind only as Shi’ite extremists. And in this comprehensible way, the fatwa was duly conveyed to the world. This unwitting misrepresentation underlay both journalistic reports and some Western diplomatic responses right from the moment the fatwa was issued.
This Western misrepresentation of the fatwa was sincere, rather than a deflection. The effusive “not all Muslims” obligatory preamble to all Western commentary on Muslim conduct came later. Here it was simply incomprehensible that the fatwa could possible be intended for all the Muslims in the world, such as, say, any random twenty-four-year-old man born in the United States to Muslim immigrants nine years into the future, or to, well, anyone who isn’t a "Shi’ite extremist," even though there was nothing in the fatwa to suggest this. Another journalist reported the Ayatollah’s fatwa as calling on “his followers” to kill the author.
The other mistake the West made was to see the phalanx of Shari’a, jihad and Muslims as only disaggregated actions by autonomous individuals who think for themselves and act of their own volition. One of Rushdie’s friends remarked, “I thought religion was dead and gone a long time ago.” But of course, it was back and with a vengeance, along with the mediaeval mind and barbaric social order that form its ecosystem. It is not understood, and will probably never be understood, that a Muslim is not an autonomous individual, but a dependent subordinate. George Orwell understood this concept, even though he dealt with a different totalitarian order. Christians, Jews, Hindus, etc, for the most part, choose what their faith means to them individually. Muslims are told what their faith means to them, and they obey. That is the mediaeval condition, and their fear of stepping outside of their cage is primaeval. This is why the most historically significant contemporary phenomenon is that of Muslims leaving Islam, a phenomenon hitherto unheard of.
In 2009, twenty years on from the fatwa, the then young Muslim student quoted above could see that the Muslims had shot themselves in the foot. “We were wrong to have called for the book to be banned. We were wrong to have supported the fatwa. The images that it’s left behind in the minds of many British people are very negative ones.” Unfortunately for Muslims, it was also becoming increasingly clear to the kufaar that there was something seriously wrong with the beneficiaries of their generous assumptions. The lesson Muslims still have to learn is, as Salman Rushdie pointed out at the time, “The burning of a book always means the same thing.” The principle that multiculturalism pre-empts and overturns is: if the West will not change for Muslims, then Muslims must change for West.
- Fatwa against Salman Rushdie, Iran Data Portal, https://irandataportal.syr.edu/fatwa-against-salman-rushdie
- "Salman Rushdie & the Satanic Verses Scandal" https://www.videoclip.bg/watch/1546497 Much of this essay is draws on this source.
- Harris Sultan will be familiar with how this works from his spirited search for "bigoted statements" in Robert Spencer's writing.
- It will be assumed that Salman Rushdie's recent would-be murderer, Hadi Matar, had picked up The Satanic Verses, actually read two pages of the novel and then gave up. https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-62588666 This is extremely unlikely. Far more likely is that he has read these two-pages of snippets compiled in India in 1988 and sent to a mosque in Britain that then set off the book burning in that country. If there are still any who do not know, mosques are not places of worship.
- The BBC managed to track down one Muslim who has read The Satanic Verses as a work of literature, struggled with it, reflected on her reaction until her humanity prevailed, and pressed on. She was a writer. Ironically, Christian missionary and famous Islam critic David Wood, who describes himself as "your friendly neighbourhood philosopher," gave up on reading The Satanic Verses because he found the opening scene of two men verbally sparring while they fall to earth after their plane exploded "too weird." One wonders what he would make of philosopher Ibn Sina's Floating Man experiment.
- As far as Muslim ignorance goes, my brothers are some of the most ignorant, even by Muslim standards. One of them, who has never read anything and takes no interest in anything except the quotidian minutiae of his own life, was beside himself with sound and fury, insisting that he would kill Rushdie himself, and this was before Ahmed Deedat had made his thinly-veiled call for Rushdie's crucifixion.
- On my MFA course in 2017, I put the following question to a First-Amendment-protected publisher who came to encourage us all to take full advantage of the wonderful freedom to publish, “If Salman Rushdie offered you The Satanic Verses today, what would say to him?” Her waffle amounted to, “We can’t afford to take the risk.”
- India Today Conclave: Q&A With Salman Rushdie, YouTube, 28 Feb 2017 https://youtu.be/5bCluMC1TuY?t=108
- The Israeli political and social establishment has the same problem. They do not want to know. More worryingly, not only will the woke youth not be told, the will shun the teller.
- Shubhajit Roy, “Explained: What is OIC’s stand on Kashmir, and how has India responded?” The Indian Express, 5 December 2020 https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-kashmir-india-and-the-oic-7074514/
Recently, an Indian critic described the Indian government as “clueless” when it comes to its constantly jihad-pushing 197 million-strong Muslim minority. She is right. Usually, the best that India can do is to issue strong statements and demand that their adversaries be gentlemen. “On Tuesday (February 15), India lashed out at the Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for being “communal minded” and “hijacked by vested interests” – a thinly veiled reference to Pakistan – after the grouping called on the UN Human Rights Council to take “necessary measures” on the issue of Muslim girl students being told not to wear the hijab in Karnataka schools. The OIC also urged India to “ensure the safety, security and well being of the Muslim community while protecting their way of life”. The statement said India must bring to justice the “instigators and propagators of violence and hate crimes” against Muslims.
India’s response to the OIC statement was that India is a democracy, and issues within the country are resolved “in accordance with our Constitutional framework and mechanism, as well as democratic ethos and polity. [Methinks Nupur Sharma might beg to differ, AP] The communal mindset of the OIC Secretariat does not allow for a proper appreciation of these realities.” Additionally, India repeated what it said in 2020, that “OIC continues to be hijacked by vested interests to further their nefarious propaganda against India”.”
“A proper appreciation of these realities,” means appreciating that the OIC and Indian Muslims are united in one thing: jihad against India. For some reason, Hindus in India seem unable, or unwilling, to see that Muslims do not act in good faith. They do not seek friendship, dialogue, understanding, and all that lovely stuff. Their project remains as it has always been: to violently subjugate the entire world and to dominate it, by whatever means and however long it takes. The Indian government tut-tutting the OIC for not being nice only sets them up for further abuse. In the meantime, they have naïvely accepted an invitation to dinner in the lion's den. Meanwhile in the West, people tie themselves in knots over those Muslims who pose no danger to them. Talk about looking through the telescope from the wrong end.
- "Aggression in the United States – Assault against Rushdie: activists blame Tehran," 13 August 2022, https://www.archyde.com/aggression-in-the-united-states-assault-against-rushdie-activists-blame-tehran/