First, read about the damn crows!
Rusdie’s new book, Joseph Anton: a Memoir, was released just four days ago, and is already #13 on Amazon’s best-seller list (“Joseph Anton” was Rushdie’s pseudonym when he was in hiding.) You can read a longish sample here; curiously, it’s written in the third person although it’s not fiction.
Now, with “Joseph Anton,” Mr. Rushdie has written a memoir that chronicles those years in hiding — a memoir, coming after several disappointing novels, that reminds us of his fecund gift for language and his talent for explicating the psychological complexities of family and identity. Although this volume can be long-winded and self-important at times, it is also a harrowing, deeply felt and revealing document: an autobiographical mirror of the big, philosophical preoccupations that have animated Mr. Rushdie’s work throughout his career, from the collision of the private and the political in today’s interconnected world to the permeable boundaries between life and art, reality and the imagination.
If Rushdie doesn’t get the Nobel Prize within a few years, it will be an injustice. But of course if he does, Muslims will riot throughout the world, and Sweden will be endangered.
And the fatwa, of course, has nothing to do with politics; it’s clearly a backlash against Western oppression.
Apropos, Newsweek, via The Daily Beast, has a nice piece by Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Rushdie’s fatwa and the recent Muslim unrest. She, of course, also suffered mightily from being an apostate.
The Muslim men and women (and yes, there are plenty of women) who support—whether actively or passively—the idea that blasphemers deserve to suffer punishment are not a fringe group. On the contrary, they represent the mainstream of contemporary Islam. Of course, there are many Muslims and ex-Muslims, in Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere, who unambiguously condemn not only the murders and riots, as well as the idea that dissenters from this mainstream should be punished. But they are marginalized and all too often indirectly held responsible for the very provocation. In the age of globalization and mass immigration, such intolerance has crossed borders and become the defining characteristic of Islam.
Much of her piece, which I highly recommend, recounts her own experience hiding from society for fear of being murdered. Her “crimes” against Islam started when she fought against the demands of Dutch Muslims that the age of marriage be lowered from 18 to 15, and suggested that Muhamed’s acts might be criminal under Dutch law.
And then it got worse. Many of you will remember this horrible incident:
But that was nothing compared with what happened when I made a short film with Theo van Gogh (titled Submission) that drew attention to the direct link between the Quran and the plight of Muslim women. In revenge for this act of free thinking, Mohammed Bouyeri, a 26-year-old Dutch-Moroccan man, murdered van Gogh—shooting him eight times and stabbing him with two knives, one of which pinned a note to his body threatening the West, Jews, and me. As he was dying, my friend Theo reportedly asked his assailant, “Can’t we talk about this?” It’s a question that has haunted me ever since, often in bed at night. One side proposing a conversation; the other side thrusting a blade.
Now I knew what it was like to be a combatant in the clash of civilizations. Having renounced Islam and openly criticized its political manifestations, I was condemned to a life cordoned off from the rest of society. I quickly learned the drill leading up to any public meeting or event. “Follow me,” the agent on duty would bark out, half-request and half-order, opening the doors to the armored car, doors I was not allowed to touch. Then a fast-paced walk, more like a march: a dash into basements and cellars; down dark corridors and elevators; through greasy kitchens and laundry rooms full of startled workers looking up, frozen in place. Agents whispering into wrists, elevators opening at the perfect moment, and I would be ushered into the occasion I was supposed to attend: a meeting of politicians; a town hall gathering; a reading; an intimate birthday party.
Ali then predicts a slow demise of Islamic states after religion gains power:
Utopian ideologies have a short lifespan. Some are bloodier than others. As long as Islamists were able to market their philosophy as the only alternative to dictatorship and foreign meddling, they were attractive to an oppressed polity. But with their election to office they will be subjected to the test of government. It is clear, as we saw in Iran in 2009 and elsewhere, that if the philosophy of the Islamists is fully and forcefully implemented, those who elected them will end up disillusioned. The governments will begin to fail as soon as they set about implementing their philosophy: strip women of their rights; murder homosexuals; constrain the freedoms of conscience and religion of non-Muslims; hunt down dissidents; persecute religious minorities; pick fights with foreign powers, even powers, such as the U.S., that offered them friendship. The Islamists will curtail the freedoms of those who elected them and fail to improve their economic conditions.
. . . After the disillusion and bitterness will come a painful lesson: that it is foolish to derive laws for human affairs from gods and prophets. . . We must be patient. America needs to empower those individuals and groups who are already disenchanted with political Islam by helping find and develop an alternative.
I hope so. But Iran has been a malicious theocracy for 33 years, and even before that it was a dictatorship. How many lives will be snuffed out while we work patiently for the demise of faith?