Salman Rushdie’s new book, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s reaction

September 23, 2012 • 11:53 am

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.

The always critical Michiko Kakutani at the New York Times gave it a generally positive review, and the NYT also published an interview with Rushdie about the book:

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?

36 thoughts on “Salman Rushdie’s new book, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s reaction

  1. That encounter is so chilling, it’s one that we must now more than ever do all that is within our powers to stop from having to happen if not now then to our children and any attempts such as those proposed by Pakistan for anti-blasphemy law must be nipped at the bud!

  2. A minister in a government supported (militarily, diplomatically, with foreign aid, through educational exchanges, etc.) by the USA and the UK openly breaches international law by offering a bounty for anyone who commits a crime on foreign soil (murdering the filmmaker responsible for the anti-muslim video).
    And the reaction from the USA and the UK? Loud silence – just as in the case of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie.
    I truly dispair.

  3. “even powers, such as the U.S., that offered them friendship”

    Ha! The US has offered friendship, true, but to their dictators not to them the people.

  4. According to the Quran and thus to orthodox Islamic theology, what “blasphemers” deserve is eternal sadistic punishment in a hellish concentration camp, where they are tortured over and over again in the most horrific ways.

    “Garments of fire will be tailored for those who disbelieve; scalding water will be poured over their heads, melting their insides as well as their skins; there will be iron crooks to restrain them; whenever, in their anguish, they try to escape, they will be pushed back and told, ‘Taste the suffering of the Fire.'” (Quran 22:19-22)

    1. That is not what Hell is like in Europe – we have Stygian gloom! I prefer our native Hell to that of the desert dwellers 🙂

    1. In the NYT interview, he says, “I had always thought that I don’t want this to be a diary or a confessional or a rant. I don’t want it to be a revenge book, a getting-even book. I knew all sorts of things I didn’t want it to be, but I didn’t know what I did want it to be. Each time I tried, it didn’t work and so I put it aside. And then I realized that one of the things I was really disliking was the first person, this endless “I,” things happening to “me,” and “I felt” and “I did” and “people said about me” and “I worried.” It was just absurdly narcissistic. So at a certain point I thought, “Let me just see what happens if I write it novelistically, in the third person.” And the moment I started doing it was like the kind of “open sesame” that gave me the book.”

  5. “I hope so. But Iran has been a malicious theocracy for 33 years, and even before that it was a dictatorship.”

    Do I correctly understand that in 1953 the U.S. CIA was instrumental in overthrowing the duly elected (correct?) president Mossedegh (sp.?) when he nationalized the oil industries, and installed the Shah Pahlevi? Was Mossedegh of a zealous Islamic mindset? What if the CIA (Eisenhower) had simply left well-enough alone?

    Then too, there’s the 80’s Iran-Contra fiasco.

    Ah, American Exceptionalism.

    1. You remember correctly. And by the way, the present economic boycott of Iran is the second one by the West. The first embargo of the west against Iran was a prelude to the 1953 coup.

    2. Well, yes, and I believe it was Christopher Hitchens that called the Mossedegh overthrow America’s “original sin” in that region.

      And if you look at the history of reactive US policy since then, it fits. Resentment for the overthrow of Mossedegh and the Shah’s dictatorship beget the Islamic Revolution and US Embassy hostage taking. Which beget US support of the Saddam Hussein regime as a counterbalance. Which eventually emboldened Hussein to invade Kuwait. Which beget Iraq War I, followed by sanctions. The failure of which beget Iraq War II. Which strengthened Iran. Which is building nuclear weapons….

      Would be nice if it were possible to send a message back in time alerting Eisenhower.

    1. Here let me Google that for you. Yes and no, only the Peace Prize is given in Norway, the rest are given in Stockholm.

  6. It’s not hard for the extremists to exalt exploited, unemployed, illiterate, desperate masses by telling them how the Americans only want to put puppet dictators like Mubarak and Pahlavi in power who are willing to give away the country’s oil and suck up to the jews in Israel.

    Maybe you shouldn’t have destroyed Mossadeq’s democratic government in Iran and replaced it with a dictatorship to begin with. You sure have given them plenty of fuel for incendiary rethoric.

    1. Yeah,

      I’ve always wondered how Ali can correctly, though with insufficient explicitness, say

      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.

      and then follow with

      [The Islamists} pick fights with foreign powers, even powers, such as the U.S., that offered them friendship.

      She is a brave individual, she just needs to be brave enough to realize her neocon pals are part of the problem.

        1. Neocons at the American Enterprise Institute aren’t doctrinaire? I’m a person “of the left” I guess, and I don’t even know who “the left” you speak of are supposed to be. I also don’t know why the opinions of “the American left”, whatever those opinions are, should induce her to accept that the U.S. has offered other nations help in the same breath that she acknowledges “foreign meddling” as a source Islamist ascendency.

          1. I think when she said “foreign meddling” that was referring to how Islamists would have viewed foreign help.

          2. I don’t see how that follows. That interpretation of her remarks just replaces one contradictory argument with another. If the polity of the countries where Islamists are marketing their philosophy thought U.S. involvement in their countries was “helpful”, how successful would the Islamists marketing effort be?

  7. Ali brought up an extremely important point that many people don’t seem to be aware of: there is no such thing as a “moderate” Muslim, and the Muslims that the media refers to as “Extremists, radical”, or “fundamentalist” are actually the TRUE Muslims, usually following the word of the Koran to the letter: one must remember that, in Islam, there is no “interpreting” of the Koran like we interpret passages from the Bible- the Koran being a “perfect” document sent directly from God, it is to be taken literally. If two suras do conflict, however, the “rule of thumb” is to follow the more recent one, and most of the passages that urge intolerance and violence were written later on in Muhammad’s life, after he had gotten a taste of power. The “real” Muslims loath the “moderates”, whom they consider apostates tainted by Western influences and they know that they can easily control them and stifle any complaints by threats of violence. This is why you’ll seldom hear of a “moderate” cleric denouncing their actions, or any “counter-protests”- these people know all too well how the “real” Muslims operate; it’s the equivalent of standing out on a Mexican street and bad-mouthing a drug cartel.

  8. Within the U.S., killings by crazy Christians vastly outnumber killings by crazies of other religions. I suspect, but I’m not certain, that the same is true in Europe. Worldwide, in recent decades and neglecting warfare, Muslims may well be responsible for the greatest number of deaths from religious strife. In most cases either governments or groups struggling against their governments were responsible.

    It’s also been the case that Muslim states have been involved in most of the wars in recent decades. If we want to characterize states by the religion of their citizens, we can also note that Christian states have been heavily involved as well.

    At this point, saying that the basic problem is religion is about as apt as suggesting that the solution is gun control.

    1. The worst violence has occurred in current or former military dictatorships. The military is generally perceived as a stabilizing or even a modernizing force and has frequently been sustained by foreign assistance. The Islamic resistance, like the American religious right wing, represents itself as the sole source of virtue, but the military co-opts popular fervor when it serves its purpose.

      Everybody already knows this, don’t they? What can we do about it? It’s a little bit late, but we really shouldn’t have invaded Iraq. Maybe we shouldn’t have interfered with Russia back when it was dealing with Afghanistan, either.

    2. On the topic of crazy Christians vs crazy Islamists, one thing that’s struck me is that although the latter have beliefs that are even more medieval than the former (killing apostates, stoning adultresses,etc), when it comes to accepting evolution, the Islamists actually come out ahead. You’d probably catch less grief for teaching evolution in a high school in Tehran than you would in several US states.

      The difference goes back to the late 19th Century when Christian theologians picked a fight with evolutionary theory, reversing a previous trend of acceptance of Darwinism even among conservative Christains. With conservative Islam, this particular fight never happened.

      1. I’m sorry, but I don’t think evolution is taught in high schools in Tehran. It was a great struggle to get my book translated into Arabic because of opposition to evolution that is endemic in Muslim countries.

        If you have evidence for your statement other than what you feel, then by all means give us a list of high schools in Iran where evolution is taught. It is, of course, taught in many American schools.

        1. I stand corrected about other conservative Islamic countries, though. According to the article, the teaching of creationism is official policy in Saudi Arabia, at least in primary education. It makes me wonder how they deal with ancient life and old earth when it comes to education of their petroleum scientists where there’s no getting around that idea. No small irony that maintaining their nations wealth depends on it.

          1. At least when I was in school, their petroleum engineers, etc., were being educated here in the States.

          2. Well, actually, there’s an entire King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals:


            With a PhD-granting Earth Sciences department, no less. Looking at their web page, they even take their students on overseas fossil hunts:


            and does research like this:


            How they handle the transition from a creationist primary eduction to studies that make use of evolutionary biology as a central assumption must be an interesting process.

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