Why Rushdie was stabbed: an absorbing video by the Ex-Muslims of North America

August 26, 2022 • 1:00 pm

This note and a video link came in a mass email from Muhammad Syed, the co-founder, executive director, and president of the Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA); Sarah Haider was the other co-founder.

Now that Salman Rushdie has finally been attacked, it’s time to think about the act, ponder the history behind it, and and examine the larger issues it raises. Who better to analyze it than the EXMNA group? The video is short, 29 minutes long, and I recommend it highly.

Syed’s email:

On August 12, the heinous stabbing of celebrated author Salman Rushdie left the literary world reeling. Despite “life-changing” injuries, he survived the attack, carried out by a 24-year-old man with reported “Shi’ite extremist” sympathies.

Rushdie, long an outspoken supporter of liberal values and free expression, has had a target on his back for more than three decades—ever since the release of his “blasphemous” novel, The Satanic Verses, and the subsequent “death sentence” issued him by the Supreme Leader of Iran.

It’s now more important than ever to understand why this happened. What was the “blasphemy” of The Satanic Verses? Why did it provoke such an intense reaction? And, especially in light of this latest attempt to carry out Iran’s fatwa, what can this ordeal reveal to us today, as we live with its consequences?

EXMNA has a new documentary-style video out exploring these questions in depth. Watch it below.

The video is below, and here are the YouTube notes:

The attempted murder of acclaimed author Salman Rushdie on August 12, 2022 sent an earthquake through civil society and the literary world—but it was more than three decades in the making, originating with accusations of blasphemy against Islam in his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. In the 34 years since, a conflict between fundamentalism and secularism has roiled liberal societies, culminating in this gruesome attempt on Rushdie’s life. The “Rushdie affair” is not over—and it won’t be over for a long time to come.

The video starts with the publication of The Satanic Verses, and if you haven’t read it, there’s a precis. Then we see the worldwide reaction to what was seen as a form of blasphemy so heinous that it was deemed a capital crime by many Muslims. (It’s certain that the vast majority of those who objected and rioted never read the book.)

Rushdie was taken by surprise at the vehemence of the reaction. The book was burned, banned in India, and then, in 1989, came the fatwa from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Do read the fatwa, which is shown in the video. It was not just Rushdie who was condemned to death, but all the editors and publishers “aware of its contents.” Some of them, and the book’s translators, were murdered.

We also hear from the “free-speech butters” who, in some sense, defended Rushdie’s critics (one of them was Jimmy Carter).  Also from Cat Stevens, who, converted to Islam, is shown wishing for Rushdie’s death.  There’s an interesting bit on British blasphemy law (still on the books back then but never used), and the attempts of Muslims to expand it to religions other than Christianity. (The law protected only Anglicanism.)

The fatwa was lifted by Iran for a while, but then was reinstated. It remains in effect, and young Muslims are identifying even more strongly with Islam than their forebears.

Do watch this excellent video, part of the great work that EXMNA does.

22 thoughts on “Why Rushdie was stabbed: an absorbing video by the Ex-Muslims of North America

  1. I like the term “free-speech butters”, although the jester in my head immediately commented that he’d like some free-speech butter on his sandwich.

  2. “Liberal” writer Ian Burma published an article or letter in the NY Times saying, in effect, that there are some things that civilized people should never say. So now we have Buruma Butter. Add Nicholas Kristov who called Ayaan Hirsi Ali “strident” because she had the cojones to attack jihad and radical Islam (after undergoing FGM, was threatened with forced marriage and got death threats in Netherlands along with her associate Theo van Gogh, who was stabbed to death by an Islamist). Peanut butter for Francine Prose, who resigned from the PEN board because it gave Charlie Hebdo an award for defending free speech. My list of TFMs who are moral fence sitters is available if anyone wants it. (Timothy Garton Ash also attacked Hirsi Al but had the courage to retract it).

  3. Cat Stevens, aka Yusuf Islam, lost me with his vile pronouncement and evident glee at the prospect of Rushdie’s death.

    Though a talented songwriter and musician, he clearly was a young man in search of “meaning” who landed on one of the world’s most despicable belief systems.

    As I often say: Islam is a steaming heap of superstitious, dangerous garbage. But Muslims shouldn’t feel too bad. All religions are.

    1. It’s as if Cat Stevens disembarked the “Peace Train”, ran into an old friend who hypnotized, drugged and/or spoke quite convincingly to convert Mr. Stevens to the extreme end of a belief system; and from there on Yusuf Islam was okay with medieval style retribution for transgressions of verbiage.

    2. I vaguely recall a televised debate (in 1989) involving Yusuf Islam, a senior police officer, the novelist Fay Weldon (a supporter of Rushdie) and several others.
      At one point Yusuf Islam stated that apart from the “blasphemy”, Rushdie deserved to be executed because – wait for it – he was an apostate!
      He appeared totally oblivious of the irony of that statement.

      (I’m pretty sure also that at one point she exhorted the police chap to arrest Islam for incitement to violence. He declined.)

      I’ve been unable to find a reference, and don’t recall whether it was the BBC or ITV or whatever.

    3. Cat Stevens lost me when I heard him call some girl in the audience “stupid” after they presented him with some flowers during one of his shows. You can see this for yourself on his Majickat dvd release.
      Cat Stevens was an asshole as a pop star and now he’s a pious asshole.

  4. The most depressing comment in the video for me was that young British Muslims were becoming radicalized, that their assimilation onto British society was not resulting in moderate views re Enlightenment values.

    I don’t know about Britain, but in the US, by 2005 alone, Saudi militant Islamist organizations had spent $80 billion dollars to build new mosques and supply them with Wahabi imams. By 2005 it was estimated that 80% of US mosques were radicalized.

    The Muslim Brotherhood is also involved in mosque building and staffing around the world and receives funding from Qatar. There is an effort to designate it a terrorist organization in the US.

    1. They have done this all over the world for many decades now. Including very successfully in East Turkestan (the real reason why the Chinese are cracking down on the Uyghurs is Islamist terrorism). I would dearly love to know why the US after so many allegedly “pro democracy” wars against Arab dictatorships with far less pernicious influence never took on Saudi Arabia, but instead allied itself with SA and other gulf monarchies in each and every war.

  5. I’m pleased at how that video remains quite equanimous, mainly sticking to facts. Kudos to the EXMNA.
    I think those calling for Rushdie’s death, or more generally ‘death to those who insult/ disrespect/make fun of Islam’ should be prosecuted for direct incitement to violence, ic. murder (which is not protected by Free Speech). Prosecuted or, if not citizens of the country they reside in, expelled.
    I disagree (that rarely happens) with our host there (if I’m not mistaken), I think that these threats are indeed direct incitements to violence, as the facts show.

  6. We also hear from the “free-speech butters” who, in some sense, defended Rushdie’s critics (one of them was Jimmy Carter).

    As I recall there were some American writers whose knees also buckled a bit when the Ayatollah issued the fatwa against Rushdie. Christopher Hitchens gave a lot of the credit for bucking them up to Susan Sontag, who was then president of PEN America.

  7. I am and have always been as atheist as anyone, but I’m not sure that the total and general condemnation of religion is really a good idea. Some eminent people, beginning with linguist Dr. John McWhorter of Columbia U., are suggesting in complete seriousness that Wokism could be a reaction to the disappearing of religion from society. As GK Chesterton is said to have written (apparently the original source is dubious or unknown), “When man stops believing in God, he does not believe in nothing, he believes in anything.” Likewise, atheist Douglas Murray has said that modern society seems to have a “God-shaped hole” in it.
    I think it is folly to ignore the ideas of these two men. There’s always that old and wise idea of the Precautionary Principle. *Let’s take things slowly!*
    If we in the west just do away with Christianity, there’s an excellent (poor choice of word) chance that Islam will step in – gleefully. Even Richard Dawkins has said that if Christianity is the only thing holding Islam at bay, he’d support Christianity. I am with him on that point.

    1. Northern Europe, Netherlands, Germany, Scandinvian countries, and France are secular. There is a low background level of people saying they vaguely and distantly believe in something distant and far away. Nobody cares. Most people can still sit through the hokuspokus at funerals without laughing, where pastors invoke Christian spells that supposedly point spirits and souls in their right directions, but overall religiosity is only a factor in some rural areas, and even there, church attendance is low. Religion isn’t required for anything. Churches are sometimes still official companions of the state, but even that means fairly little. Nobody “tears down” a fence, as authoritarian minded people keep insinuating: you can believe whatever you want and direct magical spells into any direction as often as you’d like. Just because some people say society would be better off without religion doesn’t mean you should feel persecuted.

      I take it as the latest desperate attempt of right wingers to make religion relevant. But even in their wing it’s just the recent mascot on the partisan tricot. The other side is associated with secularism. The Right is very (televangelist, money worshipping) Christian in the USA, and it follows that you must pick a team and everything else this team stands for. You can’t possibly be an individual to make up your own mind for how you’d personally want to go through until your own funeral, where I hope everyone is laughing at the hokuspokus.

      1. That is true for the autochthonous population in those countries, not so much for the immigrant population which is no longer a negligible minority at least in Germany and France.
        Where I live, I see a blooming of private Christian fundamentalist churches/prayerhouses and Islamic fundamentalist mosques. The churches that nobody goes to except possibly for funerals and weddings are the old German state-affiliated churches (no separation between church and state in Germany). And there were never as many of them as there are immigrant dominated private religious worship houses now. Telephone surveys neglect immigrant milieus, I no longer trust them on such questions.
        Religion was practically dead in communist Eastern Europe, but resurged in many of the countries together with old nationalisms. Somehow most of the
        anti-Soviet and anticommunist dissidents turned out to be right-wingers.

        1. It is the new churches in the UK that are the problem, packed with evangelicals who have come from Africa in the main, & they are not part of the reasonableness of Anglicanism. That is why the CoE is worth some support as it has kept religion moderate. Catholics follow their leader in theory, but still are more or less reflective of the attitudes of the rest of the population, using birth control for example. Born Mahometans are more likely to be reasonable than converts as well. It seems to me. Still, what do I know!

    2. I share your concern. I know of many converts to Islam in the young generation. But I don’t think Christianity can or should be the answer. Yes, humans crave organized rituals, shared ideals and relevance/meaning. But all of that could be provided in a secular humanist fashion. Communist East Germany had a secular “Jugendweihe” (“Youth sanctification”) instead of and very similar to protestant confirmation. Pluralism shies from state sponsored ritual and youth organizations, but there will be a price to pay if of one leaves this “spiritual” part of existence to religious fundamentalist or partisan extremists, be they wokies, “white nationalists” or Turkish or Kurdish nationalists who, after two generations in Germany, are still part of fights in their grandparents’ country of origin.
      We need some integrative force in our increasingly fragmented societies. America used to have a kind of national ideology and rituals that immigrants could easily adopt and identify with, Europe, less so.
      Sometimes I think wokeism will in fact be the ideology that holds it all together, as it’s seemingly already dominant among the educated young and appeals to children of immigrants. Then I see how divisive, destructive and contradictory it is and doubt whether it will still work when the common enemy, boomer “white men”, is gone. I also fear that wokeism is more regressive and less universal than secularized milquetoast Christianity.

  8. If religions just gave up the idea of a god and an afterlife, they would become moral and philosophical guides that would be far more useful and friendly. Maybe the Ethical Culture movement is an attempt at this (though it seems to attract more Jews than Christians).This would end religious conflicts though it often seems that religions actually WANT these conflicts.

  9. After reading Midnight’s Children, one of the best novels I’ve ever read, I followed with Satanic Verses. Wow! Rushdie is a spectacular writer. East, West, The Moor’s Last Sigh. People, if you haven’t done so, read his work. Genius is the best defense against the dark arts.

  10. The reason the Fatwa is in place is as it could only be rescinded by the person who imposed it.

    But what a load of bollocks… that’s what religion does – fills the minds of the mindless.

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