Against Literalism—’The Satanic Verses’ Fatwa at 30

Good commentary (was posted to Iran when published and the fatwa issued):

I have written elsewhere about the fatwa issued 30 years ago by a sinister religious cleric commanding the world’s Muslims to murder the writer and everyone involved in the publication of The Satanic Verses. But the best way to repudiate the authoritarian, constricted, literal mindset is by celebrating its opposite. And so, with as little mention as possible of the events the publication of The Satanic Verses engendered, what follows is simply an appreciative analysis of that extraordinarily epic, satirical, ironic, and multifaceted novel.

Salman Rushdie is one of the finest writers of recent times, whose work celebrates hybridity and intermingling of culture over narrow-minded puritanism.

This theme is at the heart of The Satanic Verses, as suggested by the questions posed near the beginning of the novel: “How does newness come into the world? Of what fusions, translations, conjoinings is it made?” These questions are asked as the two protagonists, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, fall from the sky above the English Channel after the hijacked plane they were travelling in is torn apart by explosives. Gibreel and Saladin are the only survivors but there is a price for this miracle. They both undergo a metamorphosis; Gibreel gains a halo while Saladin sprouts horns.

The story follows these two men as they grapple with these changes and explore themselves. In his memoir Joseph Anton, Rushdie states that his inspiration for the novel was the globalising world of modern times where migration and cultural rootlessness are norms rather than exceptions. The novel quotes Daniel Defoe on the plight of the devil, cast out of paradise and doomed to travel the world “without any certain abode.” This diabolic tragedy is treated by Rushdie with empathy as well as sympathy, for his own experiences inform the character of Saladin, whose transformation into a devil reflects his inauthenticity and rootlessness, his wearing of a mask to cover up the Indian heritage he is ashamed of and which he wishes to replace with an English identity. Rushdie says in his memoir that his sympathy is with the devil, as should be the case with all great poets, according to William Blake.

The novel’s protagonists are Indian-born Muslims. Saladin is a voiceover artist and an immigrant from Bombay to London whose shame about his Indian-ness and desire to be anglicised form the backdrop to a complex interrogation of what it means to be rootless and how migrants in a globalised world can find a sense of identity. Gibreel, meanwhile, is a legend of the Bombay movie scene whose recent health crisis has led him to lose his faith and travel to London to be with the woman he loves, Alleluia Cone. Famous for portraying Hindu gods on screen, Gibreel’s newfound archangelic nature sorely tests his mind—a newly godless man condemned to act as God’s (or is that Satan’s?) right hand on earth.

But both protagonists are hybrids who contain elements of the saintly and the diabolical. They both face challenges and crises of identity. Through them, Rushdie explores what it means to lose and then find one’s identity and what the true experience is of migrants whose rootlessness and existence in a foreign culture leads to a crisis of selfhood. The intermingling of elements—culture, language, religion—is celebrated, while the concept of purity in identity and culture is repudiated as too constricting.

Saladin reconciles with the father he thought he hated, accepts his Indian-ness, and begins to live authentically, while Gibreel’s end is much sadder. Rushdie celebrates the hybrid and the multifarious over the narrow-mindedness of those who wish to keep everyone in a straitjacket. Culture, civilisation, and identity mean, for Rushdie, open-mindedness and a rooted rootlessness; spiritual and intellectual strength arise from the hybrid while puritanism leads only to individual and collective suffering.

Rushdie himself has stated that these ideas are central to the book:

Those who oppose the novel most vociferously today are of the opinion that intermingling with a different culture will inevitably weaken and ruin their own … The Satanic Verses celebrates hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas, politics, movies, songs. It rejoices in mongrelization and fears the absolutism of the Pure … It is a love song to our mongrel selves.

The main narrative is interspersed with chapters devoted to parallel stories. Gibreel dreams of the prophet Mahound’s difficulties proselytizing for his new religion and his eventual triumph over those who laughed at him in Jahilia (Mecca?); he is drawn into the ambiguous recollections of a dying old woman whose past involves love and murder; a sinister imam, exiled in London, uses Gibreel’s power to revenge himself upon impurity and paganism; and Gibreel’s archangelic powers are used by a prophetess named Ayesha to convince an Indian village to go on a pilgrimage by foot to Mecca—and to part the Arabian Sea which stands in the way.

We are left to wonder if Gibreel was just insane, if the novel tells the sad story of a man’s mental decline. If so, did Saladin go mad, too? In which case, Gibreel, the archangel, was undone while the devil, Saladin, emerged triumphant and whole again to live authentically. When they fell from the sky the two men were physically and mentally intertwined, their bodies wrapped around each other. The hybrid nature of the two men is explored in great depth and with great beauty throughout the novel. Interconnection is explored with reference to contrasting concepts, such as love and hate, death and life, rebirth and reinvention, while Saladin’s experiences as an immigrant yearning to be accepted is an analysis of migration, change, and identity—and all the conflicts engendered thereby.

In the end, obsession with purity and rigidity give way to reconciliation and compromise; the colonial subject is freed from a mental oppression which says he is inferior; and hybridity is shown to be superior to purity, as epitomised by the sixteenth century Hamza-nama cloths which display, in the view of Saladin’s friend and lover Zeeny Vakil, “the eclectic, hybridized nature of the Indian artistic tradition…you could see the Persian miniature fusing with Kannada and Kerala painting styles, you could see Hindu and Muslim philosophy forming their characteristically late-Mughal synthesis.”

The Satanic Verses is critical of Islam, but not very. Mahound (Muhammad?) is presented as a secular leader who is slowly corrupted as his power grows (and whose supposed access to divinity is undermined by his companion, Salman the Persian, who notes the suspicious convenience of the archangel’s revelations to the prophet). But he is angelic in other ways—a freer of slaves and a man of principle willing to spare those who submit rather than just a warlord and temporizer. The book’s title relates to the historical episode in which Muhammad stated that some pagan goddesses could be brought into his new religion—an act which was quickly repudiated so as not to dilute the faith’s monotheism, and which Muhammad put down to being confounded by the devil masquerading as the archangel Gabriel.

In my reading, “the satanic verses” evoke human frailty rather than diabolical design. For Mahound they are a compromise, a way to ingratiate himself with the Jahilians and win new converts by accepting the existence of some lesser pagan goddesses; this is a secular, material tactic rather than an exercise in theology. For Gibreel, “the satanic verses” are the rhymes an embittered Saladin pours into his ears to turn him against Alleluia. Again: ambiguity, mixture, hybridity, and interconnectedness—good, evil, love, hate, death, life, compromise, and jealousy; all very human strengths and frailties.

“The satanic verses” is a phrase which also suggests hybridity because, as mentioned, they refer to Muhammad’s brief acceptance of pagan deities. The novel celebrates diversity and the multifaceted and so this mixing of paganism with Islam’s purity should be taken as the prime example of the beauty of hybridity. Why restrict oneself to narrow monotheism when there is so much colour and delight to be found in every tradition?

Ironically, life imitated art and Rushdie himself was transformed, like Saladin, into the devil; as he recounts in Joseph Anton (itself a remarkable and beautiful book and a cogent defence of freedom and literature), he was renamed “Satan Rushdy,” and his image was paraded by mobs to be scorned.

The greatest irony, though, is that a novel about the power of culture and literature and the superiority of expansiveness and mongrelisation to the narrow and the pure should itself become a focal point in the real-life battle between those things. As Christopher Hitchens put it at the time of the fatwa: “This is an all-out confrontation between the literal and the ironic mind.” This could describe the novel itself as well as the contest it aroused.

This is not a simple matter of West versus East (Rushdie would have much to say about such a simple demarcation), but a matter of civilisation versus barbarism, wherein the artists, secularists, writers, and reformers of all colours and creeds must make a united stand against the authoritarians and narrow-minded fundamentalists of all kinds and in all places, whether they be Islamists, righteous far-leftists for whom “dissent” means “impure,” windbag religious reactionaries, or white nationalists. On the latter group, recall Rushdie’s words, quoted above, on the strength and beauty of the hybrid compared to the weaknesses and fears of those who see change and mixing as a threat.

Baal the poet, an enemy of Mahound in the novel, sums up the writer’s task: “A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world and stop it from going to sleep.” Once more, life imitates art—who better to epitomise this ideal than Rushdie himself? Who better than a great novelist with roots in multiple cultures to act as symbol of and warrior for freedom of expression, the power of literature, and the beauty of the multifaceted against the many enemies of those ideas?

Joseph Anton shows that Rushdie’s life and art are intimately jumbled up together—his was a family which encouraged rationalist criticism of the divine Qur’an and which venerated storytelling’s power to shape individuals and undermine tyrants. The family surname was changed to Rushdie by his father in honour of Ibn Rushd, known in the west as Averroes, that ironic and rationalist philosopher of the Islamic medieval golden age who opposed religious literalism and narrow-mindedness. This is a fact of which Rushdie is proud—in his memoir he reflects that at least he was on the right side of the right war armed with the right name for the task. If there were such a thing as destiny, it seems that Salman Rushdie would have been chosen as liberty’s champion. But there is only the material universe populated with imperfect beings and Rushdie is one of them—no saint, but a dogged and humane defender of civilisation.

I said I would try not to focus on the external events surrounding Rushdie’s novel but the content and themes of the book are, in the end, inseparable from what happened after the book was published. Hybridity, irony, and interconnectedness once more, it seems—the fictional and the real intermingling and synthesising to form a powerful defence of openness and civility.

The Satanic Verses is therefore not only a work of astonishing beauty but also a foundational document in the fight for culture, openness, civilisation, and civility against those who wish to see those things stifled by narrow-minded faith-based puritanism. Salman Rushdie’s life and work remind us of the importance of this battle and the necessity of remaining staunch and unyielding in the task of defending civilisation against its enemies in whatever grotesque permutations they appear.

Source: Against Literalism—’The Satanic Verses’ Fatwa at 30

Salman Rushdie, Philip Roth, and British Anti-Semitism

Speaks for itself:

A year ago, the late Philp Roth invited Salman Rushdie to give the Newark Public Library’s annual Philip Roth Lecture. Delivering the lecture in September of this year, as scheduled, Rushdie took the opportunity to eulogize Roth, to speak of Roth’s influence on his own work, and to comment on a particular conversation that made a lasting impression:

“My most vivid memory [of Roth] is of a conversation in London in the mid-1980s, at a dinner in the house in Chelsea where he was living with Claire Bloom, [whom he would later marry]. He spoke of his desire to return to America because of his growing dislike of British anti-Semitism, and the irritation caused by the accompanying British refusal to admit that there was such a thing as British anti-Semitism, and their desire to explain to Philip that he had probably made some sort of cultural misunderstanding.

I have been thinking again about what Philip perceived all those years ago, because the British Labor party is presently in the throes of a dispute about the widespread anti-Semitism within its ranks, a problem the existence of which the party leadership has appeared to minimize or even deny until quite recently, and which, even now, has not been firmly dealt with. . . .

I told [Roth] that evening about my only personal experience of anti-Semitism. One summer when I was young, before I had published anything, and when I was not even slightly fashionable, I was somehow invited to a fashionable rooftop party in London, at which I was introduced to a designer of extremely fashionable hats named Tom Gilbey, whose work, I was told, was often featured in Vogue. He was quite uninterested in meeting me, was curt to the point of discourtesy, and quickly went off in search of more fashionable party guests.

A few minutes later, however, he came back toward me at some speed, his whole body contorted into a shape designed to convey embarrassment and regret, and offered the following apology. “I’m so sorry,” he said, “you probably thought I was very rude to you just now, and actually, I probably was very rude, but you see, it’s because they told me you were Jewish.” The explanation was offered in tones which suggested that I would immediately understand and forgive. I have never wanted so much to be able to say that I was in fact Jewish. . .”

Source: Salman Rushdie, Philip Roth, and British Anti-Semitism

25 Years Later, Norway Files Charges in Shooting of ‘Satanic Verses’ Publisher

About time:

William Nygaard, publisher of the Norwegian edition of Salman Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses,” was shot three times and left for dead outside his home in a quiet suburb of Oslo on the morning of Oct. 11, 1993.

Twenty-five years later, just two days before a deadline that would have foreclosed prosecution, the Norwegian police have at last filed charges in the shooting of Mr. Nygaard, who recovered from his wounds. And the authorities stated what many people had always taken for granted: that the attack had to do with Mr. Rushdie’s book, which infuriated Muslims around the world — a theory that the police played down a generation ago.

“We have no reason to believe there is any other motive for the attempted killing than the publication of ‘The Satanic Verses,’ ” said Ida Dahl Nilssen, a spokeswoman for Norway’s National Criminal Investigation Service. The shooting was about more than an attack on one man, she said, it was a violent attempt to shut down free speech.

But the charges, announced on Tuesday, remain steeped in uncertainty, leaving it unclear how close the authorities really are to holding anyone responsible for one of Norway’s most notorious unsolved crimes. Officials have refused to say publicly what evidence they have or how many people have been charged, or to disclose the suspects’ names, nationalities or current locations.

In 1989, shortly after the book’s initial publication in English, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, declared it offensive to Islam and called on Muslims to kill Mr. Rushdie and anyone involved in publication of the book. But Mr. Nygaard, then the chief of the publishing house Aschehoug, which his family controls, went ahead with publication of a Norwegian-language edition, two months after the ayatollah’s edict.

The Iranian threat, followed by protests and attacks on bookstores in other countries, was not an idle one, and Mr. Rushdie went into hiding for several years.

In 1991, Ettore Capriolo, who had translated the book into Italian, was stabbed in Milan by a man who tried — and failed — to get him to disclose Mr. Rushdie’s location. Mr. Capriolo survived, but days later, Hitoshi Igarashi, the novel’s Japanese translator, was fatally stabbed in Tokyo.

Ayatollah Khomeini died within months of declaring the death sentence. Iran’s government said in 1998 that the threat had been dropped, but religious authorities there have said it still stands, and there is a bounty on Mr. Rushdie’s head.

In the attack on Mr. Nygaard, Norwegian authorities filed charges under a rarely used article of the criminal code, protecting fundamental societal values from attack. Under Norwegian law, if they had not filed by Thursday, they would have been required to drop the case.

“As a consequence of the charges, the investigation may now go on,” Ms. Nilssen said. “We have a strong desire to solve this case.”

On Wednesday, Norwegian news organizations, citing unnamed sources, said there were at least two suspects, one from Iran and the other a former resident of Norway with ties to Lebanon.

In a statement provided by his agent, Mr. Rushdie said: “This is good news, and one can hope that this 25-year-old case will now finally advance.” He has long criticized the investigation, and in his statement, he questioned “why the names and nationalities of the indicted persons have been withheld.”

The announcement also came as a relief to Mr. Nygaard, who is retired from publishing and is the chairman of the Norwegian chapter of PEN, a worldwide association of writers that fights for freedom of expression.

Asked if he regretted publishing “The Satanic Verses,” Mr. Nygaard, now 75, replied with an emphatic “absolutely not.” He did not publish the work, he said, to be provocative, but “to build dialogue,” and if given a choice, he would do it again in the name of freedom of speech.

He shrugged off his own remarkable survival and recovery from the shooting, which included months of hospitalization, calling it a matter of mental and physical vigor.

“I used to be a very good Norwegian ski jumper,” he said. “And quite a good publisher.”

After the attack, the police focused principally on investigating personal motives, rather than wider political or religious ones, according to a 2008 documentary by Odd Isungset, an investigative journalist who also wrote a book about the case.

That documentary reawakened interest in the shooting, and the police reopened the case in 2009.

Knut Olav Amas, a former deputy culture minister who now runs a free speech advocacy group, said it was a major “scandal” that investigators did not pursue the possibility of terrorism and a religious motive.

“The Nygaard investigation itself should be investigated,” Mr. Amas said.

At a 2012 celebration of “Joseph Anton: A Memoir,” Mr. Rushdie’s book about his time living under a death threat, he described decisions like Mr. Nygaard’s to publish the book, as “one of the greatest defenses of free speech of our time.”

Source: 25 Years Later, Norway Files Charges in Shooting of ‘Satanic Verses’ Publisher

Barbara Kay: The Jewish blindspot to the horrors of the niqab

Interesting thought experiment regarding the Jewish equivalent of the niqab, but with Kay’s usual lack of nuance in discussing the issues and rants about cultural Marxism:

Sir Salman Rushdie spoke at Montreal’s Jewish Public Library last week. We were two of an estimated 700-strong (mostly Jewish) audience.

Rushdie’s insightful and entertaining address on “literature and politics in the modern world” was excellent, but the evening’s most noteworthy moment arrived with the Q&A, when, inevitably, his response was solicited regarding Quebec’s new Bill 62, which bans face coverings in the realm of public services. Rushdie gracefully sidestepped any comment on the law itself, but did express a robust opinion on the niqab.

His own family, Rushdie said, ranged from atheism to full Islamic practice, but “Not even the religious members would accept wearing a veil. They would say it is an instrument of oppression.” My husband and I applauded loudly, but few others did. Rushdie added, “Muslim women in the West who see it as an expression of identity are guilty of what Karl Marx called ‘false consciousness.’ A lot of women are forced to wear the veil. To choose to wear it, in my view, assists in the oppression of their sisters in those parts of the world.”

At this point I clapped even more enthusiastically and (alone) bellowed, “Bravo!” But most of the audience continued to sit on their hands. To say I was disappointed in my fellow Jews is an understatement. Here, after all, is a man who knows Islamic fundamentalism and oppression first hand, having endured 20 years of tense vigilance following fatwas against his life for the alleged crime of insulting Islam.

The tepid reaction to Rushdie’s statements thus struck me as a rebuke both to Rushdie’s personal ordeal and to the wisdom he brings to the face-covering debate as a critical insider. It’s also proof that even someone of Rushdie’s moral authority is powerless to shift liberal Jews’ reflexive instinct to identify with a perceived underdog, whatever the actual stakes at issue. I even had the sneaking suspicion that if a niqab’d woman in the audience had risen to shake her fist at Rushdie, she would have sparked an approving ovation.

I understand why young people are loath to criticize any cultural practice by the Other. They’ve long been steeped in cultural Marxism, which encourages white guilt and forbids criticism of official victim groups, including Muslims (but not Jews). But how did so many of my pre-Marxist, classically liberal Jewish contemporaries, who were, age-wise, disproportionately represented in the audience — especially the women, feminists one and all — fall for what public intellectual Phyllis Chesler calls a “faux feminism” that is “Islamically correct”?

I had assumed that my opinion on Bill 62 — that it is a fair law that privileges socially-level communications over a misogynist tribal custom — had solid, if minority, support in my community. The Rushdie evening disabused me of that illusion. Yet, I remain bewildered that Rushdie’s words don’t ring as true to my peers as they do to me. And not just Rushdie. Many Muslims are as “triggered” by the niqab as I am, and for better reason: they came to Canada to escape what it represents in those Islamic countries where it is customary (or obligatory) to wear it. They’re eager to speak up, but most media are too busy romancing the niqab-wearers to hear them.

Here’s a thought experiment I’d put to my progressive Jewish friends: How do you feel about the “frumqa”? “Frum” means religious in Yiddish. A frumqa is the Jewish burqa, worn by a few hundred Haredi women in Jerusalem who are sometimes called the “Taliban women.” The frumqa’s creator, Bruria Keren says she wears it “to save men from themselves. A man who sees a woman’s body parts is sexually aroused … Even if he doesn’t sin physically, his impure thoughts are sin in themselves.”

I’m glad the frumqa exists for one reason: I can say I find it disturbing in itself and abusive to girls without being called Islamophobic. I can freely say that Haredi fundamentalism and the obsessive gender extremism it incubates is a blot on the Jewish halachic and cultural landscape. Please don’t speak to me of a Jewish woman’s “right” to wear such a travesty of “tzniut” (modesty in dress and behaviour). Indoctrinated women, like inebriated women, are not competent to give informed consent to practices that reduce them to sexual and reproductive “things.”

I’d wager there isn’t a single Jewish woman in that Rushdie audience who wouldn’t privately express her visceral disgust with the frumqa, and who furthermore wouldn’t turn a hair if it were banned in Israel (it can’t be: the Haredim hold too much political power there). But over the Other’s burqas they draw a politically correct veil. Forgive me if I conclude it isn’t just Muslim women in the West who are guilty of false consciousness.

Source: Barbara Kay: The Jewish blindspot to the horrors of the niqab | National Post

Islamic Terrorism Is A Form Of Islam And We Can’t Deny It, Says Salman Rushdie

Worth noting, and there is a difference what words intellectuals and writers may use and those that governments may use:

However, Rushdie has contended, that, ““If everybody engaged in acts of Islamic terrorism says that they’re doing it in the name of Islam, who are we to say they’re not? I mean now of course what they mean by Islam might well not be what most Muslims mean by Islam. But it’s still a form of Islam and it’s a form of Islam that’s become unbelievably powerful in the last 25 and 30 years.

He goes on to talk about ‘this liberal spirit of appeasement’, ‘of political correctness’.

He explains that it is true that several Muslims in America and Western Europe are actively discriminated against, putting them in a position of economic disadvantage and one needs to talk about ending discrimination. However, he adds, religious ideas held by them necessarily doesn’t become legitimate because they belong to economically or racially disadvantaged people in countries like America.

He adds that when free speech is shut down, minority communities are the ones who suffer the most. So they should actively promote the need to let free speech remain truly ‘free’ and if some criticism of their own religious ideas have to faced in the process, so be it. “It comes with the territory,” says Rushdie.

“Most of the oppression of Muslims in the world right now is carried out by other Muslims, you know. Whether it’s the Taliban in Afghanistan or, you know, the Ayatollahs in Iran or wherever it might be. But to say that this is not Islam is to misname the problem. The problem is that there’s been a mutation in Islam, which has become unusually virulent and powerful. And it needs to be dealt with, but in order to deal with it we have to first call it by its true name,” he says.

Source: Islamic Terrorism Is A Form Of Islam And We Can’t Deny It, Says Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie on Islam: ‘We have learned the wrong lessons’

Unfortunately, I think he is right:

Salman Rushdie believes that if The Satanic Verses had been published today, the members of the literary elite who rounded on Charlie Hebdo in the wake of the French satirical magazine winning a PEN prize for courage would not have defended him.

In an interview with the French magazine L’Express, the novelist said that “it seems we have learned the wrong lessons” from the experience of The Satanic Verses, which saw a fatwa issued against him by Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, sending him into hiding. “Instead of realising that we need to oppose these attacks on freedom of expression, we thought that we need to placate them with compromise and renunciation,” he said.

Speaking about the decision by PEN’s American branch to award Charlie Hebdo with a freedom of expression courage award in May, which led to more than 200 writers putting their names to a letter protesting the decision for valorising “material that intensifies the anti-Islamic, anti-Maghreb, anti-Arab sentiments already prevalent in the western world”, Rushdie said the conflict had left “deep divisions” in the literary world. He would never have imagined that writers such as Michael Ondaatje, Peter Carey and Junot Díaz “would have taken this attitude”, and he had written to one of the key dissenters, Teju Cole, about the situation, he revealed.

“[Cole] replied with a bizarre letter: ‘My dear Salman, dear big brother, everything I know I learned it at your feet,’” Rushdie said. “But his reply was mostly full of false claims: Teju assured me that he would never have taken this part against The Satanic Verses because, in my case, it was to do with an accusation of blasphemy, but in the case of Charlie Hebdo, it was about the alleged racism of the magazine against the Muslim minority.”

Rushdie told L’Express that he disagreed, saying that the 12 people murdered at Charlie Hebdo’s offices were killed because their words were seen as blasphemous. “It’s exactly the same thing,” he said. “I’ve since had the feeling that, if the attacks against The Satanic Verses had taken place today, these people would not have defended me, and would have used the same arguments against me, accusing me of insulting an ethnic and cultural minority.”

The novelist told the French magazine that he believes “we are living in the darkest time I have ever known”, with the rise of Islamic State of “colossal importance for the future of the world”. He argued that the taboo surrounding “supposed ‘Islamophobia’” must be brought to an end.

“Why can’t we debate Islam?” he said. “It is possible to respect individuals, to protect them from intolerance, while being sceptical about their ideas, even criticising them ferociously.”

Salman Rushdie on Islam: ‘We have learned the wrong lessons’ | Books | The Guardian.

Salman Rushdie to Grads: Try to Be Larger Than Life

Salman Rushdie’s more interesting approach to grad speeches and the need for skepticism:

You need to have, and refine, and hone, what Ernest Hemingway said every writer needs: a really good s— detector. He said it. (Once again, good advice for writers turns out to be excellent advice for life.)

The world in which you have grown up is unusually full of crap. In the information age, the quantity of disinformation has grown exponentially. If you seek the truth, beware of what Stephen Colbert unforgettably named “truthiness” or, for those with a bit of Latin, “veritasiness.”

Maybe you’ve come across the famous saying of President Abraham Lincoln. “The internet,” Lincoln said, “is full of false quotations.” Listen to your president. Be skeptical about what you swallow. It’s good for the digestion.

I sometimes think we live in a very credulous age. People seem ready to believe almost anything. God, for example. Sorry this is the controversial bit. Sorry to the theology people over there. Shocking how many Americans swallow that old story. Maybe you will be the generation that moves past the ancient fictions. As John Lennon recommended, imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. That’s maybe one antique truthiness which perhaps you can finally replace with the truth.

But it’s not just God. There’s also yoga, veganism, political correctness, flying saucers, Birthers, 9/11 denialists, Scientology, and, for Pete’s sake, Ayn Rand. When the Modern Library asked readers to vote for the best novels of all time, books by Ayn Rand came in at #1, 2, 7, and 8, and books by L. Ron Hubbard – I was going to say fiction by L. Ron Hubbard, rather than nonfictional religious texts, but hey, what’s the difference – came in at #3, 9, and 10.

The only real authors that made it into the top ten were Tolkien, Harper Lee and George Orwell. If that isn’t scary enough, opinion polls regularly show that the most trusted news network in the USA is Fox News. The American appetite for bad fiction seems limitless, including very bad fiction indeed masquerading as fact – Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, for example, or Hillary Clinton’s alleged Benghazi cover-up – an inexhaustible appetite for nonsense.

Maybe you will be the beady-eyed generation that starts seeing through the disinformation, the badly imagined blah, the lies. If you can do that, if you can scrape away all the layers of gibberish that are being poured daily over the wonders of the world, maybe you will be the generation that reminds itself that it is, indeed, a wonderful world, and gets rid of the various kinds of snake-oil salesmen who are selling a world they made up for their own benefit.

Salman Rushdie to Grads: Try to Be Larger Than Life | TIME.

Salman Rushdie Slams Critics of Charlie Hebdo’s PEN Award

A fair amount of coverage and commentary with respect to Charlie Hebdo’s PEN award on both sides of the issue (I lean towards Rushdie’s position):

Six writers have withdrawn as literary hosts of the 2015 PEN American Center gala, criticizing the organization’s choice to honor satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo with the Freedom of Expression Courage award—a move author Salman Rushdie calls “horribly wrong.”

The writers—Peter Carey, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose and Taiye Selasi—believe it’s wrong to reward the publication for free speech, since they feel its depiction of Islam was often offensive, the New York Times reports. Carey acknowledged that the terrorist act that killed many of Charlie Hebdo‘s staff members was “a hideous crime,” but also noted that France as a nation “does not recognize its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population.”

Though Rushdie (whose death was called for by a Muslim leader over his book The Satanic Verses) calls both Carey and Ondaatje “old friends,” he said the choice of Charlie Hebdo was perfectly appropriate. “What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others,” he told the Times, “is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.”

Salman Rushdie Slams Critics of Charlie Hebdo’s PEN Award | TIME.

Commentary magazine, while predictably using this to assail the left, nevertheless has a point:

“If PEN as a free speech organization can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name,” Mr. Rushdie said. “What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.”

Indeed. Liberals have apparently graduated from telling Muslims what is and isn’t truly Islamic to telling Muslims (and their victims) what is and isn’t blasphemy. According to the left, blasphemy is not a religious term so much as it just shouldn’t be applied to people who draw yucky pictures. This is, to say the least, a standard that bodes poorly for those who truly do support free speech. Where are their allies going to come from if not from free-speech organizations?

And there’s also something quite hilarious in the don’t-worry-Rushdie-you’re-still-good defensiveness in the anti-Charlie Hebdo group. That may be true today, but for how long will it continue to be true? At what point will the left finally throw Rushdie under that bus? Because that moment is coming, and I suspect everyone knows it.

The Left Will Disown Rushdie Too; the Only Question Is When

The Globe’s editorial board tries to find a middle approach:

For writers who deal in human complexity like Mr. Ondaatje, context matters. If an awards night is to be more than a self-congratulatory fundraiser, abstract notions like freedom of expression and courage must defer to a harder literary question: Should the boundaries of both free speech and courage necessarily adapt to local realities?

Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists, working in the persistent French spirit of secularism and anticlericalism, saw themselves as caricaturing a monolithic sect that consistently behaves with barbaric cruelty and unreason. Islam, for Charlie Hebdo, became an updated version of the Catholic Church, and so a deserving target of ferocious satire.

But for the dissenting authors at PEN, these broad-brushed satirical attacks necessarily had damaging consequences at the human level. France’s colonial past has produced a modern culture of inequality, they say. In Paris, where encouraging anti-Islamic sentiments shades too easily into racism, Muslims are much more likely to be the oppressed than the oppressors PEN normally rails against.

For other prominent PEN members, all this literary ambivalence is a weak-kneed diversion from the no-compromise ideals of free speech. Salman Rushdie, who knows a thing or two about attempts to limit free expression, said his old friend Mr. Ondaatje was “horribly wrong.” But he’s not wrong, just different – and right to avoid the gala’s awkward culture of unanimity.

 Charlie Hebdo deserves praise, but not at all costs 

Salman Rushdie condemns hate-filled rhetoric of Islamic fanaticism

Salman Rushdie on Islamic fanaticism:

 “A word I dislike greatly, Islamophobia, has been coined to discredit those who point at these excesses, by labelling them as bigots. But in the first place, if I don’t like your ideas, it must be acceptable for me to say so, just as it is acceptable for you to say that you don’t like mine. Ideas cannot be ring-fenced just because they claim to have this or that fictional sky god on their side.

“And in the second place, its important to remember that most of those who suffer under the yoke of the new Islamic fanaticism are other Muslims…

“It is right to feel phobia towards such matters. As several commentators have said, what is being killed in Iraq is not just human beings, but a whole culture. To feel aversion towards such a force is not bigotry. It is the only possible response to the horror of events.

“I can’t, as a citizen, avoid speaking of the horror of the world in this new age of religious mayhem, and of the language that conjures it up and justifies it, so that young men, including young Britons, led towards acts of extreme bestiality, believe themselves to be fighting a just war.”

The author said members of other religions have distorted language, but to a much lesser degree.

“It’s fair to say that more than one religion deserves scrutiny. Christian extremists in the United States today attack womens’ liberties and gay rights in language they claim comes from God. Hindu extremists in India today are launching an assault on free expression and trying, literally, to rewrite history, proposing the alteration of school textbooks to serve their narrow saffron dogmatism.

“But the overwhelming weight of the problem lies in the world of Islam, and much of it has its roots in the ideological language of blood and war emanating from the Salafist movement within Islam, globally backed by Saudi Arabia.

“For these ideologues, “modernity itself is the enemy, modernity with its language of liberty, for women as well as men, with its insistence of legitimacy in government rather than tyranny, and with its strong inclination towards secularism and away from religion.”

Strong yet much more focussed and nuanced than Maher or Harris.

Salman Rushdie condemns hate-filled rhetoric of Islamic fanaticism – Telegraph.

Fareed Zakaria echoes comments on Maher and Harris made by others on how counterproductive, in addition to being wrong, their comments are:

Harris should read Zachary Karabell’s book “Peace Be Upon You: Fourteen Centuries of Muslim, Christian and Jewish Conflict and Cooperation.” What he would discover is that there have been wars but also many centuries of peace. Islam has at times been at the cutting edge of modernity, but like today, it has also been the great laggard. As Karabell explained to me, “If you exclude the last 70 years or so, in general the Islamic world was more tolerant of minorities than the Christian world. That’s why there were more than a million Jews living in the Arab world until the early 1950s — nearly 200,000 in Iraq alone.”

If there were periods when the Islamic world was open, modern, tolerant and peaceful, this suggests that the problem is not in the religion’s essence and that things can change once more. So why is Maher making these comments? I understand that as a public intellectual he feels the need to speak what he sees as the unvarnished truth (though his “truth” is simplified and exaggerated). But surely there is another task for public intellectuals as well — to try to change the world for good.

Fareed Zakaria: Let’s be honest, Islam has a problem right now

ICYMI: Salman Rushdie on Kazuo Ishiguro: His legendary novel The Remains of the Day resurges – The Globe and Mail

For fans of Salman Rushdie and Kazuo Ishiguro and depictions of the English aristocracy and butlers, Rushdie’s re-review of The Remains of the Day worth a read, along with the reflection of how a great writer can write beyond his context and identity:

With The Remains of the Day, Ishiguro turned away from the Japanese settings of his first two novels and revealed that his sensibility was not rooted in any one place, but capable of travel and metamorphosis. “By the time I started The Remains of the Day,” he told the Paris Review, “I realized that the essence of what I wanted to write was movable … For me, the essence doesn’t lie in the setting.” Where, then, might that essence lie? “Without psychoanalyzing myself, I can’t say why. You should never believe an author if he tells you why he has certain recurring themes.”

Salman Rushdie on Kazuo Ishiguro: His legendary novel The Remains of the Day resurges – The Globe and Mail.