Yesterday, I somehow managed to miss the 30th anniversary of the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie by some fruitcake Ayatollah or other for the apparent crime of writing a book. That book was the Satanic Verses. It really upset sections of the ‘muslim community’, whatever the muslim community is meant to be, because they considered the work to be blasphemous and for that the author had to die. Copies were burned, some muslims went on the streets to demonstrate and even set fire to copies of the book.
You might have expected muslim fanatics abroad to protest about the book, especially in countries run by muslims where free speech was not a thing, but did we expect such violent demonstrations in our own country? And demonstrations happened everywhere across the land, especially in areas where there were large muslim populations. Posters with ‘Death to Rushdie’ were not uncommon. There were people picketing outside bookshops. I was appalled, I went out and bought a copy, simply in order to cross a picket line of fanatics and removed my copy from my bag when I left the book shop. No one said anything but I felt better, in my narrow little world, for having done so. What surprised me was how the establishment bowed before the fanatics.
At that time, Margaret Thatcher’s hardline right wing government was in power, yet even they showed no bottle when the heat was on. Thatcher’s thuggish right hand man Norman Tebbit lined up alongside the Ayatollah condemning Rushdie as someone whose “public life has been a record of despicable acts of betrayal of his upbringing, religion, adopted home and nationality.” Think about that for a moment. A right wing Conservative government lining up alongside fanatics to stand against free speech. It really happened.
My loyal reader will know I have no truck with muslim opponents of free speech. I supported, without reservation, Salman Rushdie, I was appalled at the outcry regarding the Swedish cartoons, the attack on the offices at Charlie Hebdo was an act of islamic fascism and terrorism. Free speech means you have the right to criticise and mock anything, including religion. It also means you have the right to publish a book like the Satanic Verses and feel safe. Rushdie was not safe. A religious fanatic had issued a death sentence. In the end, he had to leave the country. This, make no mistake, was a defeat for free speech, freedom of expression and freedom full stop.
As for the Satanic Verses itself, I rather enjoyed it, although it was slightly above my head. Perhaps it was not the kind of thing I would normally read. There were those who will have greatly enjoyed it.
The reason so many people condemned Rushdie, the Swedish cartoons and Charlie Hebdo is because they were frightened of being killed in retaliation by the ‘religion of peace’. To be honest, I’d be scared of that, too. So our leaders should be stronger and clearer when they condemn all kinds of fascism, including religious fascism. Appeasement, as we should know, does not work.