the Company of Rushdies
Written: November 27, 2002
Republished: August 26, 2007
Padma Lakshmi and Salman Rushdie
It's been quite a week in the wonderful world of Islam. Nigerian
Islam's encounter with that powerhouse of subversion, the Miss
World contest, has been unedifying, to put it mildly.
of the contestants had the nerve to object to a Shariah court's
sentence that a Nigerian woman convicted of adultery be stoned
to death and threatened
to boycott the contest - which forced the Nigerian authorities
to promise that the woman in question would not be subjected to
the lethal hail of rocks.
And then Isioma Daniel, a Christian Nigerian journalist, had the
effrontery to suggest that if the Prophet Muhammad were around
today, he might have wanted to marry one of these swimsuit hussies
that was going too far. True-believing Nigerian Muslims then set
about the holy task of killing, looting and burning while calling
for Daniel to be beheaded, and who could blame them? Not the president
of Nigeria, who put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the
hapless journalist. (Germaine Greer and other British-based feminists,
unhappy about Miss World's decision to move the event to London,
preferred to grouse about the beauty contest. The notion that
the killers, looters and burners should be held accountable seems
to have escaped notice.)
in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hashem Aghajari, a person with
impeccable Islamist credentials - a leg lost in battle and a résumé
that includes being part of the occupying force that seized the
Great Satan's Tehran embassy back in the revolution's salad days
- languishes under a sentence of death imposed because he criticized
the mullahs who run the country.
In Iran, you don't even have to have cheeky thoughts about the
prophet to be worthy of being killed. The hearts of true believers
are maddened a lot more easily than that.
of young people across the country were immature enough to protest
against Aghajari's sentence, for which the supreme leader, Ayatollah
Ali Khamenei, duly rebuked them. (More than 10,000 true believers
marched through Tehran in support of hardline Islam.)
in Egypt, a hit television series, Horseman Without a Horse, has
been offering up anti-Semitic programming to a huge, eager audience.
That old forgery, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion"
- a document purporting to prove that there really is a secret
Jewish plot to take over the world, and which was proved long
ago to have been faked by Tsar Nicholas II's secret police - is
treated in this drama series as historical fact.
is the same Egypt in which the media are rigorously censored to
prevent anything that offends the authorities from seeing the
light of day.
But hold on
just a moment. Here's the series' star and co-writer, Mohammed
Sobhi, telling us that what is at stake is nothing less than free
speech itself, and if his lying show "terrified Zionists",
well, tough. He'll make more programmes in the same vein. Now
there's a gutsy guy.
Finally, let's not forget the horrifying story of the Dutch Muslim
woman, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has had to flee the Netherlands because
she said that Muslim men oppressed Muslim women, a vile idea that
so outraged Muslim men that they issued death threats against
Is it unfair
to bunch all these different uglinesses together? Perhaps. But
they do have something in common. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was accused
of being "the Dutch Salman Rushdie," Aghajari of being
the Iranian version, Isioma Daniel of being the Nigerian incarnation
of the same demon.
A couple of
months ago, I said that I detested the sloganisation of my name
by Islamists around the world. I'm beginning to rethink that position.
Maybe it's not so bad to be a Rushdie among other "Rushdies".
For the most part I'm comfortable with, and often even proud of,
the company I'm in.
all, is the Muslim outrage at these events? As their ancient,
deeply civilized culture of love, art and philosophical reflection
is hijacked by paranoiacs, racists, liars, male supremacists,
tyrants, fanatics and violence junkies, why are they not screaming?
At least in
Iran the students are demonstrating. But where else in the Muslim
world can one hear the voices of the fair-minded, tolerant Muslim
majority deploring what Nigerian, Egyptian, Arab and Dutch Muslims
are doing? Muslims in the West, too, seem unnaturally silent on
these topics. If you're yelling, we can't hear you.
If the moderate
voices of Islam cannot or will not insist on the modernization
of their culture - and of their faith as well - then it may be
these so-called "Rushdies" who have to do it for them.
For every such individual who is vilified and oppressed, two more,
ten more, a thousand more will spring up. They will spring up
because you can't keep people's minds, feelings and needs in jail
forever, no matter how brutal your inquisitions.
world today is being held prisoner, not by western but by Islamic
captors, who are fighting to keep closed a world that a badly
outnumbered few are trying to open. As long as the majority remains
silent, this will be a tough war to win.
But in the
end, or so we must hope, someone will kick down that prison door.
Lakshmi and Salman Rushdie