Publishing With Us. Book Authors Journal Authors. Free Preview. Buy eBook. Buy Hardcover. FAQ Policy. About this book This book provides insights into some of the social topics related to the homogenization and stereotyping of Muslims. Show all. Pages Ruiter, Jan Jaap. Show next xx. Services for this book Download High-Resolution Cover. PAGE 1. Tolstoy renounced wealth, fame and privilege; he abjured violence in all its forms and was ready to suffer for doing so; but it is not easy to believe that he abjured the principle of coercion, or at least the desire to coerce others.
The distinction that really matters is not between violence and non-violence, but between having and not having the appetite for power. There are people who are convinced of the wickedness both of armies and police forces, but who are nevertheless much more intolerant and inquisitorial in outlook than the normal person who believes that it is necessary to use violence in certain circumstances.
Creeds like pacifism and anarchism, which seem on the surface to imply a complete renunciation of power, rather encourage this habit of mind. For if you have embraced a creed which seems to be free from the ordinary dirtiness of politics — a creed from which you yourself cannot expect to draw any material advantage — surely that proves that you are in the right? And the more you are in the right, the more natural that everyone else should be bullied into thinking likewise. What is perhaps most interesting about this passage is that what Orwell says in relation to Tolstoy can be applied with even more force and profundity to Jesus.
It is primarily for this reason that his words can also be re-applied both to the Christian ethic in general and to all political creeds which have been profoundly influenced by Christianity. The Puritan ideals which inform American political culture at almost every level are a particularly good example of the kind of moral self-deception which Orwell analyses.
The more carefully we study the historical development of the ideals associated with free speech, the more it becomes clear that the original association between the Puritan aspiration to liberty of conscience and religious intolerance is not accidental. More importantly still, perhaps, this association cannot be dismissed simply as a crude and primitive historical prototype which has long since been refined and transcended.
For the association has been a constant feature of Western politics from the Reformation to the present. One of the great tragedies of the Rushdie affair is that, in failing to register the strategic role which has been played by the doctrine of free speech in the history of post-Reformation Europe, all but a tiny proportion of the critics and intellectuals who have discoursed upon the affair have misread it, and have done so to catastrophic effect. By doing this there can be no doubt that they have defended traditions which are precious and which need to be defended.
But they have simultaneously defended a profoundly authoritarian tradition which is full both of intolerance and of religious hatred. This has been the willingness of some commentators to take refuge in the received view that there is something intrinsically subversive or liberating about blasphemy itself. One definition of blasphemy is a desire to degrade or pollute something just insofar as one has a sense of its sacredness … Blasphemy, then, reveals a sense of the sacred; it is an ever possible temptation to the devout; and is a way of arguing against a religion you do not believe in ….
Let us insist upon the right to be deeply offensive towards pieties, both secular and religious, which we do not believe in, and intimately blasphemous towards those we hold dear. Sunday Telegraph 6 January, Perhaps the first thing which should be said about this argument is that it is an extremely attractive one. It seems to be a genuinely subversive view which strikes at the psychological roots of authoritarianism and it certainly makes a great deal of sense so long as we are dealing with blasphemies uttered by the relatively powerless against those who hold power.
Yet religious history is full of instances in which blasphemy is used by those who are already powerful. The Christian church itself, while fiercely resisting and punishing blasphemies directed against Christ, has sometimes actively encouraged Christians to use both blasphemy and obscenity as weapons in order to insult and humiliate rival faiths. Historically the main victims of such religiously motivated blasphemy have been Jews and Muslims. The Christian anti-Islamic tradition has never been quite as strong as its anti-Jewish one.
During the Crusades Christian armies sometimes went further and desecrated mosques. On some occasions they deliberately left heaps of their own excrement inside the mosques they entered. During the same period a number of Christian orders, including the followers of St Francis, organised pilgrimages to Muslim territories.
One of the main aims of these pilgrimages was to seek martyrdom at the hands of the infidel. Frequently Muslim leaders showed extraordinary restraint in dealing with the riots which broke out as a result of these provocations. On other occasions they succumbed to popular pressure and gave these Christian monks the martyrdom they sought by executing them. The ultimate function of these Christian exercises in faith-baiting was, it would seem, to establish the moral superiority of Christianity.
We should have no doubt whatsoever that when Salman Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses he never intended for one moment that it should be used in a latterday faith-baiting exercise of this kind. In the first place it must be noted that, although almost a thousand years separate the two incidents, the same caricature of the Prophet is common to both.
Yet this rationale is by no means clear from the novel itself. The overriding impression is that the novelist is making use of the ambiguities and uncertainties of fiction to disguise a deliberate attempt to defile the most precious sanctities of Islam in a language which is simultaneously wounding and obscene.
From the day the novel was published, the Muslim reaction was one of outrage. When this outrage was consistently met with disdain, silence, or contempt, as it was both by Salman Rushdie himself and by his publishers, it was almost inevitable that it would be translated into anger and, indeed, violence. Ultimately the cruelty and intolerance of a small but powerful faction of Islam was met in the West not with the combination of toughness and sensitivity which was required, but with all the intolerance, insensitivity and triumphalism which Christendom had traditionally shown towards one of its oldest religious enemies.
But then let us be his match, and in defense of Rushdie, in defense of the imagination, in the defense of the mind, show no mercy ourselves.
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Let us be dogmatic about tolerance Once again it must be quite clearly acknowledged that Salman Rushdie himself never intended to bring about such a catastrophe, in which Muslims were consistently insulted and humiliated. We must also bear in mind, however, that the followers of St Francis who sought martyrdom in Muslim countries were not motivated by any conscious contempt for ordinary Muslims either. On the contrary they were motivated by feelings of fraternity and deep spiritual love.
Their contempt was directed purely at the dungeon of superstition in which these Muslims had been compelled to live. Their overriding desire was to strike off their heathen chains and allow them to enter freely into the liberty of Christ. For there can be no doubt at all that both Rushdie himself and his most energetic supporters are sincere in their belief that they represent the forces of freedom and enlightenment and that they are right to attack cruel and repressive forms of faith.
What they have failed to understand, like the Christian monks who preceded them, is that the contemptuous disrespect which they have shown for the sanctities of others is itself repressive and destructive. That so many Western commentators have seen such offensiveness as part of a programme of liberation only goes to show how deeply we have ourselves internalised a repressive form of religious faith.
But if we inspect this view closely it turns out to be little more than a restatement in secular terms of one of the most ancient of our religious orthodoxies. Far from bringing liberation, the essentially religious habit of hurling obscene or blasphemous insults at those who profess a different faith to yours is one of the very engines of religious bigotry. For, by rewarding believers according to the intensity of the insults that they hurl, and by enraging those whose faith is attacked, such strategies strengthen the hand of religious extremists on both sides and turn even moderates towards militancy.
This is what Christian and Jewish and Muslim zealots did to one another throughout the middle ages, and this is what we have been doing again recently in the Rushdie affair. Our failure to think carefully both about the history of free speech and about the nature of blasphemy has undoubtedly deepened the cultural tragedy brought about by the publication of The Satanic Verses.
But there is a third crucial factor which has contributed to the seriousness of the crisis. This is the continuing difficulty we have, in our puritanical, post-Christian culture, in thinking sensitively and systematically about the whole realm of obscenity and about the problem of pollution and purity.
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A very similar desire is quite commonly found in the context of sexual behaviour. The extraordinary power that such rituals can have and the fulfilment they can afford are related not, it would seem, to any merely biological satisfaction they provide, but to the fact that they help to bring about a complete abrogation of the taboos which normally control the sense we have of our own bodies and of our own identity. It is just here, however, that we need to tread carefully.
For it is probably true to say that the factor which most deeply affects the fulfilment afforded by sexual rituals is the degree of assent or mutuality — or of simple undisguised eagerness — which they involve. Within trusting and affectionate relationships taboos are not so much violated as abrogated by agreement; sanctities are defiled not in order to degrade but because defilement is actively sought out in order to enrich. Violence is used, if it is used at all, not to intimidate or subjugate but to prise open the vaults of obscenity in order to release the vitality and the psychological riches which are locked up within.
When the element of assent and of trust is missing then sex, instead of being the medium for psychological liberation, can very rapidly become an authoritarian weapon which is used to intimidate, to subjugate, and to bully.go
Rethinking the Middle East
The impulse to defile, which is indeed one of the most significant elements in our imagination, can be used not positively but in order to degrade and humiliate. In the case of rape, in many forms of sexual abuse, and indeed in some established sexual relationships, sex itself actually becomes part of the currency of repression. One of the particular failures in our response to the campaign against The Satanic Verses has been our reluctance to recognise how important the element of assent and trust is to any liberating use of obscenity — whether in literature or in life.
The Muslim objection to the obscenity of the language Rushdie uses in relation to Islamic sanctities is not an objection to sex or even to obscenity per se. The objection, together with a great deal of the deep anger which the novel has caused, stems from the feeling of many Muslims that a sacred area of their own identity has been violently broken into and deliberately defiled.
In other words, whatever the intentions of the novelist may have been, the very fact that the element of assent has been missing, has made Muslims feel as though they have been the victims at a cultural level, of precisely the kind of sexual violence and degradation which Western society would rush to condemn were it to happen in reality at the level of intimate human behaviour. Such defensiveness may be understandable, but I believe that it is mistaken.
For the relationship between religious believers and the scriptures and prophets they revere is not abstract and weak; it is emotionally charged and immensely strong. It is a relationship — at least at some buried level of the psyche — not only of fear and submission but also of deep affection and, above all, passionate personal love. We may believe that it is repressive and dangerous. We may be right. But unless we wish actually to strengthen it by exacerbating further the quite massive resentment which many Muslims throughout the world already feel towards the repressive and dangerous ideologies of the West, we should perhaps begin to make the attempt to understand it, and with it the Muslim reaction to the publication of The Satanic Verses.
It is useful also because it helps us to resist the strong temptation to demonise all censors and would-be censors by reminding us that there could well be circumstances in which we might wish to call for the suppression of a work of art ourselves. The Rushdie affair has led directly to demonstrations, riots, murder-threats and the death of more than thirty people; it has also resulted in the destruction of international good will on a huge scale, at the same time that it has caused incalculable damage to race relations both in this country and throughout Europe.
Perhaps most tragically of all The Satanic Verses has had almost precisely the opposite effect on Islamic fundamentalists and on the worldwide Muslim community from that which was apparently intended by its author.
This policy was adopted, of course, not out of any affection for Islam, but because of a recognition that any direct, or even indirect hit on a sacred Islamic site might be politically disastrous. Such sacrilege would have the effect of enraging the Muslim community worldwide and would almost inevitably push countless moderate Muslims, including some entire Muslim states, towards supporting the pan-Arab miltancy of Saddam Hussein. It is, I believe, peculiarly significant that Salman Rushdie, one of the most distinguished British novelists and an artist of world stature, should have shown in this regard far less strategic sensitivity and political intelligence than the Pentagon in one of its most imperialistic and triumphalist moods.
For, largely because of his own sophisticated insensitivity to the language of faith, Rushdie appeared to be aiming his precision literary missile not exclusively against the narrow fortresses of Islamic tyrants, but against the Prophet and against the simple sanctities which are revered by all Muslims throughout the world. By doing this he was playing into the hands of the very tyrants he sought to subvert. For authoritarian religious leaders have always known how to exploit blasphemous attacks for their own narrow ends. The real consequence of the Rushdie affair throughout much of the Islamic world has thus been to destroy or destabilise significant elements in the psychological infrastructure of Muslim moderation.
As the first anniversary of the fatwa approached at the beginning of it seemed at times that a moment of possible reconciliation was in sight. In December another attempt was made at reconciliation when Salman Rushdie took the extraordinary step of embracing Islam. At the same time he announced that he would not authorise either any further translations or a British paperback edition of his work as long as the risk of further offence existed. In some ways it would be difficult to imagine a more reckless and more generous gesture of reconciliation. But the most influential Muslim grouping in Britain, the UK Islamic Action Committee, while by no means an extremist or fundamentalist organisation, held fast to its original position and continued to demand the withdrawal of the hardback.
There were a number of reasons for this seeming intransigence. Perhaps the most important were the terms in which Rushdie described his return to Islam. The impression that he was choosing his words with great care was confirmed by Frances de Souza, the director of Article 19 and Chairwoman of the International Committee for the Defence of Salman Rushdie.
Conversion is not the word he has used. It looked very much as though he was trying to appease both Muslims and Western liberals simultaneously through a formula which in the end would please nobody. Far from assuaging the deep sense of cultural humiliation they felt, it merely added insult to injury. Tragically this has remained the case in the time which has elapsed since. In July the attack on the Italian translator of The Satanic Verses and the murder of its Japanese translator, Hitoshi Igarashi, pushed the entire affair further into the realms of tragedy.
The Rushdie affair, it is clear, is still not over. The fatwa remains [in ] in place, Salman Rushdie still lives his life under the very real threat of death, and, both in Britain and throughout the world, many Muslims remain embittered.
Though the affair may periodically recede from the headlines for months or even years, the threat that it may suddenly erupt again in tragedy cannot be discounted. The question which remains is whether there is any realistic chance of breaking the deadlock which has lasted for so long.
This now seems possible only if one of the two sides goes back on the position it has previously declared and makes a magnanimous gesture. Such a gesture, it might seem, could now be made very easily by Muslim leaders. Instead of carefully counting up the precise number of coins which Rushdie has thrown into the hat of reconciliation and deciding that the total is insufficient to buy his release, they could accept the gestures he has already made with warmth and gratitude.
They could not, of course, guarantee that the fatwa would be lifted. For they have no control over the Iranian religious authorities, who have already expressed the view that the death-threat is irrevocable. But they could repudiate the fatwa in terms which are quite unequivocal and speak out in the strongest terms against any further attempt to threaten Salman Rushdie or inflict violence on him.
In spite of this development there are undoubtedly many Muslims who would still welcome a relaxation of Islamic rigour on the entire issue, and who would like to see above all the removal of the Iranian threat against Rushdie. Yet although many British Muslims might be prepared to repudiate the campaign against the author of The Satanic Verses — indeed a large number have done exactly this — few Muslim leaders wish to give up their campaign for the withdrawal of the book. For Muslims to compromise with Rushdie on such terms would be tantamount to conceding that their entire campaign against the book had been a mistake.
Most Muslim leaders have no desire to make any such concession. It might well seem that the only other direction in which we can turn for a solution to the crisis is to Salman Rushdie himself. From a Muslim point of view, the magnanimous gesture which he could make is quite simple and straightforward. He could authorise the withdrawal of all unsold copies of The Satanic Verses. This indeed is what Muslim campaigners in Britain have demanded ever since the novel was published in To Muslim observers such action on the part of Rushdie and his supporters seems both simple and long overdue.
But once again it must be pointed out that a solution which seems straightforward is fraught with difficulties. For there is very considerable opposition to conciliatory gestures on the liberal side just as there is on the Muslim side. If Rushdie were to announce that he wished to withdraw his novel from sale he too would unleash a great deal of hostility against himself from his supporters. The view which received more publicity than any other was that of a former Oxford law lecturer, Francis Bennion, who implicitly portrayed Rushdie as a coward and a traitor to intellectual freedom.
When Rushdie made his Christmas Eve statement he showed considerable courage by going ahead in spite of such predictable reactions. There seems very little doubt that if he were now to ask for the withdrawal of his book altogether, he would be criticised in even more unforgiving terms by a significant number of his present supporters. In the current cultural climate these words are scarcely an exaggeration.
What they suggest is that Rushdie, to some extent at least, has been pinned to a fixed position by the very orthodoxy which is supposedly the guarantee of our individual and collective freedom. Interestingly, as Mill makes clear in a note, what he specifically had in mind was the tendency of British Christians in India to exclude both Hindus and Muslims from their doctrines of toleration and to treat them as inferior on account of their resistance to the orthodoxies of Christianity. But he went on to discern the same kind of intolerance in the way that all those who dissented from intellectual orthodoxy were treated by the upholders of orthodoxy:.
For it is this — it is the opinions men entertain and the feelings they cherish, respecting those who disown the beliefs they deem important which makes this country not a place of mental freedom. For a long time past, the chief mischief of the legal penalties is that they strengthen the social stigma. It is that stigma which is really effective, and so effective is it that the profession of opinions which are under the ban of society is much less common in England than is, in many other countries, the avowal of those which incur risk of judicial punishment ….
Those whose bread is already secured, and who desire no favours from men in power, or from bodies of men, or from the public, have nothing to fear from the open avowal of any opinions but to be ill-thought of and ill-spoken of and this it ought not to require a very heroic mould to enable them to bear … But though we do not now inflict so much evil on those who think differently from us as it was formerly our custom to do, it may be that we do ourselves as much evil as ever by our treatment of them …. Our merely social intolerance kills no one, roots out no opinions, but induces men to disguise them or to abstain from any active effort for their diffusion.
With us heretical opinions do not perceptibly gain, or even lose, ground in each decade or generation; they never blaze out far and wide, but continue to smoulder in the narrow circle of thinking and studious persons among whom they originate, without ever lighting up the general affairs of mankind with either a true or a deceptive light.
And thus is kept up a state of things very satisfactory to some minds, because, without the unpleasant process of fining or imprisoning anybody, it maintains all prevailing opinions outwardly undisturbed, while it does not absolutely interdict the exercise of reason by dissentients afflicted with the malady of thought. A convenient plan for having peace in the intellectual world, and keeping all things going on therein very much as they do already.
But the price paid for this sort of intellectual pacification is the sacrifice of the entire moral courage of the human mind. What Mill had not understood, however, was that the same doctrine of liberty of which he was the most subtle, searching and critical theologian was, in its narrower and more fundamentalist form, a vehicle for the very kind of repressive orthodoxies which he felt were inimical to freedom. For, as I have already argued, the strongest element in the doctrine of freedom which has developed in the modern secular state is that which derives directly from Christian beliefs which were intrinsically authoritarian, tyrannical and profoundly contemptuous of any thinker who dared to question or oppose them.
Almost as a matter of course it has been assumed that they stand for anti-authoritarianism and the kind of non-conformism which is essential to intellectual liberty. Yet we only have to study the arguments which they have put forward — or failed to put forward — to recognise that this view is very far from the truth.
For one of the most distinctive features of the campaign which has been mounted in support of The Satanic Verses is the reluctance of those who have defended the book to engage in argument or analysis. Instead of behaving as the guardians of critical intelligence and cultural self-awareness, the most extreme proponents of the libertarian position have behaved as what they are — the uncritical defenders of a narrow orthodoxy whose all but universal currency has been taken as a guarantee of its ultimate value.
Instead of examining the historical roots of this orthodoxy, they have unthinkingly accepted the destruction of history which is its most secure foundation. Their non-conformism is in some cases real. It is of a kind, however, which bespeaks no vital intellectual curiosity, but which belongs to the non-conformism of our Protestant tradition, whose main quarrel with orthodoxy arises directly out of its anxiety to impose an even narrower conformity upon society than orthodoxy itself has traditionally required.
Critics of the liberal position have thus frequently been met with the kind of stigmatisation, intolerance and abuse which Mill implicitly identifies as the chief instruments of the modern Inquisition. The tendency of libertarians to defend their narrow orthodoxies by vilifying their opponents, or portraying them as agents of darkness, has been seen over and over again in the Rushdie affair. This tendency is once again best exemplified by Rushdie himself. Muslim intellectuals who had argued cogently against the liberal position are either ignored completely, as in the case of the formidable Dr.
Ali Mazrui, or dismissed in an oblique aside, as in the case of Shabbir Akhtar, the author of one of the first full length books about the Rushdie affair, Be Careful With Muhammad! The arguments of non-Muslim critics are treated with little more respect. In his celebrated — or notorious — Channel 4 broadcast on racism in Britain, Salman Rushdie had once invoked Michael Dummett as an ally.
The Rushdie affair has done untold damage. It has intensified the alienation of Muslims here, and in other Western countries, from the society around them, in reaction to the uncomprehending liberal chorus of support for you. Racist hostility towards them, where overt, has been inflamed, and, where latent, has been aroused …. But he also called upon Salman Rushdie himself to shoulder his portion of responsibility and, as a first step along this path, to cease insisting on his right to have as many readers for his book as possible:.
You have imbibed the assumption of Western intellectuals that religious believers may properly be affronted, indeed deserve to be affronted. That his fierce open letter to Salman Rushdie should have elicited an equally fierce rejoinder from a Cambridge don on the letters page of the next issue of the Independent on Sunday , is scarcely surprising.
Much more remarkable was the ferocity and the duration of the subsequent reaction. For in the following months the letter was criticised so frequently by commentators both on the right and the left, it seemed at times that the chastisement of Michael Dummett had become a sacred cultural duty. It then went on to discount his condemnation altogether:. Many civilised men believe in the individual and his right of expression with something like sacred faith.
Not content with attacking Dummett, the writer also set out to ridicule his wife a highly regarded writer on race anc race relations by relating an apocryphal-sounding story about her which was completely untrue. Had such chastisement been meted out only by the ideological right its effect would be limited. Dummett, however, was hit just as hard by the left. One of his fiercest antagonists was Christopher Hitchens.
To accuse anyone of being a Judas is an extreme charge. For the Judas charge has always been central to the rhetoric of Christian anti-semitism. Long live France! Judas betrayed Jesus his master for money It seems possible that Christopher Hitchens himself was unaware of the specifically anti-semitic history of his chosen insult. But this history merely serves to explain why the insult is so vicious and unpleasant; ignorance of its history does not make it any less vicious or unpleasant.
For although these supporters have argued strenuously and justifiably against the tyranny of extreme Islamic orthodoxies, they have, by the very nature of their arguments, immeasurably strengthened the tyranny exercised by our own cultural orthodoxies. Not the least of the criticisms which must be levelled against them is that in the name of free speech they have stifled debate and effectively silenced many of their own would-be critics.
It is a form of intellectual abuse which seeks to achieve its effect by character-assassination and the deliberate destruction of personal reputations, and which is therefore deeply wounding to those who are subjected to it. Whenever such rhetoric is treated as a legitimate intellectual currency, as it has been almost throughout the Rushdie affair, one of its effects is to constrain debate by creating a climate of intimidation in which many people feel unable or unwilling to express dissenting views for fear that they will be pilloried or publicly bullied for doing so.
Protecting sacred orthodoxies against criticism by this means is neither so crude nor so cruel as resorting to death-threats or fatwas. But precisely because the wounds left by words are not visible, verbal bullying is sometimes more insidiously effective than physical bullying when it comes to enforcing conformity. If we are to resist the intimidatory power of the rhetoric and the appeals to authority which are constantly deployed by the defenders of The Satanic Verses we can best do so in practice by declining to obey the various unspoken taboos which still surround the debate and which still constrain it.
This does not mean that we should be gratuitously disrespectful towards liberal beliefs or that we should insult them in any way. But it does mean that we should insist on opening up to the scrutiny of the critical intelligence one particular issue which, at times at least, seems to have become a cultural no-go area.
I refer to the simple question of whether, having been the occasion of death-threats, murders, cultural and racial conflict on an international scale, as well as of a great deal of anguish and hurt, The Satanic Verses should continue to be accorded the same almost sacred status which has been conferred on it by liberal intellectuals thus far. Is there, in short, an obligation on any democractic society to confer upon novelists an unconditional freedom to publish irrespective of what the social or political consequences of publishing a particular novel may be?
If this is so then we are entitled to ask why, in the midst of a campaign in support of free and open debate, it has so rarely been debated. We are left to conclude that the reason this step is so rarely even debated may have more to do with fear and intimidation than with any principled argument about freedom. The most extreme supporters of The Satanic Verses are best seen, perhaps, not as apostles of liberty but as prisoners of an orthodoxy as unyielding as the Islamic rigidities they seek to subvert.
Yet if we examine some of the arguments which have been used to shore up this position it is by no means clear that they are persuasive. But on this issue, perhaps more than any other, it is extremely important that we should not find ourselves advocating the right course for the wrong reasons. One argument which is frequently advanced is that a principle is at stake and that to withdraw a book merely because some people find that it offends their religious sensibilities would be to undermine an essential freedom.
This argument too, however, is far from persuasive. In practice, indeed, a quite different and more moderate view has frequently been taken even in the heart of our own liberal society. Not many years ago almost the entire print-run of a Penguin book was burnt on the grounds that its contents were blasphemous and would be deeply offensive to many Christians.
Many booksellers took exception to the book and some conveyed their feelings to the founder of Penguin, Allen Lane, who had by this time almost retired from the firm. He responded by burning the remaining stock of the books. He took this action not because he was a practising Christian himself, but because many of his friends and bookselling colleagues were, and had conveyed to him how offensive they felt the book was. As if to underline the point, a comparable event took place in Britain in about eighteen months after the Rushdie affair had begun. He immediately ordered that all copies of the book should be withdrawn and pulped.
In both of these cases the effective withdrawal of a book took place without widespread protests from libertarians. This would seem to indicate that our tradition of free speech is not fundamentalist and rigid in practice — at least not when the offended sensibilities in question are those of Christians.
The case of The Satanic Verses clearly differs from these other two cases in another respect as well. For, unlike them it involves a death-threat and what is, in effect, an international terrorist campaign against both the novel and its author. It has therefore been argued that to withdraw the book would be to give in to terrorism. This argument clearly has some point to it. For if any government or individual showed themselves willing to concede points of principle purely because of death-threats or terrorist campaigns they would indeed be setting a dangerous precedent.
It must immediately be pointed out, however, that principled opposition to all causes which have ever had the support of terrorism can itself result in breaking principles that should be kept. It would be unwise to refuse to support campaigners against apartheid in South Africa on the grounds that this cause has sometimes been supported by terrorist action. It would be equally unwise to rule out the possibility of a Palestinian state because some Palestinans have committed atrocities in order to further this aim.
Unless we are to abandon all principles of justice, what matters ultimately is not the methods which are used by a militant minority in support of a particular cause, but the justice of the cause itself. It has of course been argued that, given the intransigence and intolerance of a number of Islamic states, any significant concessions made over the case of The Satanic Verses would have serious repercussions on a whole range of other free-speech issues.
That this objection is potentially a grave one will be clear to anyone who has experienced the degree of censorship and repression which is encountered in some of the more rigid states — in Saudi Arabia for example, or indeed in Iran itself.
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There are certainly very real risks of sequels to the Satanic Verses affair. This new incident reminds us, if we need to be reminded, that the manner in which we resolve — or fail to resolve — the issue of The Satanic Verses does have implications for a whole range of cases which have yet to arise. It would be entirely wrong to conclude, however, that struggling for the freedom of Salman Rushdie and of Penguin Books in this particular case will necessarily help to protect other yet more precious freedoms in the future. There can be no doubt at all that the freedom of observers in the West to point to human rights abuses in Islamic regimes — including Iran — and to criticise any Islamic leader who uses religion to justify torture and tyranny, is indeed a precious freedom.
If we were to surrender this freedom we would ourselves be surrendering to an external tyranny. One of the real tragedies of the Rushdie affair, however, is that it has actually undermined the cause of free of speech within the entire Islamic world. When, in the past, Western writers have used their freedom boldly, responsibly and conscientiously in order to criticise tyrannical abuses of power, they have often met with unreasonable attempts to silence them.
It has usually been possible to resist such attempts, however, precisely because the moral issues have been clear. One of the most worrying features of the Rushdie affair is that, by choosing to fight the greatest ever battle of free speech on such ill-chosen terrain, extreme libertarians have jeopardised the position of more moderate liberals who seek to use their freedom of speech critically and constructively. For by championing one of the most intolerant aspects of our tradition of freedom they have at times threatened to bring the entire tradition of Western free-speech into disrepute.
Another issue which is closely related to this one concerns the threat posed by Islamic imperialism. For it promises to many Muslims, almost for the first time in their history, the possibility of cultural self-determination. But at the same time the new militancy of Islam poses a real threat not only to Western power but also to many Western values.
Sentimental or idealistic estimates of Islam as an essentially merciful and tolerant faith are, in this respect, far from helpful. In its most extreme, and, arguably, its most authentic form, Islam is, then, an essentially imperialistic faith whose ultimate aim is nothing other than world-domination. One of the reasons why we in the West find this idea so threatening is that we have somehow contrived to forget that Islam does not belong to an alien religious tradition but to our religious tradition; we are the among the chief begetters of the kind of religious militancy which Islam is now making manifest.
For Judaism, Christianity, and indeed Marxism, are all, like Islam, apocalyptic and imperialistic faiths. They are all, like Islam, ideologies of world-domination. Largely because we have forgotten this crucial factor in our own history, the new Islamic militancy looms up out of the political darkness like the return of our own repressed fantasies of domination and our collective reactions to it have been profoundly unbalanced.
To lose this battle, it is imagined, would imperil our chances of winning the war; it would give heart to cruel extremists and play into the hands of fundamentalist politicians. The problem with this view is that it approaches the Satanic Verses affair from an exclusively Western perspective. From the Muslim point of view, it must be pointed out, the fatwa , even if it is disapproved of, cannot be seen as an attack on the West. On the contrary it is the publication of The Satanic Verses which is regarded as an entirely unprovoked act of aggression against Islam.
In the eyes of many, the Muslim response, including the fatwa , is seen as part of a militant and necessary defence of Islamic values which have for centuries been under real threat from the imperialism of the West. If it were true that the only option open to us is to choose between two competing forms of imperialism then this attitude would be easy enough to understand. The corollary of this view is that we should remain completely intransigent on the question of The Satanic Verses. The problem with this position, which is widely held both on the left and on the right, is that it bears no relationship whatsoever to the political, historical and psychological realities of the situation.
It would, indeed, scarcely be an exaggeration to say that the new Islamic militancy has been inadvertently created by the extraordinary insensitivity with which Britain, America and other imperial powers have annexed Muslim states for their own strategic and economic ends and treated indigenous cultural traditions with arrogant contempt.
The clearest example of this process is provided by Iran itself. In Britain backed Colonel Reza Khan, the founder of the Phalavi dynasty in his successful attempt to wrest power from the older Qajar dynasty. When the Shah eventually moved too close to Hitler he was forced into exile. But he was replaced by his son, under whom Iran eventually became a client state of the United States. The new Shah continued the most destructive policies of his father, treating both Persian cultural traditions and Islam with contempt. It was largely because the Iranian people had been openly humiliated in their own country that Iranian mullahs, led by Khomeini, were eventually able to mobilise massive popular support for the most dramatic unarmed revolution which history has ever seen.
For the two forms of imperialism are actually intimately related. By forcefully imposing Western values on Muslim states we are merely creating the ideal conditions for the very form of Islamic imperialism we most fear. At the same time, by maintaining an attitude of almost complete insensitivity in relation to The Satanic Verses we are feeding the cruel fundamentalism we seek to oppose.
For the continued prestige of the novel in the West is itself a source of cultural humiliation for countless thousands of Muslims both in this country and elsewhere.