Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sir Salman Rushdie

Photo Credit NYC Photo

Salman Rushdie has just been knighted in England! It's about time that one of our finest men of letters received an honor of this stature. But for the fatwa, Mr. Rushdie would have most certainly received a Nobel Prize for Literature already. I understand why the Nobel Prize committee has been reluctant to give Rushdie the award as it may bring unwanted attention back to him and threaten him, as this knighthood just did.

From a Guardian article: "Rushdie honour insults Islam, Iran says" —

Iran accused Britain yesterday of insulting Islam by awarding a knighthood to Salman Rushdie, whose novel The Satanic Verses prompted the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa calling for his assassination.

This is indeed a classic "clash of cultures." It is a shame that the entire religion of Islam, and the many varied peoples that practice that religion have been painted by the brush of the Iranian fundamentalist version. Surely, many in the Islamic world do not agree with putting an open threat on a man's life for creating a work of literature. And surely the intent of this award was not to insult Islam but to honor an entire body of work and not just a single one, The Satanic Verses.

Reza Aslan is correct in pointing out in No God but God that in the shadow of European colonialism, Muslims have developed conflicting strategies to reconcile traditional Islamic values with the social and political realities of the modern world.

Being the descendant of a colonized state and an enslaved people, I understand the desire to retreat back to a fundamentalist stance while under threat from the oppressive force of colonialism and imperialism of the west. To do battle with such forces the best tools are our intellect, acts of barbarism only reinforce stereotypical images of people of color. The voices of the more moderate in Islam need to speak up when the irrational injure the image of the Islamic faith. Indeed, this is a very scary thing to do, especially when people are being threatened with death. But the silence only emboldens the radical few. To move towards a more peaceful future, both cultures, the west and the Islamic world, need to find ways to communicate about differing views without killing each other. Is this too much to ask? Maybe so ...

Update: Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan, condemns the attack on Salman Rushdie. Hopefully she will not be the last major figure of the Islamic world to speak up.


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