14.1.12

Salman’s Atheist Shrine

It is not people of the faith that are fearful of their belief being damaged but the purveyors of phobia who are scared stiff that their little world is not as large as they’d like it to be.

 Rushdie, Hitchens and Voltaire's bust

The timing could not have been more serendipitous and ironic. Around the time when the Deoband Darul Uloom made a demand that he should not be granted a visa to attend a literary festival, Salman Rushdie was genuflecting at Christopher Hitchens’, and by default his own, shrine in Vanity Fair.


It is rather interesting that labels like far right and far left, religion and atheism while seen as pockmarks on the faces of traditional practitioners become the rationale of the evangelical rationalist.

The seminary has gone on its usual tripe trip about hurting the sentiments of Muslims and there is a belief that this could be a ruse to garner Muslim votes in the upcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh. While the Muslim vote bank is a reality, the person in the street is not interested in a book, and is often not completely in tune with even the Quran. Is that not the reason they consult the mullahs over simple matters? These are uneducated and naïve people who do not even know their scriptures well enough. Would the majority of them care about a parody of the holy book called ‘The Satanic Verses’ written in a language they are not acquainted with, forget the magic-realism twists and turns? They would prefer to get clothes and other freebies from their candidates and not a reminder about a man living in the west who had a fatwa issued against him by a man in another country.

Alluding to the Muslim voters as bumpkins only interested in their religious rights and in a constant state of war for their faith only keeps the stereotypes alive. If someone is behind this move, then it begs the question: why are the mullahs being blamed? Why has it become a question of the infidel as victim? And those who say, “Don’t make an issue of it” are precisely the ones fanning the fires.

* * *

The discussion has taken a full circle and it is liberal discourse that has travelled in a time machine back to1988. People snort that those religious goons burned copies without even reading the book. Were these liberals so adept at speed-reading? The one who first suggested a ban is a rationalist-pragmatist-agnostic (Khushwant Singh) who assumed there would be trouble. His assumption was lapped up first by another rationalist-pragmatist-believer (Syed Shahabuddin). The secular government banned it. If that had already happened, then who was feeding the mullahs pulp fiction? Why were copies made?

In fact, the whisper campaign started early. Those who had inside information were considered important. The publishers in Delhi probably sold out the lot in this mafia operation. Who wanted it so bad? The intellectuals and academics. Their interest in the Quran seemed to have peaked. I was gifted a copy of “the prize catch”. It came by courier wrapped with a mock cover and a brown sheet.


This is the wonder of it all. A primarily self-conscious satire of a scripture is treated with reverence. There is obeisance for one version of freedom of expression. Such a one-dimensional idea gives as much succour to its proponents as any supreme god does to devotees. This form of liberalism is monotheistic and suffers from righteous arrogance. As Rushdie writes, “I began to understand that while I had not chosen the battle it was at least the right battle, because in it everything that I loved and valued (literature, freedom, irreverence, freedom, irreligion, freedom) was ranged against everything I detested (fanaticism, violence, bigotry, humorlessness, philistinism, and the new offense culture of the age).”

His right is obviously the only right. The violence for his cause, both by those against him as well as the more lethal violence of inflicting thought by his supporters, was very much the “new offense culture” that he detests.

* * *

There are millions more who read holy books. Is their pleasure to be discounted? Why are those books never banned? Because, outside of the cocoon of pop history is the reality of a belief system. This system may be in opposition to the freer one, but soon enough the latter seeks to sanctify itself. It gets baptised in the salons. The safe zones preempt the battle, and perhaps prepare the stage.

Using Hitchens, Rushdie writes:

“He, too, saw that the attack on The Satanic Verses was not an isolated occurrence, that, across the Muslim world, writers and journalists and artists were being accused of the same crimes—blasphemy, heresy, apostasy, and their modern-day associates, ‘insult’ and ‘offense’. And he intuited that beyond this intellectual assault lay the possibility of an attack on a broader front. He quoted Heine to me: Where they burn books they will afterward burn people. (And reminded me, with his profound sense of irony, that Heine’s line, in his play Almansor, had referred to the burning of the Koran.) And on September 11, 2001, he, and all of us, understood that what had begun with a book burning in Bradford, Yorkshire, had now burst upon the whole world’s consciousness in the form of those tragically burning buildings.”

Joan of Arc did not write any book but, here we go again, there is the subliminal refuge of Belief, of being impaled at the stake. In fact, one might go further and even refer to it as the Cross, for the good authors felt as slighted, or even more so, about insults hurled their way. The difference lay in how cannily they used this. They carried around the nails, and rusty as they became over time, they kept polishing them because it was about the “world’s consciousness”. Here were the Twin Towers themselves.

* * *

It is not the people of the faith that are fearful of their belief being damaged but the purveyors of phobia who are scared stiff that their little world is not as large as they’d like it to be.


And they are tremendously in awe of the Establishment. Rushdie got his moment at the White House to sort out his ‘war’ with the help of his fanatical atheist friend. And as he reached the room where the President awaited him, Hitchens declared, “The Eagle has landed.” Salman takes great pride in this brush with power. However delectable his prose, you take the fatwa out of him and he won’t be this Goliath in the political stratosphere. His oeuvre seeks sustenance from the ‘better’ societies.

Rushdie’s tribute to Hitchens is an occasion to revisit the only site that can keep him a martyr:

“The spectacle of a despotic cleric with antiquated ideas issuing a death warrant for a writer living in another country, and then sending death squads to carry out the edict, changed something in Christopher. It made him understand that a new danger had been unleashed upon the earth, that a new totalizing ideology had stepped into the down-at-the-heels shoes of Soviet Communism. And when the brute hostility of American and British conservatives (Charles Krauthammer, Hugh Trevor-Roper, and Paul Johnson) joined forces with the appeasement politics of sections of the Western left, and both sides began to offer sympathetic analyses of the assault, his outrage grew. In the eyes of the right, I was a cultural ‘traitor’ and, in Christopher’s words, an ‘uppity wog’, and in the opinion of the left, the People could never be wrong, and the cause of the Oppressed People, a category into which the Islamist opponents of my novel fell, was doubly justified. Voices as diverse as the Pope, the archbishop of New York, the British chief rabbi, John Berger, Jimmy Carter, and Germaine Greer ‘understood the insult’ and failed to be outraged, and Christopher went to war.”

Can’t you see? The knight-to-be found his knight. There was no way out. Everyone was against a book. The earth shook. The clique went into seismic spasms. The Oppressed People were capitalised, typographically as well as literally. They continue to be. They do not know who Salman Rushdie is.

He arrogantly announces that he does not need a visa to visit India, he who had to once beg the rightwing parties in India to do so because he worked on their ancient heritage blather by invoking his roots. Now, with a government announcement, people of Indian origin overseas can vote too. The ‘Bombay boy’ will not do so. I am sure he will have some civilisational argument. The fact is, he does not care. He is not the classic outsider, the metaphysical maverick. He is a god who needs complete devotion from the praying liberals.

(c)Farzana Versey

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Image (cropped version): Vanity Fair

9 comments:

  1. FV,

    Will you please allow me to piggyback on you and promote my own sexist-communalist cause here?

    http://chalatmusafir.wordpress.com/2009/04/25/my-take-on-the-satanic-verses/

    Thanks! Comments on my post welcome!

    ReplyDelete
  2. keeping aside the politics and personalities for the moment,

    >>person in the street is not interested in a book, and is often not completely in tune with even the Quran. Is that not the reason they consult the mullahs over simple matters? These are uneducated and naïve people who do not even know their scriptures well enough.

    It is like saying an ordinary American is not aware of his/her constitution/history/government.

    why bother about expending any effort on something that is you(yours), simply for the virtue of being born into it.

    >>they would prefer to get clothes and other freebies from their candidates

    When powers-that-be demand that population be in tune with whatever the book of the day (Quran, Das Capital, English Common Law, Mortgage obligation and personal bankruptcy law and so on), it is the moral duty of the population. When population in return demand jobs and economic opportunities, they are freeloaders.

    >>This form of liberalism is monotheistic and suffers from righteous arrogance.

    When the Feudalism was tyrannical, communism was liberating and when communism became instrument of subjugation, free market capitalism came to be liberating force and in the aftermath of holy wars in the name of liberal capitalism, Arab spring and Muslim Brotherhood to the rescue? may be. Wheel of Dharma, I suppose.

    >> outside of the cocoon of pop history is the reality of a belief system. This system may be in opposition to the freer one, but soon enough the latter seeks to sanctify itself.

    As another atheist warrior Richard Dawkins said, "through most of the history most of the humanity has disbelieved in most of gods that ever existed, some of us just go one god further."

    Ever since the small cohort of (<100) proto-humans walked out of horn of Africa, struggle for survival (involving both fear and greener pastures) has driven them across the globe. That has also given birth to many gods but most were duly forgotten having served their useful purpose. Only since Hammurabi did they consider "laws" as necessary/useful for better life and ever since then the battlefield has shifted from owning property to owning people via the "law-book".

    Eventually cantankerous human race came to the conclusion that it would be much better to get on with the business of living using "revealed" law instead of interminably arguing over the "perfect" law.

    At each transition, there were fights and there were victims (usually women, dark-skinned ones and others who always seem to draw the "unlucky" lottery ticket; revealed law or man-made). It would be good to hear a revealed law from young african girl (who has not yet been "educated"). The rational-pragmatist-believers/agnostics are always there to protect the people from themselves.

    >>It is not the people of the faith that are fearful of their belief being damaged but the purveyors of phobia who are scared stiff that their little world is not as large as they’d like it to be.

    Even today, majority (billions) of the humanity is likely "faithful" than "faithless" and it is them (with connivance of the vested interests benefiting from status-quo) who would like to keep marriage between man and a woman or matters of abortion or contraception to be (dis)approved by wise men who can understand cryptic word of god.

    Men running the machinery of modern state using modern military detest the challenge to their moral, political and economic superiority but I am not sure if the tyrants of the yesteryear are the ones who would provide the Nirvana.

    Hence, democracy and evolving legal systems.

    ReplyDelete
  3. As I settle more and more into American way of life, all these arguments seem insincere if they did not already.


    Live and let live, seems to be the way to go ....

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hitesh:

    Sorry about the delayed reply.

    As I settle more and more into American way of life, all these arguments seem insincere if they did not already. Live and let live, seems to be the way to go ....

    It is still quite natural to introspect. So, let me address your first comment.

    why bother about expending any effort on something that is you(yours), simply for the virtue of being born into it.

    That is the point. THEY are not expending energy. Others are doing it on their behalf.

    When powers-that-be demand that population be in tune with whatever the book of the day (Quran, Das Capital, English Common Law, Mortgage obligation and personal bankruptcy law and so on), it is the moral duty of the population. When population in return demand jobs and economic opportunities, they are freeloaders.

    By freebies, I obviously meant wrt votebank politics. This is not what they are demanding, but if they have to be bribed, they’d prefer something concrete. The moral duty of the population rests on the moral duty of the establishment. If the govt. dangles a carrot forever, then they could mistake it for a stick.

    The liberals will never agree to the concept of the ‘wheel of dharma’.

    Eventually cantankerous human race came to the conclusion that it would be much better to get on with the business of living using "revealed" law instead of interminably arguing over the "perfect" law.

    Dawkins is an atheist evangelist. The human race is not one group, so we all go through moments of epiphany. There is no ‘perfect law’ if we live in a dynamic system, and even the Arab Spring etc is dynamic.

    I have already said that the ordinary person does not know the revealed books; but s/he does not know about the Constitution either.

    Even today, majority (billions) of the humanity is likely "faithful" than "faithless" and it is them (with connivance of the vested interests benefiting from status-quo) who would like to keep marriage between man and a woman or matters of abortion or contraception to be (dis)approved by wise men who can understand cryptic word of god.

    I agree with you. But then there are other groups that would push a scientific agenda using human guinea pigs to promote industry.

    Men running the machinery of modern state using modern military detest the challenge to their moral, political and economic superiority but I am not sure if the tyrants of the yesteryear are the ones who would provide the Nirvana.

    If Nirvana is the goal, then it has to be of the Self, not a group. That is collective masturbation. It is also called democracy :)

    - - -
    F&F:

    Don’t use terms like ‘pig’gy back please! Sure, you are welcome as long as you don’t shirk from paying the jiziya tax I have levied.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Would like to share this email from a linguistics professor. He is a non-religious Catholic westerner, and his views might add to the debate of going beyond one set opposing another:

    “For me the fatwa story was ridiculous from the beginning. A ruse to sell more books and promote some standard issue opinions about the inferior peoples and their religions. Pompous, self-righeous glitterati like Rushdie or Hitchens have always appeared to me to be crude pseudo-intellectual hawkers of prejudices to the middle classes. Dawkins is another one of those hawkers who decorates his reactionary eugenics in pseudo-liberal atheism.

    As you imply, the people who are "moved" by these concerns, who feel that a Rushdie is a paragon of the persecuted, simply do not care about real persecution or what drives the majority of people on this planet in their efforts to survive.

    I found this indication of just how blatant the deception and manipulation of this middle class with its humanitarian (but not humanist) pretensions to be quite exemplary. Europeans have not progressed since Leopold told the world that he was conquering the Congo to prevent slavery...”

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  6. I loved reading this piece.

    "Satanic Versus Moronic " by Shuddhabrata Sengupta
    http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?279607

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  7. >>That is collective masturbation. It is also called democracy :)

    I find your lack of faith in democracy VERRRYYYY DISTURBBBINGGGGG (in Darth Vader voice) :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Well Salman Rushdie is an atheist & surely not a believer in any religion as he expressed it during IT conclave. He'd not have got so much importance & support had he not worn a muslim name.Also the fatwa gave him the hype he needed.also had he written such rubbish on any other Hindu Gods,godesses he,d have been more agressively shooed away from indian soil(remember mf hussain)! The bottom line is v should not hurt anybody- physically,mentally,spiritually. And this is more about basic qualities & morals & less about religion&am sure his arents would've taught him the same.freedom of speech does'nt mean v hurt someone's sentiments. And for rushdie sadly its his only claim to fame.

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  9. My Inner Space:

    Apologies. Saw your response now. I agree. This is not about his atheism opposing belief, but his belief in how he can manipulate everything and get away with it that is really disgusting.

    He hurts the sensibilities of common sense and civility. But because I have a Muslim name, it will be deemed as a 'jihadi' mindset.

    ReplyDelete

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