Wednesday, 4 February 2009

20th Valentine year for Salman

On 14th February 1989, in a fit of pique about a passage in the book about his life in Paris, Mr Khomeini called for the murder of Salman Rushdie and his publishers. I always thought that the Grand Ayatullah was on commission because following his fatwa sales of The Satanic Verses skyrocketed.
I don't think I would ever have bought the book in the normal course of events: the title itself being rather off-putting. The approaching anniversary has been sort of tempting: the frisson of possessing a book which would cost me (apparently) a month in prison and a fine here in Indonesia is rather appealing. But every synopsis I have read warns me that it is a highly complicated and bizarre book which is hard work to digest and likely not to be much of a fun read. I have a sort of inverse snobbery about books that people buy just to show off to dinner guests. That is why I would probably not buy A Brief History of Time.
Apparently Satanic Verses is supposed to be a sort of introspection of what it is like to be between two cultures living as a migrant in Britain. I suspect that is a rather over played anxt enjoyed by a well-to-do champagne socialist with wistful memories of childhood Bombay. I am in a sort of reverse situation having migrated in the opposite direction with wistful memories of childhood London kept alive by the internet and Radio 4 podcasts.
A lot of people died and suffered because of that book – or rather Mr Khomeini's publicity stunt for it: in particular the Japanese and other translators. I have a great deal of reverence for translators. But I have always felt there is a sort of irony in the ghastly end – and indeed ghastly funeral – of Mr Khomeini and the continuing safety of Salman Rushdie. I would not be surprised if he achieves great longevity.
I don't really think that I would bother to spend much time reading books about the evil influence of religion, mainly because there is not much need to convince myself of what is (now) obvious. I would much prefer to write my own analyses, although I wonder how much people are actually convinced by what people write rather than just acquiring books which state what they already believe. Sometimes I wonder whether people actually do persuade others at all by their writing – is what we believe just what we are brought up with? I realise now how deep my father's influence was, despite a temporary distraction. Was Kipling right: East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet? I suspect that Salman Rushdie's writings and thoughts are an unhappy attempt at an amalgam.
I don't know if it is worth the attempt, but I shall arrogantly have to try to expose folly. Or otherwise hope for the early extinction of our species.

Thursday 5 February 2009

AF commented that even though there should be no penalty for the ‘sensible act’ of apostasy, Salman Rushdie had not, in fact, committed apostasy by his book and the correct procedure under Sharia had not been followed. She was surprised that Indonesia had banned the book. Her view was that banning free expression by one’s enemies is a sign of weakness because it shows that one cannot stand up to them. The whole reaction to the book was evidence of sloppy thinking and pious corner cutting.
Well apparently it was banned in the first big rush by ‘Islamic’ countries and those with sizeable Muslim populations. That was in the era of Butcher Harto. The ‘Reformasi’ government (which it is not) have recently un-banned Das Kapital in order to show how balanced they are since Meine Kampf has been such a consistent best seller. The banning was so effective that no one here has ever heard of The Satanic Verses so I don't know whether anyone would notice.
Sloppy thinking seems to be the birth-right of Islamic culture.