This has to stop

I am currently reading Salman Rushdie’s new book – Joseph Anton: A Memoir
It describes Rushdie’s life since the fatwa against him was declared on February 14 1989 – Valentines Day. This was the day he was “sentenced to death” by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini for his novel The Satanic Verses. This fatwa is still in place – Rushdie says he still receives a “sort of Valentine’s card” from Iran each year on 14 February letting him know the country has not forgotten the vow to kill him. He said, “It’s reached the point where it’s a piece of rhetoric rather than a real threat.” Still, a semi-official religious foundation in Iran recently increased the reward it had offered for the killing of Rushdie from $2.8 million to $3.3 million dollars.

One might have thought after 24 years this would be old news, the book should more a contribution to the historical record and not a best seller. Sadly, this is not so. Other authors have received similar fatwas or had been assassinated –  such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Tahar_Djaout, Farag FoudaAziz Nesin, Ugur Mumcu and Taslima Nasreen. Religious violence erupted again recently over a silly US video about Islam. A 14 year-old Pakistani girl, Malala Yousufzai’, was recently shot for he public stand against extremist Taliban militants who used fear and intimidation to prevent girls attending schools. People are still dying. The issue hasn’t gone away.

It’s worth reading this week’s NZ Listener. It has an interesting interview with Rushdie and its front cover declares:

“Religious fanaticism has to stop.”

I think that is an important message and more and more people are coming to that conclusions.

Irony and gossip

Joseph Anton may be Rushdie’s best book. Mind you it probably depends on genre preferences. But it’s certainly about a very important issue and an important time in history. Rushdie also brings to the book his skill with colourful language obvious in his novels. But he also writes humorously and with much irony. There was certainly a lot to be ironic about. Prince Charles was one of his critics – complaining about the cost to the nation of Rushdie’s security. The author Ian McEwan told Spanish journalists: “Prince Charles costs much more to protect than Rushdie and has never written anything of interest.”

Of course his narrative is “one side” of the story, and this may be relevant when he writes about personal disputes and conflicts, but that is what we must expect of a memoir.

At over 600 pages some readers may hesitate but the important story, the lively writing, the personal and political conflicts, and, above all, the psychological stress the author undergoes makes the length irrelevant. Readers will probably wish it was longer.

So where does the name Joseph Anton come from? Early on Rushdie’s security team asked for a new name. One they could use continually for him and thus prevent mistaken reference to him in public. He chose the first names of the writers Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov. And in keeping with the change of name he writes the book in the third person. A device which, he claims, helped his writing, but which occasionally makes the reader stop and think when they encounter pronouns in situations involving several people.

I highly recommend the book. It’s surprisingly relevant to today’s situation (unfortunately) and will even satisfy those who love to gossip.

See also:
Salman Rushdie’s new book, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s reaction
Rushdie Relives Difficult Years Spent in Hiding
Life During Fatwa: Hiding in a World Newly Broken
Muslim Rage & The Last Gasp of Islamic Hate

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3 responses to “This has to stop

  1. Audrey Evermore

    I am so relieved to read your comments and blog. I have a few friends in New Zealand and Melbourne and woe betide me if I mention anything about Islamic Fundamentalism to them . They seem to think I am being over dramatic. I think they believe anything the BBC churns out and cant believe anything I say about everyday life on the streets of ordinary London .
    Your words come as a very welcome sign that global awareness regarding the seriousness of the situation is increasing .

    I am considering investing in the scarf industry as it is growing exponentially …either that or investing in the Great British Armaments Industry, but that clashes badly with my deep ethical beliefs… I guess I try to be fundamentally ethical . Perhaps that needs to be reviewed within myself at some point . Fundamentalism is not fun at all …and it is fkg mental as well .


  2. Those of us who have had the luxury of growing up in the secular West have developed a metric of viewing de-fanged religion along a kind of political spectrum – from highly liberal to orthodox – and make the mistake of assuming that islam can be similarly viewed. This is naive and very dangerous. The metric for practitioners of islam is much simpler: from good to bad. Muslims who hold fast to the rules set down in the qu’ran – the perfect word of god, let us not forget – are ‘good’. Those who who do not are ‘not as good’.

    I point this out because we delude ourselves thinking that only ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘extreme’ religious ‘fanatics’ who also happen to be muslims are a tiny fringe group. They’re not; they are the majority who are trying hard to be good muslims, who are willing to support political aims that legalize and legitimize the spread of islamic rule. One simply cannot be respectful of enlightenment values of freedom and tolerance and respect for the secularized legal rights of others AND a ‘good’ muslim. These positions in principle are incompatible.

    Unless and until islam (the religion of peace!) is de-fanged by all of us upholding the principles of secular law over and above the perfect word of god, islam as a religion will continue to be a fount of what we assume is religious fanaticism. The rest of us need to understand this fact and stop pretending that reason and respect for rights have any sway over the believers of the One True Religion (Tm).


  3. Audrey Evermore

    tildeb … I wish I had said it like that .


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