Misguided provocateur vs. murderous zealot: ‘The Satanic Verses’ still beguiles 34 years on
Salman Rushdie’s brutal stabbing revives debates on religion and freedom of speech, as well as fears of terrorism
Salman Rushdie’s 1988 book, ‘The Satanic Verses’, has not lost its sulphurous potential. In New York, a zealot stabbed the elderly author. His life was forever changed by his injuries. It was divine chastisement, or satanic intolerance.
There are no ‘satanic verses’ in the text of the Koran. Surah 53, verses 19-20, reads: “Have you seen Lat and Uzza and Manat, the third?”This alludes to the three goddesses and idols of women worshipped by Mecca pagans. This condemns them. Problem begins with one tradition that claims Satan impersonated Angel Jibreel. This temptation prompted the Prophet to add another verse. “These are exalted cranes, whose intercession is hoped for.”They claim that Mohammed initially believed the words to be genuine, but soon realized the lies and expelled them. The idea that Satan could manipulate the Prophet is rejected by most Muslim exegetes. That would undermine the certainty of revelation – a thought too horrible to contemplate. Islam preaches God, the One and not some monstrous divine quaternity that includes three women deities.
Perusing ‘The Satanic Verses’ is a mixed experience. It’s a pretentious work, abounding in trendy literary tricks: Frame narrative, magical realism, dream visions, etc. While the author entertains occasionally, there is also much tedious and repetitive narrative. Rushdie has a clever way of luring the reader into his stories. The Prophet beloved by Muslims becomes ‘Mahound’, a disparaging name invented by medieval Christian scoffers of the rival religion. Mahound’s career cruelly satirizes that of the real Prophet. (Jibreel, who transmitted the Koran, is nicknamed ‘God’s postman’.) The hurt it causes believers must be deep – not unlike what I as a Christian feel when Jesus is besmirched. Satan also tried the Messiah three times. However, he said to him that he would not allow it. Satan returned to the Cross in an attempt to catch his prey. But, like a hungry rat, he was trapped by the trap God had set for him.
Is it possible to credit the story about the satanic verses? Even if only briefly, did the devil deceive Mohammed? The key tradition is reported by a certain Ibn Ka’b. This is too complicated and lengthy to explain. However, one argument impressed me. Ibn Ka’b was a good Muslim. Would he have transmitted a story so negative to his religion if it hadn’t been true? Similarly, when critics impugn the veracity of the Gospel writers about Jesus’ person, the retort is that they included episodes too embarrassing not to be authentic. St. Mark writes (3:21) that on one occasion, Jesus’ family wanted to restrain him because the people said he was mad. Clearly, the Evangelist wasn’t out to present a merely hagiographic Christ, but to report the truth. Likewise with old Ibn Ka’b about Mohammed?
After Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued the fatwa against Rushdie in 1989, the book’s Japanese translator was killed. Similar assassinations were also attempted in Italy, Norway and Turkey. All over the globe, violence erupted. Now it’s the author’s turn. But don’t paint all Muslims over with the same brush. Two enlightened Imams from the London Regent’s Park Mosque, Dr. Zaki Badawi and Dr. Gamal Suleiman, attempted a reconciliation. Badawi urged Muslims to reject the book, but not the man. Suleiman recommended that Rushdie repent and become a good Muslim. It would stop the jinn from returning to the bottle, and it would calm everything down. Alas, extremists disrupted the Imams’ sermons and demanded the apostate should die, repentance or not. My personal acquaintance with the well-meaning clergymen had to quit their positions, but this sad story continued. Twelve people were killed by the jihadists shortly after Charlie Hebdo’s ill-fated cartoons of Mohammed published seven years earlier. “We have avenged the Prophet!”After the crime, they shouted. ISIS terrorists murdered 90 Paris Bataclan Club members and left hundreds more injured. Eighty-six people were killed when a jihadist drove a truck through a crowd of Nice. The number of such attacks, and their victim counts, have been on the decline in recent years, but is Rushdie’s attempted murder the shape of things to come? Islamophobes will be laughing with joy.
Unctuous British media defend free speech. Funny for a country which shut down an entire TV channel, RT, because it did not say ‘the right thing’ on Ukraine! This is in line with the inglorious English hypocrisy. Now, because zealot Hadi Matar is of Lebanese origins and has Shia sympathies, biased Western media are using the incident to target Iran – the only Muslim nation which has the pluck and integrity to stand up for the rights of Palestinians. Says a lot!
Salman Rushdie, if Muslim theology holds true, will be given his due in the Hereafter. But I must confess this – years back, I was strolling about in West London (Hammersmith) when my eyes alighted on a glum figure skulking along the other side. No mistake – it was Rushdie! ‘My chance to earn the fat reward?’ I briefly wondered. Prudence, and my conscience won. I allowed him to go. Call me a Christian namby-pamby – I am jolly glad I did!