Sep 12

Salman Rushdie and Islam: the importance of not forgetting history

Salman Rushdie    Salman Rushdie has published a memoir of his years under police protection while the clerical regime in Iran had put a price on his murder. I was reading a long extract in the New Yorker when a paragraph brought me up short.

The narrative is gripping, spoilt only by Rusdie’s insistence on cataloguing every insult and let-down during those grim years. On this blog I happened to note the other day that the struggles under way in countries like Egypt, Tunisia or Syria were intra-Islam battles, fights both political and violent between different interpretations of the religion. The following paragraph from Rushdie’s book “Joseph Anton” encapsulates this in a much more powerful way. He is recalling 1989, shortly after he had been forced into hiding:

“Bookstores were firebombed – Collets and Dillons in London, Abbey’s in Sydney. Libraries refused to stock the book, chains refused to carry it, a dozen printers in France refused to print the French edition, and more threats were made against the publishers. Muslims began to be killed by other Muslims if they expressed non-bloodthirsty opinions. In Belgium, the mullah who was said to be the “spiritual leader” of the country’s Muslims, the Saudi national Abdullah al-Ahdal, and his Tunisian deputy, Salem el-Behir, were killed for saying that, whatever Khomeini had said for Iranian consumption, in Europe there was freedom of expression.”

We have no business being surprised that revolutions in states with large Islamic populations do not automatically deliver Jeffersonian democracy. Iran in 1978, Algeria since the aborted election of 1991, Iraq since the 2003 invasion, the 2006 election in Gaza – all these examples were before us when the Arab Spring happened. Perhaps journalists just don’t read enough books.