Civilized People Disagreeing With Rushdie's Portrayal of Islam.Another day, another mixed bag of death threats and honors for Salman Rushdie. Sorry--Sir Salman Rushdie. Knighted by the Queen of England for, presumably, his expansive tomes based not-so-loosely off The Arabian Nights, Rushdie had not even exited the building when riots broke out in Pakistan. The lower house of the Pakistani government, pushed to arbitrary action by protests in the street, shot off a condemnation that passed unanimously through their ranks.
For those unfamiliar with the scandal and gossip, Rushdie penned The Satanic Verses with a section that explores the life of the Messenger Mohammed. Based on the original "Satanic Verses," but with a couple details added, Rushdie posits that Mohammed originally called for polytheism to become popular and that his scribe changed part of The Qur'an because he wasn't sure if the Messenger was correct. This in a culture that refuses to create any sort of artistic imagery, however lovingly rendered, of the Prophet or God because the art of mortal hands is lowly to the sacredness God. A man who breaks this age-old tradition of worship to, of all things, profane the name of the Prophet could certainly be seen as quite the sensation.
I guarantee a stoner somewhere is perking an eyebrow between thoughts of how totally connected everything is, and is now telling his friends that he is psychic. "Like, a really long time ago," he opines, "I totally saw this happening on TV or something, but it was like in my head and I like saw the future, dude. I'm telling you, man, it's all the same and it's like totally in my head!" That stoner is only partially wrong. It wasn't in his head and he didn't see the future, but he is witnessing the past all over again. In 1989 riots broke out in Islamabad over Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, and Ayatollah Komeini called for Rushdie's assassination.
That same stoner also has a point. It is interconnected. The Arabian Nights, The Qur'an, and the "Satanic Verses" are very old documents with very long histories of influence. As a member of a huge number of modern and post-modern writers who dug through the collective past of their people to bring rebirth to texts long out of common reading, Rushdie did to these books what Joyce, Bulgakov, and Derrida did to Homer, Jesus, and Plato. But it wasn't just about that, was it? Was there something else they had in mind? Oh, right! The hermeneutic legacy of books themselves! These texts are constantly being reinterpreted, retranslated, reconsidered, and reworked. They are the bedrock of creativity and as such they have no choice but to breathe through change. The intentional choice to reinscribe one of these relics is supposed to draw attention to the unintentional reinterpretation that happens in the heads of avid believers all the time. The conception that we have of Jesus isn't the same as the one carried in the Middle Ages. For that matter, neither is our conception of Plato. And it shouldn't be. The more we learn about the context and the language, and the more we think about these books, the more we contemplate our own situations, expressions, and very existence. In other words, the more we critically analyze these great tomes, the more creative we become ourselves.
Islam never quite learned to deal with post-modernism the way the so-called "Western Tradition" did. The people are furious, and they shout, and they try to put Rushdie to death, and they generally make quite the spectacle of themselves. The United States found a better way to kill their creative authors. Ignore them.