June 18, 2007
Salman Rushdie’s knighthood has, predictably, upset the Iranian authorities. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, said the decision to praise “the apostate” had “insulted Islamic sanctities,” before wheeling out the familiar stall of pretension, gasbaggery and affected victimhood:
“Giving a medal to someone who is among the most detested figures in the Islamic community is... a blatant example of the anti-Islamism of senior British officials… Paying tribute to this apostate and detested figure will definitely put British statesmen and officials at odds with Islamic societies, the emotions and sentiments of which have again been provoked.”
Today, and no less predictably, the Guardian ran a generically tendentious piece by Priyamvada Gopal, a lecturer in literature and “postcolonial studies” at Cambridge University:
“More interesting is the question of why this ‘honour’ comes now and what Rushdie's alacrity in accepting it tells us about politics and letters in our times… Driven underground and into despair by zealotry, Rushdie finally emerged blinking into New York sunshine shortly before the towers came tumbling down. Those formidable literary powers would now be deployed not against, but in the service of, an American regime that had declared its own fundamentalist monopoly on the meanings of ‘freedom’ and ‘liberation’…
[Rushdie] is iconic of a more pernicious trend: liberal literati who have assented to the notion that humane values, tolerance and freedom are fundamentally Western ideas that have to be defended as such… Now [Rushdie] recalls his own creation Baal, the talented poet who becomes a giggling hack corralled into attacking his ruler's enemies.”
One might, I think, argue that Rushdie’s defence of basic, universal freedoms has little to do with being “corralled” by “his rulers” (whoever they might be) and rather more to do with the countless followers of a “most merciful” Allah who wish to murder him due to their own hysterical vanities. And perhaps it has something to do with a painful realisation that much of the “liberal literati” is unwilling to defend either him or the freedoms now at stake.
Oddly, Ms Gopal seems unconcerned by the passive-aggressive pretensions of Mr Hosseini, now so commonplace, or by the explicitly genocidal intent of the government he represents – factors, among so many, that would appear to support Rushdie’s position rather than her own. Nor, it seems, is she concerned by the fanatics who burned a novel they hadn’t read, or the psychopaths who hunted down and murdered translators of that novel, or those who set fire to occupied buildings as an act of protest and piety. Or indeed by the familiar pattern established by those acts. Instead, Gopal’s indignation is aimed at Rushdie’s criticism of violence committed in the name of Islam and his support for ousting the Taliban – an act that allowed almost 4 million exiled Muslims to return to their homes and which allowed millions of young girls to resume an education forbidden by the Taliban. But such are the moral priorities of the esteemed educator, Priyamvada Gopal.
I scarcely need to point out that Mr Hosseini and Ms Gopal have something in common. Both dislike apostates, albeit of different kinds. In Ms Gopal’s case, Rushdie’s sin is to depart from the guilt-clotted gospel clung to by Ms Gopal and so many of her peers.
Update: More on this at Normblog.
Update 2: Speaking of predictable, the madness begins. More here. Doubtless we can expect more threats, burning and hysteria after Friday prayers. Note that the BBC website asks, apparently in all seriousness: “Is Mr Rushdie's award an insult to Islam?” Readers aren’t, of course, asked whether the Muslims calling for the murder of a novelist are an affront to civilisation.