Date: Wed 27 Nov 2002 - 19:05:14 GMT
November 27, 2002
No More Fanaticism as Usual
By SALMAN RUSHDIE
t's been quite a week in the wonderful world of Islam.
Nigerian Islam's encounter with that powerhouse of subversion, the
Miss World contest, has been unedifying, to put it mildly. First some of
the contestants had the nerve to object to a Shariah court's sentence
that a Nigerian woman convicted of adultery be stoned to death and
threatened to boycott the contest which forced the Nigerian
authorities to promise that the woman in question would not be
subjected to the lethal hail of rocks. And then Isioma Daniel, a Christian
Nigerian journalist, had the effrontery to suggest that if the prophet
Muhammad were around today, he might have wanted to marry one of
these swimsuit hussies himself.
Well, obviously, that was going too far. True-believing Nigerian Muslims
then set about the holy task of killing, looting and burning while calling
for Ms. Daniel to be beheaded, and who could blame them? Not the
president of Nigeria, who put the blame squarely on the shoulders of
the hapless journalist. (Germaine Greer and other British-based
feminists, unhappy about Miss World's decision to move the event to
London, preferred to grouse about the beauty contest. The notion that
the killers, looters and burners should be held accountable seems to
have escaped notice.)
Meanwhile, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hashem Aghajari, a person
with impeccable Islamist credentials a leg lost in battle and a résumé
that includes being part of the occupying force that seized the Great
Satan's Tehran embassy back in the revolution's salad days
languishes under a sentence of death imposed because he criticized
the mullahs who run the country. In Iran, you don't even have to have
cheeky thoughts about the prophet to be worthy of being killed. The
hearts of true believers are maddened a lot more easily than that.
Thousands of young people across the country were immature enough
to protest against Mr. Aghajari's sentence, for which the Supreme
Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, duly rebuked them. (More than 10,000
true believers marched through Tehran in support of hard-line Islam.)
Meanwhile, in Egypt, a hit television series, "Horseman Without a
Horse," has been offering up antiSemitic programming to a huge, eager
audience. That old forgery, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" a
document purporting to prove that there really is a secret Jewish plot to
take over the world, and which was proved long ago to have been faked
by Czar Nicholas II's secret police is treated in this drama series as
Yes, this is the same Egypt in which the media are rigorously censored
to prevent anything that offends the authorities from seeing the light of
day. But hold on just a moment. Here's the series' star and co-writer,
Mohammed Sobhi, telling us that what is at stake is nothing less than
free speech itself, and if his lying show "terrified Zionists," well, tough.
He'll make more programs in the same vein. Now there's a gutsy guy.
Finally, let's not forget the horrifying story of the Dutch Muslim woman,
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has had to flee the Netherlands because she said
that Muslim men oppressed Muslim women, a vile idea that so outraged
Muslim men that they issued death threats against her.
Is it unfair to bunch all these different uglinesses together? Perhaps.
But they do have something in common. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was accused of
being "the Dutch Salman Rushdie," Mr. Aghajari of being the Iranian
version, Isioma Daniel of being the Nigerian incarnation of the same
A couple of months ago I said that I detested the sloganization of my
name by Islamists around the world. I'm beginning to rethink that
position. Maybe it's not so bad to be a Rushdie among other
"Rushdies." For the most part I'm comfortable with, and often even proud of, the company I'm in.
Where, after all, is the Muslim outrage at these events? As their
ancient, deeply civilized culture of love, art and philosophical reflection
is hijacked by paranoiacs, racists, liars, male supremacists, tyrants,
fanatics and violence junkies, why are they not screaming?
At least in Iran the students are demonstrating. But where else in the
Muslim world can one hear the voices of the fair-minded, tolerant
Muslim majority deploring what Nigerian, Egyptian, Arab and Dutch
Muslims are doing? Muslims in the West, too, seem unnaturally silent
on these topics. If you're yelling, we can't hear you.
If the moderate voices of Islam cannot or will not insist on the
modernization of their culture and of their faith as well then it may
be these so-called "Rushdies" who have to do it for them. For every
such individual who is vilified and oppressed, two more, ten more, a
thousand more will spring up. They will spring up because you can't
keep people's minds, feelings and needs in jail forever, no matter how
brutal your inquisitions. The Islamic world today is being held prisoner,
not by Western but by Islamic captors, who are fighting to keep closed
a world that a badly outnumbered few are trying to open. As long as the
majority remains silent, this will be a tough war to win. But in the end, or
so we must hope, someone will kick down that prison door.
Salman Rushdie is author, most recently, of "Step Across This Line."
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