I have always held that Satanic Verses was not Salman Rushdie’s best work. It was catapulted into fame or notoriety (depending on whom you ask) by the 1989 fatwa by the Supreme cleric of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini. The Fatwa made Khomeini a religious authority – at least in respect of the murder call – for Shias as well as Sunnis and all other sects of Islam; young men, who, like Khomeini himself, never read the book roamed around looking for a chance to shoot Rushdie and earn some good money. For a few years, Ayatollah Khomeini seemed like the final authority on Islamic jurisprudence of death for the apostate, while the Fatwa caused immense marketability for Satanic Verses around the world. In the countries where it was banned, pirated versions sold like hot cakes. I first bought and read a priated version since it was banned in India, then bought a legitimate copy in London to do justice to the author.
Rushdie was hoisted right into the middle of such famous atheists as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. Never mind that a couple of publishers and translators got killed, Rushdie himself was protected by the British government. In 2012 when he was invited to grace the Jaipur Literary Festival, Rushdie demanded high security. When that wasn’t forthcoming from the government, a couple of writers who tried to read passages from Satanic Verses were stopped by the organizers. I am not sure if William Dalrymple, who had once experienced stoning by a fanatical crowd in London when Wendy Doniger read out a real passage from Valmiki Ramayan, was present at the festival venue and was part of the organizers who stopped the readers. You cannot blame Rushdie for being careful. However, far more rebellious authors like Taslima Nasreen and Arundhati Roy neither asked for nor got any assurance of security.
I recall my blog, ‘Of Two Authors, One Condemned for Life,’ where I quote Muhammad Hanif of Pakistan:
“The whole issue has been blown out of proportion. If you don’t like a certain book, don’t read it, don’t keep it in your house, why to get so agitated about it,”
Hamid Dabashi, Professor of Isamic Studies in Columbia University and a Muslim, is not agitated. Writing for Al Jazeera, Dabashi says of Satanic Verses: ” It (Satanic Verses) was a masterpiece dealing with the postcolonial immigrant communities moving into the metropole of their tormentors. ” Dabashi is not a mere professor of a religious subject; he has read such hard-htting one-time wonders as Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart), Arvind Adiga (White Tiger), Arundhati Roy (God of Small Things) and more prolific writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Perhaps even Dabashi holds a grudge against Taslima Nasreen for speaking out the naked truth in her Lajja. Why do many experts think that Nasreen’s work lacks literary merit is something I have never understood.
If you fancy genuine modern literature, do not miss https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/salman-rushdie-affair-years-novelist-190217140017088.html.
If you are generous enough, please do not miss my 2012 blog, https://vishumenon.com/2012/02/05/of-two-authors-one-condemned-for-life/