Saturday, June 23, 2007

Rushdie and Knighthood and the Furor

Just read this piece on a blog (House Negro) that I check out every once in a while and I liked it. Pasted below. And I am back home but not for long. Amparites, I'm coming back. Visa pending, mid July. Roll out the dusty red carpet for a homecoming...zx

The Other" and the Western media"

The Western media has latched onto the Rushdie Knighthood affair with the same fervour that influenced its coverage of The Satanic Verses over a decade ago. The TV screens have been filled with images of rent-a-crowds in [insert developing, predominantly Muslim country here] burning effigies of varying artistic merit.* A few newspapers have tried as hard as they can to find someone, anyone!, who will put a new fatwa on Rushdie.

Such coverage feeds into the myth of the West as a bastion of free speech (and hence civilisation) against the hot headed hordes of the Muslim periphery. Rushdie, the millionaire Western intellectual of Indian Muslim origin, becomes a symbol of defiance. All very Orwellian.

I for one don't much care about the knighthood, nor why Rushdie accepted it (there's a good op ed in The Guardian on this point). That indifference includes whether the knighthood was a deliberate gesture. I don't know but suspect there's a good chance it was a matter of insensitive ignorance rather than deliberate attempt to inflame. If our faith in who we are as Muslims is weak then we will give our enemies the satisfaction of our offence and anger. Better yet to accept that the knighthood is an empty gesture from a long irrelevant monarchy.

What I do care about is why we are offended by Rushdie's knighthood. Personally, I find it offensive more because of Britain's past criminality as a colonial ruler, and present criminality in Iraq and Afghanistan. Accepting the knighthood sends out the message that you endorse the institution which has caused such havoc around the globe. Given Rushdie is the son of a former colony, and has written about the trauma of British rule in India, makes it all the more disappointing. But am I surprised? Not really. You see Rushdie, like Hirsi Ali, is a member of Western elite society. This elite society is not homogenous or static, but it certainly has very little in common with you or I. Rather than judging Rushdie because of the colour of his skin or his Muslim-sounding name, we have to realise he is just a novelist who gets paid a lot of money to write. He's also a celebrity (read - has an ego the size of a Vikrem Seth novel), so lapping up a knighthood is probably just his sort of thing. And no, I am not resentful because he dates supermodels...

If you are offended by Rushdie because of The Satanic Verses I would politely recommend reading it or, if you have already read it, re-reading it. While I have struggled through it twice with limited success, I have nevertheless concluded that is an important book for those with an honest interest in understanding Islam. And here I really speak of Muslims, not those non-Muslims who think all the world's problems are due to Islam.

* Speaking of these riots, you may have noticed that a lot of these riots are in Pakistan. One reason for this is that it is very easy for any group to literally hire some lads to hold placards and burn things for them. There's a riot, particularly in Karachi, every other week in Pakistan. From the images I've seen the riots over Rushdie have been disappointingly small. In fact, the biggest riots, with the exception of large protests in Karachi a few weeks back, tend to follow shocks losses by the national cricket team. This is not to say there is only limited interest in the Rushdie knighthood among Muslims. It's impossible to say really, and as I've said in a previous post, it's not very useful to paint all Muslims with the same brush. For example, I imagine Muslims in Gaza don't care two ships about the knighthood. So there you go.

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