By Sushil Kutty
Two headlines stood out. One in an Israeli newspaper, ‘No one will any longer dare offend Islam: The 1989 fatwa against Salman Rushdie’. And the other in a New York daily, ‘NJ man, Hadi Matar, with sympathies toward Iranian government ID’d as suspect in Salman Rushdie stabbing’. The second emphasized on the first. Not only will no one dare offend Islam, those ‘no one’ will also not dare link the killer with Islam.
Salman Rushdie managed to give the slip to the fatwa for 34 years. The lull of several years was comforting. Henceforth complacency will be identified with Salman Rushdie. Even ’security’ had forgotten the fatwa. And then, the assassin came on stage, quite literally. The knife attack on Rushdie is a reminder that not all religions are forgiving. Also, Iran’s once supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini can finally RIP.
It was Khomeini’s February 14, 1989 fatwa that Salman Rushdie was battling, the extra-judicial death sentence handed out to him for writing “The Satanic Verses,” a piece of “magic realism” that allegedly “insulted Islam”. If anybody gets the feeling, Rushdie considered ‘Satanic verses’ his best work, that person wouldn’t be wrong. Rushie stuck to his verses in numerous safe-houses in London and elsewhere. And the assassins took their frustration on the translators of Satanic Verses, attacking two and killing the Japanese one.
Khomeini had asked “Muslims of the world rapidly to execute the author and the publishers of the book so that no one will any longer dare to offend the sacred values of Islam.” He lived for five more months and then went his way, leaving behind the message that any Muslim killed trying to kill Rushdie will “martyr” with a place in “paradise”. A $2.8 million bounty on Rushdie’s head sweetened the fatwa.
Rushdie, the atheist “born in India to non-practicing Muslims” has since then been living in dread. And under the pseudonym ’Joseph Anton’ and in the company of solitude. “I am gagged and imprisoned,” he wrote in his 2012 memoir. “I can’t even speak. I want to kick a football in a park with my son. Ordinary, banal life: my impossible dream.”
The New York daily’s headline, ‘NJ man, Hadi Matar, with sympathies toward Iranian government ID’d as suspect in Salman Rushdie stabbing’ betrays the reluctance and fear to take the instructions of Islamists lightly. Even law enforcement dare not “offend” the sensitivities of the followers of Islam, dare not link Rushdie’s attacker to Islam in any manner of speaking. So, New Jersy resident Hadi Matar is just another “NJ man”, with “sympathies for the Iranian government”.
In India, a “terrorist” with links in Pakistan has been caught with a plan to execute Nupur Sharma in the “fidayeen style”. There is no doubt that he meant business. There’s a fatwa sentencing Nupur to death. Nupur is a victim of her own excited presence, and the global exposure she got through a fact-checker of international standing. Salman Rushdie is proof that the hornet’s nest is not an exaggeration, and fatwas don’t go unanswered.
The fatwa given against Rushdie was for overstepping the limits of freedom of expression; the limits set by a religious order, and which applies to the followers of all faiths. The sort of FoE that the West knew is in the ICU. The Satanic Verses was considered blasphemous. Also sacrilegious. Followers of all faiths fell in line. Defiance spelled nothing less than death.
Curiously, the vast numbers of teeming millions agree. In the name of not hurting religious sentiments, casually dealt extra-judicial death sentences have become common currency. Successive generations of lawmakers haven’t had the courage to take the scourge head-on, much less eradicate it from the face of the earth. Neanderthals had more sense than the current set of world denizens.
Have we ever thought why the Yeti and the Big Foot withdrew high above to an icy existence, occasionally stepping out to see if the world had changed in the interregnum? Do we even comprehend where and how a set of rigid religious diktats, supposedly of divine origin, is leading the human race to? We are like the frog in a keg of slow warming fire, slow to realize that the water will in time come to a boil!
Salman Rushdie was not the first to feel the brunt of FoE. And he wouldn’t be the last. Does not matter how many more times the headline ‘No one will any longer dare offend Islam: The 1989 fatwa against Salman Rushdie’ is repeated. Rushdie, say reports, has bled from the neck and the liver, and he’ll lose an eye. And maybe he’s still not clear of death by stabbing. It is very important that Salman Rushdie should die of old age, and not by any fatwa. Freedom of expression is not something that can be assassinated on stage, and no religion should be allowed a total veto on FoE.(IPA Service)