As the world braces for more outbreaks of Muslim vengeance for perceived religious insults, there are new twists in author Salman Rushdie’s saga, which in 1989 brought fanatic Islamism’s intolerance to the Free World’s attention.
Iran’s ayatollahs seized upon Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses to launch a global campaign to silence freedom of expression and to have whatever is put out in the public domain effectively submit to Islamic censorship.
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini published a fatwa, a death sentence, against Rushdie, who was forced to live in hiding for almost a decade at a great price to his family and his personal well-being.
The harrowing episode also cost the lives of the book’s Japanese translator and of a Muslim dissident in Belgium who dared take issue with the ayatollahs’ threats against Rushdie.
But the ordeal is apparently not yet over. Last week a state-controlled Iranian foundation upped the bounty on Rushdie’s head to $3.3 million.
The repeated calls for the writer’s murder are seemingly grounded in the Iranian theocracy’s unique brand of logic: Had Rushdie been assassinated forthwith back in the day, the world would have been more successfully intimidated and discouraged from casting even implied aspersions on Islam.
In other words, everything that is presented as having offended Islam since 1989 – and there’s no scarcity of such claims – is now put at Rushdie’s door and blamed on the failure to execute him quickly enough.
Rushdie has just published a memoir under his pseudonym of Joseph Anton in which he details his years of flight and fright. It needs be stressed that while this conspicuous assault on the freedom to speak, write and print was taking place, there was marked hesitancy throughout the democratic realm to point fingers at those who declared themselves the ultimate arbiters of sanctity and propriety.
To be sure, there was no lack of obligatory hand-wringing but overriding it was a distinct reluctance to draw red lines. And thus the long arms of Islam were allowed to reach far and impudently into the liberal home turfs where forward-thinking and multiculturalism are famously celebrated.
As Rushdie’s ordeal began, the fact that the vocal exponents of Islam were inherently inimical to Western pluralism did not induce second thoughts about letting avowedly aggressive forces flourish in the warmth of non-interventionist forbearance.
Payback for Western laxity came fast and furiously. The incidents are numerous. The recent riots and the murders of four American diplomats in Libya – following the belated furor over an obscure YouTube clip from three months ago – are only the latest in a recurring pattern.
In the early morning of November 2, 2004, for instance, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered as he was cycling to work. He was shot, impaled and an attempt to behead him was made. The perpetrator, Muhammad Bouyeri, of Moroccan extraction, speared to van Gogh’s chest a five-page letter fulminating against his victim’s movies, the West and the Jews.
In van Gogh’s case, the self-empowered Islamic censors of Western free expression were able to achieve what they failed to carry out in Rushdie’s case. But apart from that, the principle is identical. Unseen repressors attack with greater frequency and audacity rights that we in the Free World regard as inalienable.
And the Free World is somehow conditioned to view things through the assailants’ eyes. There is tacit, if not altogether explicit, acceptance of the assertion that any supposed affront to Islam should be expected to automatically trigger homicidal responses. The notion that a given group – no matter how large or bellicose – possesses an exclusive God-given right to rage is a profoundly dangerous syllogism.
This skewed logic confers rights on Muslims that Muslims deny others. The numerous bloodcurdling calumnies disseminated about Jews throughout the Arab/Muslim world attest to an alarming double-standard.
There are some against whom no form of incitement is too much and others against whom any suggestion of impertinence can ignite a cataclysm.
As the rekindled Rushdie manhunt plainly illustrates, failure to reject this asymmetry only invites more riots and more assassinations.