Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Ayatollahs & a Free Press!

Salman Rushdie & the Medieval Mind
EVERY job must have its own risk assessment!  Just as the miner risks being crushed; just as an electrician, like me, risks electrocution; so the writer must take his chances.  Salman Rushdie, in 1988, published his fourth novel 'The Satanic Verses', which on the 14th, February 1989 became the subject of a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, because it was alleged that it was mocking the Muslim faith and he was accused of blasphemy.  The book was burnt in Bradford, after an English solicitor told some of his Muslim clients that they would have little hope of bringing a case against the book in the English Courts, but had suggested that they may draw attention to their anger by burning the book in public.  It was after this that a chain reaction was set in force across the world amid accusations that it offended against Islam.

Political rivalry between Saudie Arabia and Iran for influence in the Islamic world, allowed Iran to get the edge over the Saudie regime, after Ayatoller Khomeini issued his fatwa against Salman Rushdie and the 'Satanic Verses'.  At that time, in the late 1980s, I was working closely with a group of Kashmiri Muslims, who were campaigning for an independent Kashmir; so I was very aware of what was happening.  In the book itself, Rushdie used magical realism and depended on contemporary events and people to create his characters; which is partly inspired by the life of Muhammad.  The fatwa issued by the Iranian leader, Ayatoller Khomeini, publicly condemned the book and declared what amounted to a death-bed fatwa against Rushdie, with a bounty for anyone who executed him. 

This month, Mr. Rushdie has published his latest book - a memoir entitled 'Joseph Anton' - which he describes as 'a non-fiction novel'.  The book is written in the third person, and the form and language is that of a novel except that it is true.  Joseph Anton was Rushdie's alias during his years in hiding before the fatwa was lifted.

Recently, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, there has been some optimism about some the possibility of change in the Arab world, but now, following the over-reaction to the anti-Islamic film 'Innocence of Muslims', which was posted on YouTube and triggered protests in the region, more concerns have arisen.  Salman Rushdie told Ginny Dougary in the FT Weekend Magazine, last Saturday, that:  'The trouble is that what's happening in those countries since the so-called Arab Spring is the rise of this very organised extremist group, which is Salafi Islam, and the Salafists are so fanatical that they frighten other Muslims'.

Rushdie added:  'It's easier for people to grasp what happened to me because it's not just my story now, it's everyone's story.  It's the story of our time, rather than of an individual.'   Interestingly Mr. Rushdie asserts:  'This odd idea that there is a right not to be offended is nonsense - None of us has that right - If  you're offended it's your probem'.

Salman Rushdie took a risk in 1988, and any decent writer should be willing to take a risk today, otherwise he or she would never be able to embrace the 'literary vitamin'.  Rushdie knows this and that is why he told Ginny Dougary:  '... it was very clear to me, almost from the beginning, that there were ... elephant traps that I really needed to avoid.  One was fear - as a writer, to end up writing frightened, timid little books that say, "Please don't be upset with me for doing this".'  Rushdie says, 'such books would probably be worthless and uninteresting for anyone to read'.  It is hard to believe that anyone from the fanatical Salafist Islam faction could ever write a novel that anyone would want to read. 
Sallying forth against a Free Press in Manchester
But we don't need to go to the Middle East to find the Medieval mentality, outlandish concepts and politically perverse ideas, which seem to rail against freedom.  In Manchester, on what describes itself as the left there are some rum folk:  these last few weeks a group that has been nick-named 'The Gang of Four' has been sallying forth bent upon damaging Northern Voices by interferring with our outlets for the publication.  Indeed, they are very nearly as dangerous as Dad's Army:  they have fancy nick-names like 'Madam Mao' (Schoolmistress), the 'Manchester Toad' (psychiatric social worker), Spikymike (retired civil servant & housing manager) and David (not Dave) under-the-Pavement (unknown profession).  Their justification for what they have been about is Northern Voices' publication of an obituary for Robert Miller; a former Oldham schoolmaster, who seemed to lead a double-life as a respectable figure of the community in his day job and as a 'class struggle anarchist' in his time off.  This obituary drew on the Mr. Miller's superb ability to have the strength to live a double-life by contrasting his efforts with those of Ken Keating, a colourful Mack-the-Knife figure from Salford, who who died in the same month as Mr. Miller in June 2011, and also claimed to be an anarchist:  my own contribution to this obituary, which had 'many hands' in its assembly and production, was to try to make sense of Mr. Miller's political double-life alongside Jean Paul Sartre's idea of authenticity and 'bad faith' - I made reference to Sartre's famous waiter doing his job at the pavement cafe while his 'real' thoughts are elsewhere.  This is the kind of comment that is liable to lead to trouble among lefties in England just as tormented as those that fanatical Muslims have for Salman Rushdie's  'Satanic Verses'

It just goes to show that there is nowt so queer as folk, comrades!.
The printed version of NORTHERN VOICES No.13, now on sale with all sorts of stuff others won't touch. NORTHERN VOICES No.12 with the Cyril Smith 'Instead of an Obituary' is also still available and may be obtained as follows:
Postal subscription: £5 for the next two issues (post included). Cheques payable to 'Northern Voices' at c/o 52, Todmorden Road, Burnley, Lancashire BB10 4AH.
Tel.: 0161 793 5122.
email: northernvoices@hotmail.com

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