DR. S. AUSAF SAIED VASFI analyses the whole Rushdie affair and calls upon Queen Elizabeth II to sit in judgement and pronounce her verdict on the basis of the bitter facts mentioned here for ready reference.
The fundamental question involved in the knighthood of Mr. Salman Rushdie has two sub-questions: What are the criteria of knighthood? Secondly, has Mr. Rushdie made any, significant or otherwise, contribution to the English literature? Do his plots, stories, characters and treatment advance the parameters of novel that happens to be his forte?
Before dealing with the sub-questions, let us note the acute consternation that the world Muslims felt when it was announced in June last that Mr. Rushdie happens to be included in the list of Queen Elizabeth II’s Birthday Honours. The one-fifth of mankind painfully recalled 1988 when the author’s “magnum opus” The Satanic Verses was published. The world Muslims had protested in unison. Their leadership had registered its outrage in bold letters. Those who had tried to defend the sacrilege in the name of “freedom of expression” had been ostracised by the community.
India, we Indian Muslims are proud to say, was the first country to ban the blasphemy. It did not initially occur to any Islamic, Arab or Muslim country. It was an eminent Indian litterateur, Sardar Khushwant Singh, who as Penguin’s Editorial Adviser, first expressed his dissent in writing to the novel’s publishers. To quote the illustrious Indian writer: “The Prophet had been made to be small time impostor in the novel.”
In the subsequent worldwide protests, much Muslim blood was drained while protesting against the palpable insults to Islam and the Last Prophet’s holy household (peace and blessings of Allah be with him). Iran went to the extent of issuing an edict justifying Mr. Rushdie’s liquidation. Since then Mr. Rushdie is a hate-figure for over a billion strong world Muslim population.
QUEEN’S FAUX PAS
Does Her Majesty know – we are sure she knows – this too-well-known a fact? Does she not think that her ill-advised and ill-endorsed decision would have long term and long-lasting ramifications? Has she any idea of the fierce Muslim reaction over the blood-curdling caricatures of the Last Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be with him) in Denmark in 2006?
The world is asked to believe that an independent committee vets nominations received from the British public and the government. But, we ask, had the said list not passed across the desk of the British Prime Minister, who could block the offensive name?
One fails to understand Mr. Rushdie’s contribution to the English literature in the light of harsh nay the harshest possible censures by the literary critics, politicians and the British ecclesiastical authorities. The former Bishop of Bredford, the Right Reverend Robert Kerr was, in 1989, quoted as saying: Mr. Rushdie “rejoices in irreverent scurrilous comment.”
1) And how any person of refined temperament would appreciate Mr. Rushdie, who in The Satanic Verses describes Abraham, the Patriarch Prophet, common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as “the bastard.” (p.95)
2) Throughout the book Rushdie depicts the Last Prophet, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be with him) as “Mahound,” the medieval polemical title for the Prophet meaning “devil”.
3) The ever-reverend, great Holy Companions of the Prophet according to Rushdie’s morbid imagination, are “Bums and Scums”.
4) An Abyssinian’s Companion of the Last Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be with him) is painted as “an enormous black monster.” A remark which is both racist and monstrous from the British point of view!
5) Mr. Rushdie’s “scholarship” is evidenced when he describes other Companions of the Prophet peace and blessings of Allah be with him) as “those goons and … clowns.” (p.101)
6) The wives of the last Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be with him) regarded as Mothers of Muslims are situated in a whore-house and the House of God, the Holy Ka’bah, in Makkah Mukarramah, is turned into a brothel… (p.381)
Who on earth can describe this “filthiest-ever sacrilege” as “humour”? We wish the Queen sits in judgement and pronounces her verdict.
To us humour is there where smile, not laughter or gaffa, is shared by one who smiles, one who is smiled at, any those who are around.
Humour is not irreverence, disrespect, jibe or banter or character-assassination. There is a pronounced line of demarcation between the sacred and profane and between freedom and licence in all the civilized societies.
There is no place for insult, libel and slander in humour. This sort of “humour” is enjoyed by the riffraff, the rough-neck and the scum of society.
Libel and slander has never been new to Mr. Rushdie. In his earlier novel Midnight’s Children the author in his utter muddle-headedness, tried his hand at the late Indian Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi. At the end of the day, she had to be given a public apology by both the author and his publishers in response to her legal action. They also paid costs and gave an understanding to remove from all future editions the passages objected to by her.
The Satanic Verses is not a libel or an insult to an individual Muslim. It is libellous and insulting to the whole over-a-billion-strong Muslim segment of the world Muslim population. So feel Muslims.
How do the literary critics feel about Mr. Rushdie’s literary masterpieces? To quote Auberon Waugh, an eminent literary critic of England: “Mr. Salman Rushdie deserves to be punished for bad English.” (emphasis added).
Other literary critics have described “this literary excellence” which also happens to be a Booker Prize winner as “dense” and “impenetrable” and “un-readable.”
Mr. Jack Straw, the leader of Opposition, confessed the other day: “I’ve never managed to get to the end of them, despite a basic rule I have which is if you start a book you have to finish it. I’m afraid his writing has defeated me.”
How one wishes this pulp had been trashed much earlier. But no. Now the Queen is bestowing honour on the Rushdies.
In the past, this honour of knighthood, dating back to the days of King Arthur, was bestowed upon pickle-makers, raincoat-manufacturers and those who made a lot of money from the trade of opium. “Nobility” was the word used for these “Knights”.
In 1985, when the British Muslims tried to call upon the then Prime Minister, his evasive reaction, conveyed by his junior officers was: The Prime Minister understands the distress which this book has caused to members of the Muslim community but has no power to ban it. It would be for the courts to decide, if a case was brought before them, whether any publication falls foul of the law.
It is an offence to publish strongly offensive, scurrilous or abusive material about God, Christ, the Bible or other sacred subject which tends to vilify the Christian religion in this country. For historic reasons, this offence does not extend to other religions.
This unhelpful stonewall position of the British dispensation, smacking of double-speak and double-deal, stands even today. The result is: now insult has been added to injury by the Queen.
According to press reports, the new Prime Minister of England, Mr. Brown has set up a Constitutional Commission, which would debate the important question. One really does not know whether caricaturing all the Divine Prophets and lampooning at their households is considered by the Constitutional Commission and the British Premier important enough or not. We Indian-Muslims, who constitute a part of the over-a-billion strong Ummah, hope the issue would be dealt with sympathetically, particularly because discrimination against Muslims runs into the face of what is called the “Mother of Democracy.”