The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie was banned in Zambia
In Zambia, The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie was a lump hidden under a towel in my bedside cupboard. It wasn’t a very effective hiding place. I knew that.
I was afraid and angry every time I opened the cupboard door. I was afraid one of my house staff would see it and report me to the police, but I wasn’t going to destroy that book.
I was angry because I was afraid. I was angry that President Kenneth Kaunda had banned it.
Banning books is something that is done by totalitarian regimes that operate as police states to suppress opinion and thought. I know. I had lived in South Africa in the sixties in a constant state of anger and fear.
KK knew better than to ban books, but, like all leaders, he had to kowtow to some other dreadful leader who provided oil to his country.
Dangerous words and burnt books
It is terrifying to think that Rushdie, a brilliant writer and thinker, could be murdered for penning words onto paper and getting them published.
You can choose not to read them. You can choose to read them. You are free. Nobody needs to buy a book, or open it up to read it.
There is always another book containing another opinion or idea. How dangerous is a closed book?
Very dangerous according to despots and tyrannical leaders. Very dangerous according to those people burning the book and planning the murder of the author, the publishers and the translators.
The murderers are also the victims of the inciters and the fatwa.
Understanding with the heart and the mind
Have the killers read the Qur’an which commands people to read and comprehend? Have those people read the book? I doubt it. Hadi Matar, the man held for the attempted murder of Rushdie has just told the New York Times that he read only a couple of pages of The Satanic Verses.
I quote from Ali Unal’s Interpretation. A new approach to the Qur’an. The Divine command to proclaim Islam opens with the sublime imperative: Iqra’. Usually translated as “recite,” it also means to “rehearse aloud” or to “read.” It is addressed to humanity, . . . Iqra’ is a command to read the signs the Creator placed in creation so that we can understand something of His Mercy, Wisdom, and Power. It is a command to learn, through experience and understanding, the meaning of His creation. . . . the Qur’an tells us to “read” instead of to “behold”“.
I quote also from Ismail Mahomed’s Facebook post about his 1993 play Purdah. “To those who celebrate the attack on Rushdie and who believe that it was because of divine fatwa I give you one word that the Imam gave to me from the Holy Quran, “Iqra’! Read”.” “READ with your ears, READ with your eyes, READ with your heart.” That is what the Iman said and it is what we all must do regardless of religion or belief.
What is The Satanic Verses about?
Rushdie says it’s not about Islam, “but about migration, metamorphosis, divided selves, love, death, London and Bombay.” He has also said “It’s a novel which happened to contain a castigation of Western materialism. The tone is comic.”
So why did the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, issue a fatwa – a religious edict – calling for the death of author Salman Rushdie in 1989?
According to Parveen Akhtar of Aston University, writing in the Conversation, the Ayatollah intended to arouse Muslims around the world into seeing themselves as part of a political ummah or Muslim nation with Iran as its leader, rather than Saudi Arabia. One result was an increase in the Islamophobia experienced by the worldwide Muslim diaspora.
The Satanic Verses is a wonderful rollicking, satirical, thought-provoking, infuriating, funny, scary book. It is ironic about all religious ideas that warp and twist and pervert and subjugate people to hold onto power. It is also about migrants and the demonisation of outsiders. It is about the very people, the immigrants and citizens who are Rushdie’s protagonists.
It is about me and it grabbed at my heart and brain just as Midnight’s Children did. It was about my migration as a tribeless outsider journeying across the mythical political, religious and social landscape of my life in a desperate effort to escape apartheid South Africa, the cruelty of cities, the uncertainty of newly independent countries, the prisons made by fundamentalists of all persuasions and the unkindness constantly meted out to women.
Murder and mercy
The Satanic Verses opens with a hijacked plane exploding and two characters plummeting to the earth. In the ’70s during the height of the Palestinian hijackings, my family often flew from Africa to Britain and such an event felt shockingly possible.
It would have been a bitter and ironic death for us all with our mixed heritage of Islamic, Judaic and Christian faiths.
All creative persons, writers, artists or thinkers take risks in what they do. Far too many are threatened with prison or death.
The fatwa calling for Salman Rushdie’s death needs to be seen for what it is – political opportunism and incitement to violence and murder that is not advocated in the Qur’an, or part of faith in a God who is merciful and compassionate.
Thank you for writing this. I never read Salman Rushdie’s book it looked a bit too long and complicated. I do wonder more and more about the world being driven by social media flex reactions by younger people.
As you say the way the world is today I was rather afraid to write this blog in case I offended someone and got death threats too – unimportant as I am! I’ve just finished reading about the reporting that took place in the press when The Satanic Verses was first published. It was a tremendously challenging book then to anyone conventional and we all of us – even the bravest – do rather worry about going against the accepted norms! I admire Rushdie more and more. I must replace my copy of the Satanic Verses!