Salman Rushdie believes that if The Satanic Verses had been published today, the members of the literary elite who rounded on Charlie Hebdo in the wake of the French satirical magazine winning a PEN prize for courage would not have defended him.
I think he’s quite right. Things have moved on since the fatwa, and not in a good way. The very awfulness of theocratic Islamism (that’s a tautology, but people get confused about what Islamism is) has helped to make it harder to resist theocratic Islamism. The thinking goes: Islamists do terrible things, and that makes people be horrible to Muslims in general, so we have to redouble our efforts to stand up for Muslims in general, which means we have to hide or deny or minimize or obfuscate the reality of theocratic Islamism.
You can understand the reasoning for each part, but where it ends up is a mess.
Speaking about the decision by PEN’s American branch to award Charlie Hebdo with a freedom of expression courage award in May, which led to more than 200 writers putting their names to a letter protesting the decision for valorising “material that intensifies the anti-Islamic, anti-Maghreb, anti-Arab sentiments already prevalent in the western world”, Rushdie said the conflict had left “deep divisions” in the literary world. He would never have imagined that writers such as Michael Ondaatje, Peter Carey and Junot Díaz “would have taken this attitude”, and he had written to one of the key dissenters, Teju Cole, about the situation, he revealed.
“[Cole] replied with a bizarre letter: ‘My dear Salman, dear big brother, everything I know I learned it at your feet,’” Rushdie said. “But his reply was mostly full of false claims: Teju assured me that he would never have taken this part against The Satanic Verses because, in my case, it was to do with an accusation of blasphemy, but in the case of Charlie Hebdo, it was about the alleged racism of the magazine against the Muslim minority.”
Rushdie told L’Express that he disagreed, saying that the 12 people murdered at Charlie Hebdo’s offices were killed because their words were seen as blasphemous. “It’s exactly the same thing,” he said. “I’ve since had the feeling that, if the attacks against The Satanic Verses had taken place today, these people would not have defended me, and would have used the same arguments against me, accusing me of insulting an ethnic and cultural minority.”
Quite; they would. They do, some of them. Remember the stink when Rushdie got his K? There were a lot of those accusations then.