Man, there’s a lot of sinister crap out there today. From Bunglawala for instance, on his way to disavowing book-burning.
The Thatcher government had banned Peter Wright’s Spycatcher and had gone to court to prevent its distribution. Surely, Rushdie’s novel, which had caused such offence to hundreds of millions of believers, deserved a similar fate?
The Thatcher government didn’t ban Spycatcher because it ’caused such offence’ to anyone. That’s not to say it had good reasons, it’s just to say it had different ones. Much more to the point, what on earth does he mean, ’caused such offence to hundreds of millions of believers’? ‘Such’ as what, exactly? What ‘such’ does he have in mind? He must know perfectly well that the hundreds of millions of believers (if that many were offended; I’m not sure anyone made an actual count) didn’t all read the book, that in fact it’s probably a very small percentage that did. So what kind of ‘offence’ are we talking about exactly? What is it about that kind of offence that deserves the honorific intensifier ‘such’? In what way, exactly, does Bunglawala take the hundreds of millions of believers to have been offended? They were told that Badman Rushdie had written something blasphemous about the Prophet – is that the kind of offended he means? Well, if so, it’s a tad remote and third-hand and abstract, and it’s also highly dubious to say that Rushdie’s novel caused that. Rushdie didn’t go on a book tour beseeching imams to tell ‘believers’ that his book was blasphemous – did he? Not that I recall! And surely it would have come out if he had.
No, what Bunglawala is doing there is basically just a trick. A form of persuasion. He’s claiming that Rushdie’s novel caused ‘such offence’ to hundreds of millions of believers, in a bid for sympathy and respect and solidarity and concern, even though his claim is fundamentally flawed and manipulative. He sees the point of free speech now, good, but he’s still determined to revile Rushdie.
I remember being rather puzzled as to why Rushdie’s defenders were so vigorous in arguing for the right to offend Muslims. Muslims were not writing books making fun of Christ and other revered religious figures. It seemed to be a deliberate attempt to mock deeply held beliefs.
Did anyone argue anything so stupid? I don’t think so. I think Rushdie’s defenders argued for the right to offend anyone, including religious believers, including Muslims – I don’t think anyone argued for the right to offend Muslims in particular. But Bunglawala gets to plant his nasty little barb.
So on February 14 1989, when the Iranian Islamic leader, Imam Khomeini delivered his fatwa calling for Salman Rushdie’s death, I was truly elated. It was a very welcome reminder that British Muslims did not have to regard themselves just as a small, vulnerable minority; they were part of a truly global and powerful movement. If we were not treated with respect then we were capable of forcing others to respect us.
That’s not respect, Mr Bunglawala, that’s contempt. All you wretched deluded fools have succeeded in doing is forcing others to have contempt for you. The attitude of reasonable people toward a cleric who demands the murder of a citizen of a distant country (or his own for that matter) for writing a novel is profound, astonished, repelled contempt.