I’ve transcribed a few bits of the Satanic Verses Nightwaves.
Kenan Malik talked about how different things were twenty years ago, and about the myth that all Muslims were offended by The Satanic Verses. Twenty years ago radicals didn’t identify themselves as Muslim or even Asian, they were black, and that was a political term. But that was then.
When people talk about ‘radical’ in the Islamic context now, what they mean is usually somebody who is religiously fundamentalist; twenty years ago, it meant the very opposite, somebody who was militantly secular, somebody like me; so that whole thing has shifted completely now in the past 20 years.
Jo Glanville of Index on Censorship talked about The Jewel of Medina, and Denise Spellberg’s intervention, and Random House’s instant capitulation.
One of the extraordinary things in their decision was the reason they gave for not publishing; one was the fear of causing offense, but the other was they said that its publication might incite violence, and I thought that was such an extraordinary statement to make, and to show the mindset of a publisher today; you can compare it with Penguin and the position that they took at the time when they had all sorts of threats being made against themselves – to essentially say, not ‘there might be people who might react with violence’ but ‘this book itself might incite violence’ and I think that whole affair really encapsulated the journey that we’ve been on.
Priyamvada Gopal, while defending free speech for all kinds of writing, also made a distinction between Rushdie’s novel on the one hand and the Motoons and The Jewel of Medina on the other.
There are fundamentalisms of different kinds, and we must think about the relationship between discourses of purity, whether they are Western, race-based discourses of purity or Islamic fundamentalist religious discourses of purity – it’s asking us to think – and I would as a literary critic make a distinction between books that invite us to think in complex ways and works that are in some sense intended to titillate or provoke, although I would stand by the right of all of them to be published.
Jo Glanville made another good point.
I think what I’m most concerned about or disturbed by in this argument about offense is the demand that we respect. That we respect religion and we see the United Nations Human Rights Council calling for it, we saw the UN Secretary General calling for it, and actually the only thing that’s going to work is tolerance, not respect, and I think in a plural society that is what we have to push for.
I want to be Jo Glanville’s new best friend.