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ARA2150: Salman Rushdie
Transcript of ARA2150: Salman Rushdie
Freedom of Speech vs. Counter Argument
Salman Rushdie Affair and its Consequences
1.What were the causes of the Rushdie Affair?
2.Why was the Rushdie Affair so significant?
3.Are there parallels between the Rushdie Affair and more recent controversies? Eg. Danish Cartoons, Theo Van Gogh etc.
1. The Salman Rushdie Affair (1989)
2. The Danish Cartoon Controversy (2005)
3. Discussion and Activity
What would your response be for the following events that are read out?
Rate them on a scale between freedom of speech and protection of minorities
Think about to what extent self-censorship is a positive or negative in society with regard to these examples
Danish Cartoon Controversy
- Born in Bombay Muslim family, moving to Karachi after partition
- Educated at British boarding school
- Undergraduate Degree at Cambridge, before moving to London
- First book Midnight’s Children (1981) well received in UK literature circles
- 1989: Publication of The Satanic Verses in UK
The book was banned almost immediately in the following countries:
- Saudi Arabia
- South Africa
Protests also followed in February and March 1989:
- Islamabad, Pakistan: Five people killed in a riot protesting the book
- Kashmir, Pakistan / India: Riots
- Bombay, India: 12 people killed in riots
In the UK, a number of Muslim leaders initiated proceedings against Rushdie and his publishers under British law related to seditious libel, as well as for racial vilification in violation of the Public Order Act. The British High Court, however, ruled that the law protects only blasphemy against the Church of England.
“I inform all zealous Muslims of the world that the author of the book entitled The Satanic Verses - which has been compiled, printed and published in opposition to Islam, the Prophet and the Qur’an - and all those involved in its publication who were aware of its contents, are sentenced to death. I call upon all zealous Muslims to execute them quickly, wherever they may be found, so that none else will dare to insult the Muslim sanctities. God willing, whoever is killed on this path is a martyr.”
- Ruhollah al-Musavi Khomeini, 25 Bahman 1367
As a result, Rushdie received a number of death threats, before being taken into protective custody by British police, remaining in hiding for more than 1,000 days.
March 1989: Iran breaks off diplomatic ties with UK; several EEC countries imposed sanctions on Iran
Ayatollah Khomeini dies in 1989 and with him the possibility that his fatwa would be revoked
1991: Japanese translator killed; attempt made on Italian translator
Ayatullah Khomeini, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic Iran, completed the logic of the situation by naming the punishment for the ‘crime’, stating:
1. Alludes to Satanic Verses of Qur’an:
Whilst trying to convert local Meccan tribes to the new faith, Mohammad is convinced that Allah has stated to him it would be easier to achieve this if it incorporated the three female deities the Meccan tribes worshipped: al-Lat, al-‘Uzza and Manat
However, Gibreel visits Mohammed and reveals that Satan caused him to say that the goddesses are “exalted birds” whose intercession is approved, and the statements are revoked by Mohammad
By re-imagining this event in a modern context, Rushdie alludes to the fact that if Mohammed were deceived in this case, he may have been deceived about other verses of the Quran
Also implies that it is Mahound - not Allah - who is speaking. In doing so, Rushdie implies that the entire Quran is fiction rather than revelation and that ‘Islam is built on error at best, deceit at worst’ (Slaughter, 1993)
Points of Offence
2. Brothel scene:
- in a brothel, 12 whores take on appearance of wives of Prophet in order to make more money, and profits are said to increase 400%
- The brothel called ‘The Curtain’, alluding to the term of al-hijab and counterpointing the ideas of chastity and modesty
3. Depiction of Allah:
- Depicted as human, something that is seen as blasphemous amongst many strands of Islam
- Described as ‘balding, seem[ing] to suffer from dandruff and [wearing] glasses’
4. Depiction of Muhammad:
- The term Mahound a ‘mediaeval baby-frightener’ that was ‘used in the Christian West to represent Mohammed as a false prophet and idol worshipped as a god. A term of execration, it also signified monster, hideous creature, devil and heathen
Points of Offence
Predicated on Western liberal individualism and the autonomy enshrined in ‘Freedom of Speech’ vs. the Oriental ‘communitarian’ focus, in which the autonomy of the self comes second to the role one plays in the community (Slaughter, 1993).
Predicated on ‘class of civilisation’ logic, in which the majority of key Islamic values or teachings are intractably in opposition to societal norms in the West (i.e. democracy, freedom of speech, liberal human rights)
- The liberal self predicated on a separation or distance between self and the roles it occupies
- Obligations to others are based on the fact that they are rational, autonomous beings, not because they are persons who share a belief, tradition, creed or lineage as would be the case in communitarian theory
- Muslims possess a radically different hierarchy of values’ regarding free speech.
- They see free speech principles as simply the instrument of egotistical desire
- Honour is gained to the extent that one lives up to or fulfils one’s roles
- To lose one’s reputation is, simply put, to lose one’s personhood
As a result of these beliefs in Islamic countries and communities:
- If maintenance of one’s public image is paramount, loss of honour is loss of social existence and shame is ‘almost literally experienced as annihilation’
- In some cultures, the shamed person must be killed; in other cultures he will destroy himself.
- In some cultures, honour can only be regained through some kind of retaliation or competitive game like the duel or blood revenge (or litigation, or protesting, or book burning, or pronouncing a death sentence)
Additional focus on shame as a result of demonstrating sexuality in society:
- ‘Ird: literally ‘virtue’ but relates to sexual matters like chastity, purity, seclusion, adultery, legitimacy and honour of the family name.
- An insult to one person is interpreted as an insult to the whole kinship group, and an insult to a kins person is interpreted as an affront to the self.
- One of the major threats to honour is sexuality, for it brings subordination and loss of control.
- As a result, the social system devalues sexuality; it is shameful and it must be covered and kept secret
‘For many Muslims, Islam and the Prophet are experienced in highly emotional terms’
Many protesters (in Britain, India and Pakistan) belong to the Beralwi sect of Islam which is ‘a cult of personalities, rituals and superstitions, in which the Prophet is worshipped with a highly emotional devotion’
‘whereas Khomeini’s fatwa was based on the Islamic doctrines relating to apostasy, the concepts of honour and defamation provide a far broader rationale for explaining Muslim indignation toward The Satanic Verses’
The book ‘exists like the violator of one’s daughter, and in its existence degrades and shames one’s identity as a Muslim’
Responses in the Muslim world varied considerably, the idea of an Islamic force in international relations is overly simplified and it is impossible to understand the Satanic Verses incident without exploring Iranian and MENA context (Piscatori 1990):
Compares the events of 1989 with the Muslim protests following H.G. Wells publication of work depicting Mohammad as a man ‘of very considerable vanity, greed, cunning, self-deception and quite insincere religious passion’
- Resulted in protest rallies in Kenya (Mombasa, Nairobi), Uganda (Kampala) and London
Part of a long tradition in Western literature of ‘Prophet-bashing’ which goes back to Mediaeval Europe, in which he has been seen as a ‘false prophet and impostor’, ‘mere politician’, ‘idolator’, ‘schismatic and heretic’, ‘Christian apostate’, ‘hypocrite’, ‘blasphemer’, ‘fanatic’, ‘cutthroat’, ‘demoniac’, ‘adulterer’, ‘lecher’, ‘magician’, ‘and counterfeit epileptic’
Piscatori states that both Rushdie and Islamic ‘fundamentalists’ share an image of a fixed Islam.
Criticises Rushdie for his crude use of unambiguous arguments, in which ‘offence is bound to be taken’:
Aside from deliberately subverting key concepts and events from the life of the Prophet, Rushdie also attacks those who believe that the Qur’an is the word of Allah
Lack of subtlety itself condemns him to abuse, possibly even to being counterproductive
Rushdie is just like Islamic fundamentalists who believe they know what Islam means and who are crystal-clear in their denunciations and prescriptions
1. Wide ranging response to the publication and Khomeini’s fatwa:
Moncef Marzouki (Tunisia): ‘Khomeini made this sentence in the name of Islam and Muslims, that is, also in my name. I deny him this right for all sorts of reasons. There is no papacy in Islam and even less is there infallibility’
Shabbir Akhtar (UK): ‘A believer may exercise his or her own judgement in assessing the moral worth of the Prophet’s life and the received Islamic traditions of scholarship and piety’
Chandra Muzaffar [Malaysia]: called for ‘rational, balanced thinking’ in the face of Khomeini’s ‘Islamic fanaticism’.
Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt): ‘Islam authorises no one, not even spiritual leaders who meddle in politics, to impose a death sentence on other people’
Iyad Ibrahim al-Qattan (Jordan): Book should be made available for Muslims to respond more effectively to ‘propaganda aimed at them’
Saudi disagreed with Iranian fatwa, saying there should be a trial before any sort of sentence can be passed.
2. Overstates antipathy between Muslim and Western worlds:
Contradicts a long history of accommodation between the two
Overstates the degree of coherence of each
Overstates the motivations of individuals within them: family, gender, ethnic group, race, class, education and nationality often more important than religion in motivating conduct
Muslim communities in Britain tend to be: a) international in focus, and b) competitive due to the number of diverse groups. This leads to competition between groups - Saudi, Iranian and South Asian in inspiration - for the high ground.
Islamic language is used in politics throughout much of the Middle East in response to neo-liberal post-colonialism from West and secular autocracies throughout the region. Has become, in many cases, the language of protest.
Has opened up a debate over whether international legal covenants in the area of human rights should be more empathetic to religious and cultural differences.
- The editor of the conservative middle-class Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten found out that a children’s book author was having trouble finding an illustrator for a book on the prophet Muhammad.
- Concerned about ‘political correctness’ regarding radical Islam, the editor wrote to 42 caricaturists asking them to draw Muhammad.
- 12 artists responded, and the 12 cartoons were published in the paper under the heading ‘The Face of Muhammad’
The editorial of Jyllands-Posten criticised the ‘political correct’ fear of offending Muslims who have a worldview as in the ‘dark middle ages... a worldview we in the western world left during the Enlightenment’
Cartoons were reprinted in a handful of Danish and French media outlets.
As a result of the publication of the cartoons, a number of protests occurred throughout Islamic countries, particularly targeting Danish embassies
A number of diplomats from Muslim countries visited to Denmark to meet with PM Rasmussen in order to express their disapproval of the publication of the cartoons. Rasmussen refused to meet with them, stating: ‘This is a matter of principle. I won’t meet with them because it is so crystal clear what principles Danish democracy is built upon that there is no reason to do so’.
Jyllands-Posten stated aim was ‘to push back self-imposed limits on expression’ and to teach the small Danish Muslim minority that in a secular democracy ‘one must be prepared to put up with scorn, mockery and ridicule’
Rasmussen (2006): ‘The Enlightenment... has been the driving force behind European development and decisive for why we have come as far as we have. Therefore we have something here [i.e. freedom of expression] with regard to which we cannot give one millimeter’
- Cartoons were justified as a means of integrating Muslim communities into Denmark on an equal footing with the rest of civil society
- Therefore justified because they caused offence
Flemming Rose, the editor who commissioned cartoons, stated:
‘We have a tradition of satire [in Denmark]... The cartoonists treated Islam the same way they treat Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions. Any by treating Muslims in Denmark as equals they made a point: We are integrating you into the Danish tradition of satire because you are part of our society, not strangers. The cartoons are including, rather than excluding, Muslims’
Freedom of Speech Argument
Response by international Muslim communities seen in much of West as further demonstration of the incompatibility of Western and Islamic thought:
Susan Neiman: Western tolerance when confronted by intolerance, doesn’t know how to behave: ‘tolerance is so well brought up that it can’t respond to those who are not’
The modern Western concept of tolerance born out of the bloody European schisms of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries’ reformation of the Catholic Church. Tolerance was the healing balm for a Christendom deeply wounded by warring sects as Europeans had become satiated with persecution, strife, judicial murder and war
Muslims need to be able to separate beliefs from politics, as well as stepping away from the principles and norms that are seen as showing hostility to the West:
dar al-islam vs. dar al-harb
If the cartoons had been published in an atmosphere that was otherwise characterised by mutual respect and attempts to try to understand and listen to Danish Muslms, there would be no reason for moral reproach of Jyllands-Posten. But that was clearly not the case (Rostbøll, 2009)
- Rise of Danish People’s Party since 2001
- Growing levels of racism since 1995 (Wren 2001), particularly in media which ‘popularises a neo-racist discourse that positions the Muslim identity as a direct negation of the “Danishness”’ (Hussain 2000)
- Jyllands-Posten previously accused of open hostility to Danish Muslims
- Three years ago, the newspaper refused to publish portrayals of Jesus Christ on the grounds that this would offend readers
Few American papers published the cartoons, stating that they didn’t add to a constructive public debate
- The majority of the Muhammad cartoons depict the Prophet in an unpleasant, threatening way
- Many seem to play on stereotypes of Muslims as violent or repressing women
- From the perspective of Danish Muslims, the cartoons reinforced two well-entrenched stereotypes of the Danish: that they disrespect Muslim religious beliefs, and that they collectively stigmatise all Muslims as dangerous ‘Muslim terrorists’
Danish law imposes punishment for those who publicly mock or scorn the beliefs of a recognised Danish religious community or their faith, but doesn’t extend to Islamic beliefs.
Conflict portrayed by supporters as enlightened Danes versus unenlightened Muslims. Specifically, Muslims as insufficiently enlightened because they take their religion too seriously and fail to understand that satire is not disrespect or ridicule of groups because of their faith or beliefs.
Editors might want to include Muslims, but it is on their terms; Muslims have to listen to and learn from them, while they have not shown an equal interest in listening to and learning from Muslims
- Muslims are regarded as not having the right relationship to their faith
Rostbøll concludes that those who advocated the cartoons often exhibited arrogance between what one thinks others can learn from oneself and what one things one can learn from others.
Argues freedom of speech comes with greater need for self regulation:
- Respect for autonomy entails that people should be able equally to live according to their own deepest belies and commitments, and hence others cannot be free to disregard these beliefs and commitments in the way they treat them
- Imposes greater obligations on citizens to regulate themselves. They must also take upon themselves the obligation to show that they are worthy of this freedom