Fatoumatta: We must, of course, tread carefully when we get to what over with terms like “religiosity.” Religiosity is not necessarily synonymous with piety, any more than belief in God means total renunciation of the world. As I see it, religiosity is a ritualistic observance of religious practices compounded by neurotic dependence on miracles. By contrast, belief in God is an acknowledgment of a Being that the ordinary human mind cannot comprehend. Where religiosity is habitual and repetitive, belief in God frees the mind to acquire the knowledge needed to ponder the mysteries of the universe and find solutions to life’s challenges.
So I changed my mind about sharing the review of ‘The Satanic Verses and what Salman Rushdie wrote. Suppose I share the review, without a doubt. In that case, two of my favorite brothers and Sheikhs will be the first to issue Fatwa on the head despite the mutual love, Shiekh Ibrahim Sarr and Shiekh Landing Nyassi, since they will not like it at all. I do not want to hurt anybody’s religious beliefs.
Until last night, I was hesitant to share that the book review of The Satanic Verses or Satanic novel is not a wise course of action, especially publicly blaspheming or ridiculing Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Specific risks are not worth it. I was once tempted to share a photo of me with Salman Rushdie and his beautiful wife at a Gala dinner sharing at the same table in New York organized by the PEN American Center in 2005. Still, I changed my mind on second thought because I did not want to be insulted in return and my daughter to feel the pain.
I was convinced that sharing the photos might put me in needless trouble. Religion is an emotive subject, so do not expect everyone else to understand the concept of free speech. So many things get lost in translations when mobs are involved and emotional. Sometimes, the story is not about the subject but the messengers. Some pounce because they have an ax to grind or rekindle an old feud. I believe in free speech, but some risks are not worth it. Being foolhardy is not the same thing as courage or wisdom.
Fatoumatta: Reacting to the Satanic Verses in 1988, in an opinion published in several journal publications, the late Kenyan public intellectual and author of several books and documentary series Professor Ali Mazrui likened Salman Rushdie “to a man who composed a beautiful poem about the private parts of his parents and publicly recited it for the entertainment of foreigners who paid for the joke.” After the release of the Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie became an instant star in the West and made the bucks for his efforts. However, is the personal trouble he brought on his head worth it? Antisemitism is a subject people wisely avoid because of its sensitivity. So give other people’s religious beliefs the same respect. I do not want to be haunted like author Salman Rushdie?
Despite the fame and fortune from his controversial book “The Satanic Verses,” he was living under death threats, even though the Iranian government had subsequently lifted the Fatwa on his head. He was under 24-hour protection by the British Special Branch for more than ten years. It cost the British taxpayers £11 million to protect the Indian-born British author.
His travails did not end there. British Airways officially banned Rushdie from boarding their planes because of security concerns. Moreover, he lived under this ban for nine years before it was finally lifted. Worse still, politicians and other public figures avoided a meeting with Rushdie whenever he sought an audience. They were scared of associating with him because of the potential risks. Many book events were canceled because of security concerns over Rushdie’s invitation to those events. So what is the worth of the fame and fortune that Rushdie achieved if he has to live his life looking over his shoulders whenever he steps out of his house? Who wants to be haunted by the incubus of anxiety, morbid fear, or death threats every passing day? Is it worth it?
Fatoumatta: Religion is an emotionally explosive subject; it is a minefield where you must tread cautiously. Democracy guarantees free speech, but the freedom to offend comes with significant risks, especially when it involves religion. Wilfully insulting people’s beliefs or ridiculing their religious icons may be safe in western democracies. Because cultures and societies differ, what is acceptable in one place may not necessarily be tolerable in another. Understanding our realities is essential.
Fatoumatta: Who is the literary giant Salman Rushdie? Born in Bombay to a Muslim family (who later moved to Karachi, Pakistan), Salman Rushdie has spent two decades living in England. In his fiction, he has used his multi-cultural perspective – what he calls his “stereoscopic vision” – to look at the subcontinent from within and without. Although the novelist has written of the responsibility of writers to deal with the public, as opposed to private, issues, his new book “The Satanic Verses” (Viking Penguin) has prompted Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to call on Muslims to kill him and remains the most autobiographical of Mr. Rushdie’s novels and the least overtly political.
“Midnight’s Children,” which won England’s prestigious Booker Prize and brought Mr. Rushdie to the forefront of a new generation of British writers, stands as a dark parable of Indian history since independence: the decline of the book’s hero – from a brilliant childhood into adult cynicism and despair – became a metaphor for the country’s fate, its high hopes of democracy crumbling in the tumultuous period of emergency rule declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975. After the book’s publication in 1981, Mrs. Gandhi threatened to sue for libel over a passage that implied she bore responsibility for her husband’s death.”Shame,” published in 1983, focused even more closely on political issues, using Mohammad Zia ul-Haq’s brutal rise to power as the President of Pakistan as a springboard for creating a phantasmagorical portrait of a country that was “not quite Pakistan.”
Peopled with a cast of petty, self-righteous fools, “Shame” offered a picture of a country teetering precariously on the edge of absurdity like one of the fictional countries in Evelyn Waugh’s black comedies. Although the book received some positive reviews in Pakistan, it was later banned.” The Satanic Verses” concerns itself less with political events than the consequences of cultural exile and the more personal matters of identity and metamorphosis. Although chapters are set in Bombay, much of the novel takes place in London, Mr. Rushdie’s current home. Like the author’s earlier books, it is written in roiling, street-smart prose. Still, much of the anger that animated those other volumes (particularly “Shame”) has dissipated here, replaced by a lyricism that nearly passes for nostalgia.
The central (and most persuasively written) sections of “The Satanic Verses” deal with what appears to be a thinly disguised autobiographical material – a man named Saladin Chamcha, who has moved to England and become an Anglophile, returns home to Bombay to visit his aging father and is forced to come to terms with his past, his strange condition as a spiritual and cultural exile. Saladin, for instance, obviously shares specific characteristics with his creator: both were born in Bombay, both are humiliated as schoolboys in England, and both marry British women (Mr. Rushdie’s first wife was British; his second wife is the American novelist Marianne Wiggins), both struggle to come to terms with their two homelands.
However, on the other hand, Mr. Rushdie is not a radio celebrity like Saladin. It does not survive a 29,002-footfall from a plane. Moreover, contrary to what his critics believe, he has not sprouted horns and a tail (as Saladin does in the book).
Mr. Rushdie means Saladin’s temporary transformation into a devil to indicate the constant possibility of metamorphosis – by changing names, addresses, hairdos – and the consequences of such mutations. Indeed Saladin’s physical change signifies, in some sense, the horror with which others now regard him: his family and former neighbors in Bombay look upon him as a traitor, someone who has abandoned his home for the phony enticements of England; his English acquaintances see him as some pushy arriviste, a foreigner who will never fit in.
Fatoumatta: It is a predicament now shared by Mr. Rushdie. He finds himself caught between two cultures, two ways of looking at the world. Though he has lived for years in the West, with its tradition of freedom of expression, his family roots are in the Islamic faith, which fundamentalists, who revile apostasy, hold against him.