Party Like It's 1989

|

With a warning not to view the intoonfada through simple clash-of-civilization lenses, Daniel Pipes points the wayback machine to the era of Salman Rushdie:

It first appeared, as now, that the West aligned solidly against the edict and the Muslim world stood equally with it. As the dust settled, however, a far more nuanced situation became apparent.

Significant voices in the West expressed sympathy for Khomeini. Former president Jimmy Carter responded with a call for Americans to be "sensitive to the concern and anger" of Muslims. The director of the Near East Studies Center at UCLA, Georges Sabbagh, declared Khomeini "completely within his rights" to sentence Rushdie to death. Immanuel Jakobovits, chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, wrote that "the book should not have been published" and called for legislation to proscribe such "excesses in the freedom of expression."

In contrast, important Muslims opposed the edict. Erdal Inönü, leader of Turkey's opposition Social Democratic party, announced that "killing somebody for what he has written is simply murder." Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt's winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in literature, called Khomeini a "terrorist." A Palestinian journalist in Israel, Abdullatif Younis, dubbed The Satanic Verses "a great service."

Maybe my memories of 1989 are getting misty and water-colored. (Batwing blouses! Frank Bruno! "My Prerogative!" Wine Coolers! Pineapple Face! The Diceman!) But I remember that even back then it was obvious the west wasn't standing solidly against the edict. In addition to the notorious examples of John Le Carre, Germaine Greer, Roald Dahl, and other cultural bigwigs, there was an openly feckless response from western governments; as Pipes himself points out in his history of the Rushdie affair, our neighbors to the north even banned the book for a short time.

The response to the cartoon flap, by comparison, has been much stronger, which is why I think there's reason for optimism. Pipes' warning about glib references to the Clash of Civilizations is important, and in fact even most prominent Muslim leaders have been issuing pro-forma admonitions about avoiding violence and protesting respectfully. Whether those are sincere or not, they at least show some acceptance of civilized norms of behavior, which is another big contrast with the situation in 1989.

Interestingly, I came across a weirdly prescient comment Rushdie made in the nineties:

"When it's Danish feta cheese or Irish halal beef against the European Convention on Human Rights, don't expect free expression to win."

Back in August, Shikha Dalmia interviewed Rushdie right here at Reason.

NEXT: More Screening, More Monitoring: Does John Walters Think He's Running the NSA?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I thought it was simply that we were all too bigoted to really care about Arab on Arab crime.

  2. i have to say i’m shocked that someone from an american institution of higher learning would go beyond criticizing rushdie to openly expressing support for an assassination.

    not that i remember 1989 all that well, but still…

  3. “i’m shocked that someone from an american institution of higher learning…”

    Seriously?

  4. So what you’re saying is we should have nuked the region back in ’89?

  5. Is “The Satanic Verses” worth picking up?

  6. >>even back then it was obvious the west wasn’t standing solidly against the edict.

    True. “Back then,” however, Islamists were not routinely intimidating Westerners and non-Westerners alike in real life, on international television, and on the Internet via throat slitting, beheading, embassy torching, flag burning, and suicide bombings of tall buildings and discos.

    Who is going to stand up to this undifferentiated “rage”?

    How?

    The only way to win the cartoon jihad is through inoculation: publish more cartoons, and really offensive ones. Routinely.

  7. “Seriously?”

    yes. it’s one thing to say “you fucking suck you tool of patriarchy, etc” and another entirely to say that an author should be murdered for expressing himself.

    was rushdie like a right winger or something and that’s why it would have been ok?

  8. It probably should be remembered that at least one person was stabbed over the work – namely the Japanese translator of the book, who was stabbed to death. A couple of other people associated with the books publication were also seriously injured.

  9. The only way to win the cartoon jihad is through inoculation: publish more cartoons, and really offensive ones. Routinely.

    That’s exactly what Iran is proposing to do, by calling for cartoons making fun of the Holocaust, just to see whether ‘the West’ is serious about its calls for tolerance.
    And guess what, at least some Westerners are saying ‘that’s not funny!’, thus proving their point.
    Of course, nobody would throw a brick through the US embassy window because some neo-Nazi distributed such a cartoon. That’s just one of the things that many in the Muslim world don’t seem to get.

  10. Mediageek,

    A friend of mine just read it and said it’s definitely worth the read. I don’t know, personally.

    But damn, I also never knew THIS!
    “As a result [of the fatwa], Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death in July 1991, Ettore Capriolo, the Italian translator, was seriously injured in a stabbing the same month, and William Nygaard, the publisher in Norway, survived an attempted assassination in Oslo in October 1991.”

  11. There were also some acts of terrorism in the West associated with the book, some bookstores in the U.S. were firebombed for stocking for example, etc. Also as far as I know the bounty remains on Rushdie’s head.

  12. I read Shame, and although I must admit 1) I was young (about 16), 2) I didn’t know jack shit about Pakistan when I was that age, and only slightly more about it now, and 3) I’ve never been very good at picking up a lot of subtle nuances from books (I read them fairly literally), I did like it.

    I think his writing style is kind of cool. I actually should read it again to see if I “get” any more of it.

  13. mediageek,

    In part that depends on whether you like magical-realism.

  14. Geoff Nathan:

    My in-laws are Holocaust survivors.

    Bring on the filthiest Holocaust cartoons, from sea to shining sea.

  15. The reviews of Satanic Verses weren’t so good, but then again, the current cartoons aren’t very good, either. That’s just not the point.

    Europe does outlaw holocaust denial, so Iran gets debate points for that, however I have no expectation that Jews will go on a rampage and start burning Iranian embassies.

    Of course I always laugh when Iran denies the holocaust in one breath, and then praises Nazi efforts with the next. Which is it?

  16. “Europe does outlaw holocaust denial, so Iran gets debate points for that”

    Not really. Nobody is denying the right of Iran or any other country to ban religiously offensive works inside their borders. They just can’t ban them in other countries.

    The current furor seems to be an extension of the Rushdie affair, in that Iran and other Muslim countries appear to be claiming jurisdiction over the citizens of other nations.

  17. I have no expectation that Jews will go on a rampage and start burning Iranian embassies.

    Yes, I would imagine people who live with the FACTS of the Holocaust know the difference between that and cartoons quite well.

  18. Hakluyt – magical-realism is a good way to describe Rushdie’s writing style, IIRC from reading Shame.

  19. Some of my distant relatives are Holocaust non-survivors, and I agree with Hepzeeba–let ’em publish what they want. I’m not rioting.

  20. The Financial Times reported today that “The United Nations, the European Union and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference issued a joint appeal for an end to violence around the Muslim world, following the publication of cartoons deemed offensive to Islam.”

    On a related note, it appears that the Danish paper that ran the caricatures of Muhammed had, several months earlier, declined to run cartoons that caricatured Jesus, on the grounds that they would be offensive. So refusing to publish offensive cartoons, or even condemning offensive cartoons does not always indicate a lack of support for freedom of the press.

  21. the satanic verses is indeed worth reading.

  22. Mohammed was a peaceful man and these extremists will kill anyone who says otherwise.

  23. They of course can publish what they want, but let’s call bullshit on the analogy. The Holocaust is a historical event, not a religious one. It’s the same old confusion between Judaism as a religion and Jews as am ethnic group.

    If they want to make a parody of Abraham (an Iraqi) or Moses (an Egyptian), sure, have fun. No one will even notice.

  24. So refusing to publish offensive cartoons, or even condemning offensive cartoons does not always indicate a lack of support for freedom of the press.

    I don’t have the link anymore but someone posted it on another thread. The Jesus cartoons were not banned because they would offend religious sentiment, but because they would most likely have offended readers’ intelligence. From the descriptions they do sound godawful (pun intended). The editor admits he made a mistake when he gave his reason for not publishing them, not wanting to offend the artist.

  25. Before we get too excited about progress, let’s not forget that by Muslim standards the cartoons are a far far less serious crime as well, yet the reaction is even worse. In the Rushdie case you had an “apostate”, a former muslim, and international intellectual heavyweight (or at least welterweight), denigrating the prophet. The muslim reaction was an affront to free speech but on religious grounds, if you are a true believer, maybe it was justifiable. The Muslim reaction to the cartoons is simply flat out ridiculous – no Muslims drew the cartoons, they were not printed in a Muslim country, they carry none of the purported seriousness of Rushdies prose. Hell, it wasn’t even a very important Western country if you want to be brutally frank. I see little progress at all, certainly not on the Muslim side. “Cartoonistan” or whatever we are calling it almost makes the Rushdie affair seem reasonable.

  26. The Iranian “threat” to publish anti-semitic cartoons (which is what I consider Holocaust denial) is kind of dopey. Don’t they read their own papers? Or are they so inured to pictures of Jews drinking the blood of children that they don’t even notice their own religious bigotry?

  27. By “pictures” I mean, of course, cartoons. I would be surprised if anyone produced actual photos…nevermind. The Arabs have photoshop, too.

  28. The only way to win the cartoon jihad is through inoculation: publish more cartoons, and really offensive ones. Routinely.

    That’s exactly what Iran is proposing to do, by calling for cartoons making fun of the Holocaust, just to see whether ‘the West’ is serious about its calls for tolerance.

    Has anyone coined the term “Toonageddon” for this exchange yet?

    Oops. Google says they have. But it’s just starting.

  29. Another vote for reading The Satanic Verses. Aside from being a creative work and a fun read, it serves its purpose of using fiction to illustrate some cracks in orthodox/literalist/fundamentalist readings of the Koran. Not that I’m well-versed or anything.

  30. “I thought it was simply that we were all too bigoted to really care about Arab on Arab crime.”

    Nitpitck: Neither Rushdie nor Khomeini were Arabs.

  31. I first read the book 6 or 7 years ago – it was given to me by my brother – and i enjoyed it thouroughly despite the fact that i knew nothing about the muslim religion at the time and so the whole Mohound/Mohammed false angel Gabriel thing was completely lost on me. I also didn’t get the symbolism of the muslim villagers following the girl to their deaths. I just enjoyed it as a crazy, Alice-in-wonderland-esque story. I’ve since learned much more about the world and i read it again last year. Completely different book the second time around, enjoyable for completely different reasons.

  32. Daniel Pipes writes: ‘Significant voices in the West expressed sympathy for Khomeini. Former president Jimmy Carter responded with a call for Americans to be “sensitive to the concern and anger” of Muslims.’

    Here’s the source of that quote: “The death sentence proclaimed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, however, was an abhorrent response, surely surprising even to Rushdie. It is our duty to condemn the threat of murder, to protect the author’s life and to honor Western rights of publication and distribution. At the same time, we should be sensitive to the concern and anger that prevails even among the more moderate Moslems.”

    Does Pipes think that describing Khomeini’s death sentence as an abhorrent response that should be condemned shows sympathy? Maybe he thinks Khomeini is a moderate Moslem? Somehow I get the impression that Pipes is not altogether honest in his arguments.

  33. Neither Rushdie nor Khomeini were Arabs.

    You know, we need a good blanket term for that troubling region of the world, and its peoples, that is centered on the Middle East (but also sprawls far beyond it into north Africa and toward Central and South Asia), is predominantly Muslim (but not entirely) and contains all the world’s Arabs (but also many other peoples).

    Rose Wilder Lane used “Saracens” as an all-embracing term for this civilization, but she was speaking of past history (although quite broadly, running roughly from Mohammed’s time to the end of Moorish Spain). That sounds like it might come off as an insult now, though — like calling all Westerners “Crusaders.”

  34. The Arab-European League has started to collect offensive cartoons that they want to get published. Most seem pretty lame. Tasteless, yet lame.

    linguist- the article was here

  35. Give it up, Fodderstompf. Carter has kissed the ass of every dictator he’s met for that last 30 years.

  36. So what you’re saying is we should have nuked the region back in ’89?

    Wow, you’re quick.

  37. Thank you, Fodderstompf.

    The best thing about Daniel Pipes is that you can be certain, when he includes a brief quote from someone, that the complete quote will make exactly the opposite point that Pipes claims.

    Keep standing up for truthiness, Doug. What have facts ever done for you?

  38. Why am I not surprised Cavanaugh doesn’t make sweeping generalizations about Europeans after this:

    http://www.thesun.co.uk/article/0,,2-2006060530,00.html

  39. Fodderstompf – I read that Carter quote as a sentence of throat clearing (“Of course we condemn blah blah”) followed by the real message (“Just because they are calling for his assassination doesn’t mean they are barbarian assholes!”). I really don’t think Pipes misreprented what Carter meant to get across.

  40. Kept me from voting for Kerry, joe.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.