Salman Rushdie’s Controversial Knighthood

Posted on June 23, 2007
Filed Under >Raza Rumi, Books, People, Society
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Raza Rumi

The current controversy on Rushdie’s knighthood has several dimensions. Amid the knee-jerk reactions alluding to the grand-conspiracy-against-Islam, it brings out various layers and levels of literature’s role and position in societies and now in the globalized world.

I was once a fan of Rushdie and avidly devoured his books with great admiration. From Grimus to The Moor’s Last Sigh, I marveled at his playfulness with the English language and its idiom which undoubtedly he has enriched. The collection of essays titled Imaginary Homelands was a combination of disparate but original writings. Somewhere during this process came the ridiculous Satanic Verses which other than its blasphemous content and brazen disrespect for a vast majority of Muslims was a bad piece of writing!

The decline of Rushdie as a writer, finally, was confirmed by the trashy Ground Beneath Her Feet. Thereafter, one read strange, ignorant pieces of his non-fiction in the Western mainstream media that needed his stature to find a rationale for the imperial projects in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Shalimar the Clown, his recent novel was even worse as it proved to be bereft of subtlety and re-invoked all the crappy, soul-destroying images and cliches of our times. In a non-serious piece, published in the Friday Times (Pakistan) in December 2005, I wrote:

Salman Rushdie’s new novel, Shalimar the Clown, is enough to add to ones misery. I finished browsing it; what else can you do with such stuff posing as quality fiction? As if the name of the central character “Shalimar” was not enough to offend a native reader such as I, the heroine “India Ophuls” changing her name to “Kashmira” was the ultimate illustration of cheap exoticism and a hackneyed dive into passe magical realism. Alas, Rushdie has started believing in his own mantra and the twisting of historical narrative. It simply does not work now. He is more of a bard for the ascendancy of the global tide against Islamism and perhaps he should stick to that. Better if he were to provide some intellectual depth to Fox News, or even better, if he started writing scripts for his young wife’s tele-plays. Shalimar successfully completes the trilogy of Rushdie’s worst novels, the other two being The Ground Beneath Her Feet and Fury . Aijaz Ahmad, a US-based academic, argued a long time ago that Rushdie and Naipul were avatars of oriental consciousness. Small wonder that they are reviewed, exalted and globally hyped.

Much to my delight, a friend – an aspiring critic – sent me the review by Theo Tait of the London Review of Books: Noting what Rushdie’s style produces in the novel, Tait writes that it

… is a cross between a piece of magic realism which displays all the worst vices of the style, and the contemporary international thriller. It is passionate, well-informed and sometimes interesting; but also hackneyed, simplistic and often very, very silly…

Today, I read this brilliant article published in the Guardian written by a noted academic, Priyamvada Gopal that essentially is a lament of all that Rushdie and his new writings stand for:

Sir Salman, on the other hand, is partly the creation of the fatwa that played its role in strengthening the self-fulfilling “clash of civilisations” that both Bush and the other side find so handy. Driven underground and into despair by zealotry, Rushdie finally emerged blinking into New York sunshine shortly before the towers came tumbling down. Those formidable literary powers would now be deployed not against, but in the service of, an American regime that had declared its own fundamentalist monopoly on the meanings of “freedom” and “liberation.” The Sir Salman recognised for his services to literature is certainly no neocon but is iconic of a more pernicious trend: liberal literati who have assented to the notion that humane values, tolerance and freedom are fundamentally western ideas that have to be defended as such.

Vociferously supporting the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq on “humane” grounds, condemning criticism of the war on terror as “petulant anti-Americanism” and above all, aligning tyranny and violence solely with Islam, Rushdie has abdicated his own understanding of the novelist’s task as “giving the lie to official facts.” Now he recalls his own creation Baal, the talented poet who becomes a giggling hack coralled into attacking his ruler’s enemies. Denuded of texture and complexity, it is no accident that this fiction since the early 90s has disappeared into a critical wasteland. The mutation of this relevant and stentorian writer into a pallid chorister is a tragic allegory of our benighted times, of the kind he once narrated so vividly.

In its editorial the daily DAWN rightly comments that “Like the Danish cartoons, Rushdie’s knighthood will widen the chasm [between Muslims and the West].” At the same time the newspaper condemns the talk of suicide bombing by responsbile quarters in Pakistan stating that such irresponsible talk overshadows the real issue that requires reflection and a well argued reaction to this provocative title.

This dubious honour is yet another endeavour to reward the constructed clash of civilizations. The fact that Rushdie has accepted it, further confirms his degeneration as another script writer of this “theory”. Meanwhile, the protests in Iran and Pakistan only reinforce this vicious cycle of neo-orientalism .

However, the sanest comment on Rushdie saga is from AD, a politically charged friend:

“Clearly, lack of self-awareness and an inability to be self-critical is a global phenomenon. Rushdie was just another Booker-prize winning author hailed by the British literary establishment and unknown otherwise. He is a western icon today, because he is the poster-boy for the Western construct of a Muslim-bashing “civilized Muslim.” That is why he has been knighted and why he is so hated. Just because he is the poster-boy of Western Islamophobia, Rushdie should not be awarded the status of hate-figure in the Muslim world. By elevating him so, it is in fact Muslim extremists who place him in a position of centrality instead of the insignificant and irrelevant place he deserves.”

82 responses to “Salman Rushdie’s Controversial Knighthood”

  1. Sentiment says:

    Rushdie and the British establishment

    By Dr Moeed Pirzada

    THE debate whether the British government should have awarded a knighthood to Salman Rushdie seems to be dominated in these columns and in Britain by two sets of equally dangerous hypocrites.

    The first set comprises the “faint-hearted cowards

  2. Mushtaq says:

    Contents – Part II

    Salman Rushdie – a brief life-sketch 54

    Salman Rushdie – the making of an ogre 55

    Grimus 55
    Midnight’s children 58
    Shame 63
    The satanic verses 67

    The fiction of the satanic verses 70

    Maxime rodinson 71
    Dr Nazir Ali 72
    Montgomery watt 72
    Karen Armstrong 73

    Rushdie’s treatment of the satanic verses 75

    Salman Farsi 76
    Further allegations against the prophet 78

    Blasphemy, apostasy and heresy 81

    The ‘burning’ issue surrounding the satanic verses 81
    Blasphemy and freedom of speech 82
    The teaching in the bible 82
    Comparison with Rushdie 83
    Blasphemy in the 20th century 85
    Islamic teaching on blasphemy 87

    The media goes to town over the fatwa 90

    Religion confused with culture ? 90
    Fair comment by the media 93

    Rushdie turned into an icon 95

    Rushdie forewarned 96
    A most poignant observation 96
    Author of his own destiny 97

    Rushdie’s defence of the satanic verses 99

    Rushdie issues statement 100
    Rushdie’s superficial reversal 100
    Haroun and the sea of stories 105
    East, west 106

    Rushdie begins to come out in the open 107

    Nobel prize for Rushdie ? 109
    Who killed the writer ? 109

    Conclusion 111

    The future 113

    Tolerance is a two-way street 114

    Epilogue 118

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