I was checking a video tape last night to see if I could re-use it and came across this piece of Newsnight Review where the critics were discussing Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and the subsequent fatwa against him. The panel featured Tariq Modood (cultural sensitivity and respect, which narrows my eyes in suspicion); Ekow Eshun (artistic freedom); Germaine Greer (self-contradiction and confusion) Kenan Malik (good liberal sense). Martha Kearney was presiding.
I sympathise with Germaine Greer when she says she loathes magic realism. But that’s an unfortunate turn of phrase, that Salman “can get away with murder”, which is as ironic a statement as was ever made. He was the powerful one against a fatwa from a state that had no qualms about murdering its opponents in other countries? And another statement she makes, that “you are careful how you present your parents?” Germaine Greer spends The Female Eunuch saying how awful her mother was, and most parents would be pretty unhappy about their treatment in Daddy, We Never Knew You.
And Modood says:- “This is a culture where religious people are fair game.” So he thinks religious people shouldn’t be fair game? That their absurdities, rubbishy beliefs and misdeeds shouldn’t be lampooned and taken to task?
A good point by Kenan Malik:-
“When we talk about something causing offence to Muslims or causing offence to a community what we really mean is that there is a dialogue and debate within that community. Both Rushdie and his critics were having a debate about the nature of Islam, the nature of being a migrant. . . Neither Rushdie nor his critics represented Muslims, both were part of a debate. The trouble is that twenty years on we only see Rushdie’s critics as representing that community.”
Germaine Greer: I don’t think that’s true at all. He’s Sir Salman Rushdie. He’s not surrounded by critics he’s a hero. He’s a huge hero. And the interesting thing is that the people who have criticised have generally stood at the same crossroads as he does. Everyone is an exile. Exile is the human condition.
Which reminds me of The Incredibles. Everyone is special and therefore no-one is special. Jane Austen was an exile and so was Solzhenitsyn.
Martha Kearney: You did ask for him to apologise at the time, though didn’t you?
Greer: No I did not ask him to apologise. What happened was we had these arguments, mostly on the telephone because I would say something that Salman would disapprove of. In fact I’m not supposed to be talking now. I was forbidden ever to talk about Salman or his work ever again. Well, I didn’t say I would obey and I won’t obey but I’d refrain from making the situation any worse than it already was. But it did interest me that Salman was so angry when a publisher decided that he couldn’t protect his workers in the event he published the paperback and decided not to do it. Salman was in a righteous indignation about this and I actually said to him, look, I don’t care if people burn books, my books have been burned, as long as they pay for them they can do whatever they like with them but I do think that nobody should die for a book and if you think you can prevent any more people dying for the book – we all know how the book was manipulated – and all you have to do is apologise, go on your knees to Mashad or whatever, then do it, to save your life. You shouldn’t have to die for your book either.
. . . I would have forgiven him for doing it, that’s what I say. I wouldn’t have said he was a traitor.
Hey, Germaine, that’s Jesus’ job to forgive people for sins against other people, not yours. And your Female Eunuch made a very big splash at the time and caused considerable offence, partly because of its salty language as well as its revolutionary message. A lot of people would have liked to suppress it. Those foolish chauvinists should have just murdered a few employees of publishers and put a price on your head, and I would never have read it, which is a great shame, as I remember the delight and sense of empowerment that book gave me.
Martha Kearney:- And where do you come down on this Germaine? Do you think it is an essential part of a pluralist society to cause offence?
Greer:- Ye-e-es [doubtfully] I do and I’m actually opposed to censorship of any kind. My difficulty starts when I think nobody should die for a book, that if the situation gets as grave as this, and it seems to me those 70 pages were quite deliberately provocative it’s the only the function they have really, and that was a red rag to a bull. If you hold up a red rag to a bull you’re likely to get run down, and then you don’t complain presumably. But the thing was Salman was the safest person around [yeah, guarded by Special Branch]. It was everybody else who was at risk, and nothing was done about them.
All Salman Rushdie’s fault, of course.
He’s up to no good,
Nothing should be written that puts clerics