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A Storm of Retribution For Rushdie

One of the most laugh-out-loud passages in Salman Rushdie's infamous book is the one where Gibreel Farishta, ostensibly the 'good twin,' has a moment worthy of anything in Bergman's Trilogy of Faith, minus Ingmar's solemnity: The anger with God carried … Read More

By / June 19, 2007

One of the most laugh-out-loud passages in Salman Rushdie's infamous book is the one where Gibreel Farishta, ostensibly the 'good twin,' has a moment worthy of anything in Bergman's Trilogy of Faith, minus Ingmar's solemnity:

 The anger with God carried him through another day, but then it faded, and in its place there came a terrible emptiness, an isolation, as he realized he was talking to thin air, that there was nobody there at all, and then he felt more foolish than ever in his life, and he began to plead into the emptiness, ya Allah, just be there, damn it, just be. But he felt nothing, nothing nothing, and then one day he found that he no longer needed there to be anything to feel. On that day of metamorphosis the illness changed and his recovery began. And to prove to himself the non-existence of God, he now stood in the dining-hall of the city's most famous hotel, with pigs falling out of his face. 	He looked up from his plate to find a woman watching him. Her hair was so fair that it was almost white, and her skin possessed the colour and translucency of mountain ice. She laughed at him and turned away. 	"Don't you get it?" he shouted after her, spewing sausage fragments from the corners of his mouth. "No thunderbolt. That's the point."

Now, after the knighting of Rushdie in Great Britain, many in Pakistan and the U.K. are up in arms:

"Salman Rushdie earned notoriety among Muslims for the highly insulting and blasphemous manner in which he portrayed early Islamic figures much-loved and honoured by them," Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said. "The insensitive decision to grant Rushdie a knighthood can therefore only do harm to the image of our country in the eyes of hundreds of millions of Muslims across the world," he added. "Many will interpret the knighthood as a final contemptuous parting gift from Tony Blair to the Muslim world."

Labour peer Lord Ahmed said: "It's hypocrisy by Tony Blair who two weeks ago was talking about building bridges to mainstream Muslims, and then he's honouring a man who has insulted the British public and been divisive in community relations."

Hearing stuff like this reminds me of the jolly Jöns, squire to von Sydow's troubled knight in The Seventh Seal:

This damned ranting about doom. Is that food for the minds of modern people? Do they really expect us to take them seriously?

But Bergman had it easy. For making his films, he was never accused of inciting the fury of global holy war.

Abdul Bari, Lord Ahmed, venerated Ayatollahs and screwy-headed advocates of censorship in the name of 'tolerance'–the book came out in 1988. It's 2007. No thunderbolts. That's the point. Perhaps Allah doesn't share your contempt for literature!!

Passages like the one quoted above were almost certainly amongst those that aggravated Khomeini (if indeed he actually read the book). But directly after Gibreel's hilarious rant, a mysterious white-haired woman reminds him of the miraculous nature of his recovery:

"You're alive," she told him. "You got your life back. That's the point."
And so, we have a story of the loss of one character's faith, but not without another character re-asserting the possibility of the Divine.  This isn't unlike the story of the Pious Infidel and the Unfaithful Muslim from medieval Persian poet Farid ud-Din Attar's The Conference of the Birds.  Or, from the same work, the story of the man who renounces his faith for a Christian woman.  
 
 
But in 1988, there was a revolution to prop up.  If you were versed enough in Persian poetry to point out this fact, which many Iranians most certainly were, you knew not to speak up for fear of bodily damage or death.  Leave it to a modern-day alliance of cowards, multiculturalists and Islamists to allow less freedom of expression to a 20th/21st century Pakistani novelist than to a 12th century Sufi poet.
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