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Rushdie vs. The Da Vinci Code

One of the most hilarious and idiotic claims of those offended at Rushdie's knighthood is the one that begins "we," the British, have heaped scorn on "them," the Muslims. This happens lately when people talk about almost any political event … Read More

By / June 25, 2007

One of the most hilarious and idiotic claims of those offended at Rushdie's knighthood is the one that begins "we," the British, have heaped scorn on "them," the Muslims. This happens lately when people talk about almost any political event or situation involving Muslims. The implication is always as follows: Islam is a given, bounded entity, with borders determined by a central authority. These borders are not to be transgressed by "us," lest we reap the due punishments of cultural insensitivity. There is no dissent within the "Muslim world," nor are there differing opinions, nor are there Muslims who have a take on the matter. All Muslims think with Muslim brains, which are different than "our" brains, and "their" brains (unless tainted) will invariably turn up a conclusion that is at odds with ours.

Further, we are to respect their irreducible otherness and view any opinion that expresses exaltation of freedom of speech or literature as one colonized by the "Western" mind and therefore not authentically Muslim. The corollary of this line of thinking is profoundly racist: that "we" invented free inquiry and cultural tolerance, respect for art, debate, and difference of opinion. We are free as individuals to question our cultural traditions and institutions of authority, but when they do so, they are merely emulating us because the only "true Muslim" is the stooge of tradition and groupthink. We are allowed to use the wellspring of human thought and the lessons of global history to inform our understanding of our local situation, but they must use only local, indigenous knowledge, otherwise they are collaborators with Western imperialism. This is the new Orientalism.

India Knight, herself a British Muslim and part Iranian, makes the following comments about the way this phenomenon is playing out in Britain:

Union Jacks were burnt in Pakistan, with rioters shouting “Kill him!” If I were Pakistani, I’d be more inclined to riot about the monstrous off-the-scale corruption that riddled my government, and the corrupted version of Islam that brainwashed disenfranchised young men in the madrasahs, but anyway…One might respectfully suggest that if people who seek to impose their grotesque distortion of Islam on their unfortunate peoples will insist on making these inane pronouncements, they might at least do so with a degree of calm and a semblance of rationality, because otherwise it’s hard to take them seriously (assuming one were inclined to do so, which is quite an assumption).

It’s as though the Vatican took such exception to The Da Vinci Code that, instead of putting out composed-sounding statements and seeking (not entirely successfully) to reassure people that super-creepy Opus Dei is not in fact creepy at all, its spokesmen started foaming at the mouth like nutters and ordered crusades against Dan Brown for having the temerity to invent a story and write fiction.

Actually it’s not like that, because Rushdie is a brilliant writer and Brown is a sort of rich monkey with a typewriter, but you get the gist.

 

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