'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
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Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Salman Rushdie: hate-filled rhetoric of ‘jihadi cool’ is persuading British Muslims to join Isis
Salman Rushdie has attacked the “hate-filled religious rhetoric” that “persuades hundreds, perhaps thousands of British Muslims to join the decapitating barbarians of Isis”, describing it as “the most dangerous new weapon in the world today”.
Speaking at the award of the PEN/Pinter prize, Rushdie said he dislikes the word Islamophobia “greatly”. But it is right, the author argued, to “feel phobia” towards the oppression of the people of Afghanistan by the Taliban, towards the oppression of Iranians by the ayatollahs, and towards the death of people in Iraq today. “What is being killed in Iraq is not just human beings, but a whole culture. To feel aversion towards such a force is not bigotry. It is the only possible response to the horror of events.
“If I don’t like your ideas,” Rushdie continued, “it must be acceptable for me to say so, just as it is acceptable for you to say that you don’t like mine. Ideas cannot be ringfenced just because they claim to have this or that fictional sky god on their side.”
Rushdie, the subject of a fatwa from Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 for his novel The Satanic Verses, was accused by the academic Terry Eagleton in 2007 of moving “from being a remorseless satirist of the west to cheering on its criminal adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan” – a remarkcriticised by Rushdie and subsequently apologised for by Eagleton. Rushdie’s fellow writer Martin Amis was accused of holding views equivalent to a “British National party thug” by Eagleton later that year, for saying: “There’s a definite urge – don’t you have it? – to say, ‘The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.’”
The PEN/Pinter prize is awarded to a writer judged to exemplify the spirit of the free-speech advocate Harold Pinter. Rushdie announced on Thursday that he would share his award with the imprisoned Syrian activist Mazen Darwish.
After condemning Darwish’s detention as “arbitrary and unjust”, Rushdie told guests at the award ceremony that, as a citizen, he cannot “avoid speaking of the horror of the world in this new age of religious mayhem, and of the language that conjures it up and justifies it, so that young men, including young Britons, led towards acts of extreme bestiality, believe themselves to be fighting a just war”.
The language of religion, said Rushdie, “has been horribly mangled in our time”, by Christian extremists in America and by Hindu extremists in India, “but the overwhelming weight of the problem lies in the world of Islam, and much of it has its roots in the ideological language of blood and war emanating from the Salafist movement within Islam, globally backed by Saudi Arabia”.
In a world where we have all “became too frightened of religion in general, and one particular religion in particular – religion redefined as the capacity of religionists to commit earthly violence in the name of their unearthly sky god” – religious extremists are the enemy of modernity, said Rushdie.
“Modernity with its language of liberty, for women as well as men, with its insistence on legitimacy in government rather than tyranny, and with its strong inclination towards secularism and away from religion” is being targeted “by the deformed medievalist language of fanaticism, backed up by modern weaponry”.
This, said Rushdie, is a language that has been dubbed “jihadi-cool”, and it has so great an appeal for some young men that it “persuades hundreds, perhaps thousands of British Muslims to join the decapitating barbarians of Isis (worryingly, far more British Muslims join the jihadists than enlist in the British armed forces)”.
Winner of the Man Booker prize, Rushdie is also a former president of PEN – and friend of the late Pinter. He was awarded the prize, said current English PEN president Maureen Freely, because “when he sees writers unjustly vilified, prosecuted or forced into exile, he takes a personal interest”, as well as for his “many years of speaking out for freedom of expression” and his “countless private acts of kindness”.