|Photo by Jimmy Jeong|
Opposition from some Indian Muslim groups erupted this month after Mr. Rushdie was invited to attend Asia’s largest literature festival, and senior Muslim leaders called on the government to prevent the 65-year-old author from entering the country.
“I have now been informed by intelligence sources in Maharashtra and Rajasthan that paid assassins from the Mumbai underworld may be on their way to Jaipur to eliminate me,” Mr. Rushdie said in a statement read out by the festival producer.
“While I have some doubts as to the accuracy of this intelligence, it would be irresponsible of me to come to the festival in such circumstances.”
The British-Indian author, whose 1988 novel the Satantic Verses is banned in India, was due to speak on the first day of the five-day Jaipur Literature Festival but organizers removed his name from the schedule last week.
Mr. Rushdie would instead participate via a video-link, festival director William Dalrymple told Reuters on Friday.
“This is the result of a tragic game of Chinese whispers. The reality of Rushdie’s writings are completely different from the way they have been cartooned and caricatured,” Mr. Dalrymple told reporters....
The publication of Rushdie’s Satanic Verses over 20 years ago sparked a wave of protests and death threats around the world after Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini claimed that the novel’s portrayal of the prophet Mohammed insulted Islam.
The vice-chancellor of India’s Darul Uloom Deoband seminary said last week that Mr. Rushdie should be banned from the country, accusing the author of the Booker Prize-winning Midnight’s Children of offending Muslim sentiments.
“This festival at no point wants to offend any one religion, any one people. We stand by the freedom of expression,” festival producer Sanjoy Roy told reporters.
In retrospect, Mr. Rushdie may indeed be the proverbial 'canary in the coal mine' with respect to the emergence of the time bomb that is radical Islam. Whether or not he portrayed Mohammed negatively, the fact that 20 years following the publication of his Satanic Verses, the author of that work is still under threat of death, and has to regretfully turn down an invitiation to appear and to speak at this apparently substantial and substantive literary conference is testament to virility and persistence of the Muslim memory and vengeance.
Siding with Mr. Rushdie, on the grounds of his right to write his "stuff" regardless of whom it might offend, and standing with Mr. Rushdie as the paragon of both resilience and courage that for the last two decades he has lived under these threats, and championing Mr. Rushdie for daring to confront what he considers evil, in whatever form that takes, is an act that this writer does with pride. Threatening his life for his writings and his beliefs is mere testament to the fragility and some might even say paranoia of some aspects of the Muslim faith whose continual and persistent efforts to cleanse the world of any criticism of that faith and those who might express such criticism of the Islamic faith.
The whole world now knows the length and the depth and the severity and the danger of this faith in that some of its proponents are indeed far more dangerous than Mr. Rushdie, without taking responsibiltiy for that danger.
All faiths have been and will continue to be held to close and critical srutiny, by those within the faith and those who espouse the elimination or eradication of all faiths. The healthy faith communities are those that engage their critics, that listen intently to their critics, and that might even contemplate some modifications as as result of those encounters.
Clearly, some segments of the Muslim faith do not qualify for such an approach, preferring rather to solve the problem by elimination, demonstrating their total abandonment of belief in the sanctity of human life, especially one whose writings may or may not, depending on the interpretation, conform to strict adherence and advocacy for the purity of the Islamic faith.
Mr. Rushdie has become not only a martyr to his convictions, but a hero, and role model and a mentor for all those who seek to mediate differences between and within faith communities, of all stripes.
The fact that "scholars" are participating in these criminal threats denies the basic tenets of that scholarship, given its elevation and support for the pursuit of both truth and the freedom that such truth inevitably brings with it.
These threats, like other acts of intolerance, bigotry and fear from the Muslim community against some of their own and against their critics, are proof that unless and until they are stopped, the world, including Mr. Rushdie, will not be safe and that we all know, and take seriously, that we are all being watched, and followed and potentially walking in Mr. Rushdie's shoes, should we cross some invisible line, drawn by radical Islamists, and evoke the ire and criminality of that ire.
We need more Mr. Rushdie's not fewer. And we need them in all countries, and the sooner the better.