In a place of (relative, begrudging) freedom, it’s easy to forget how easily cultural liberty can be upended when a Shia theocratic state puts a 3.3 million dollar price tag on your head. For Salman Rushdie this has been the case since 1989, when Ayatollah Hassan Saneii decided putting a bounty out on the author of “The Satanic Verses” would be a solid publicity move for advocates of state sponsored religious violence everywhere, or even just religious violence. A week earlier the book had been subject to a campaign of burnings across Pakistan, protesters carrying signs saying “RUSHDIE YOU ARE DEAD,” and other messages of positivity and secular tolerance.
For the Iranian government, Rushdie must count as small potatoes: why worry about a sacrilegious depiction of the Prophet Mohammed when you can tune in for three hours and watch President Ahmadinejad rant about his Holocaust denial? (Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykd-syzZ4ZY . Bonus! He calls freedom and democracy “gossip.” Same Minnesota Review YouTube policy as always: don’t read the comments!) He does this on a monthly basis to stir the international pot up and divert attention from uranium enrichment from Natanz and Bushehr, which likely costs millions more than the mere 3.3 mil price on a human life.
In the years following ’89 Rushdie was forced to take on an alias and go into hiding as Joseph Anton, taking on the first names of Conrad and Chekov. Opening up about this recently for his memoir, he’s said “it seemed bizarre that in the late twentieth century you could be sentenced to death for blasphemy.”
News of the payout jump has arrived with oddly convergent timing, forming smoothly with widespread protests after French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo published a cartoon of the Prophet. In response France has shut down embassies in twenty countries from fear of growing protests and future attacks.
I’ll spare you any grandiose generalizations about religion and leave with
1) The freedom to express, mock, and create must be protected— especially when threatened by fatwa/commandments/papal decree.
2) The spurious rewards of violence increase with inflation.
- “Slate Video Interview: Salman Rushdie” http://www.slatev.com/video/salman-rushdie-surviving-fatwa/
- “Salman Rushide Dismisses Fatwa Talk” http://india.nydailynews.com/newsarticle/5059fa3bc3d4ca9d68000000/writer-salman-rushdie-dismisses-fatwa-talk
- “Alan Yentob on Salman Rushdie” http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/alan-yentob-on-salman-rushdie-the-fatwa-1331189
Tom Minogue realized last year he has no visual depth perception. He also realized this is irrelevant as long as he never, ever, has to play dodgeball in the schoolyard again.