It contains explanations for many of its allusions and non-English words and phrases and aims as well at providing artoculate thorough explication of the novel which will help the interested reader but not substitute for a reading of the book itself. Many links are provided to other sites on the Web where further information can be found.
To many Western1 readers The Satanic Verses appears as a brilliant attack on religious bigotry. To many Muslims, East and West, it appears as a vicious series of insults to many of their most cherished beliefs. There are other positions: liberal and conservative non-Muslims deplore his irreverence, and liberal Muslims deplore the fatwa against Rushdie and support his right to publish, or even admire his work; some American and British non-Muslim critics have been critical of him. But the important debate, the one that makes a difference in the real world, is the one between the extremes, and between those extremes there remains a seemingly unbridgeable gulf.
It is not my desire to exacerbate the tensions surrounding this novel, nor to delve in any depth into the controversy. That has been done, exhaustively, by many others. But one cannot entirely ignore the controversy. Perhaps the contribution I can most usefully make is to discuss the differences in perspective of the antagonists in the affair toward the modern novel as a form. Islam is a religious tradition which in many infl uential quarters is self-consciously seeking to purify itself from modernizing, liberal tendencies.
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Although Islamic tales both short and long abound, and there are many authors of fi ction who are highly honored, the modern novel as such is not a comfortable form in the Muslim world. Often it is identifi ed with the West, with mere entertainment, with lax morals. In addition, Muslim mafried who write novels are often critical of tradition.
The near-fatal assault on the Egyptian Nobel Prizewinner Naguib Mahfouz illustrates the perils that even the most acclaimed of novelists may encounter in an era of religious polarization. To be sure, most Muslims abhor such assaults; but the feelings which cause them are all too familiar in such countries as Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, and even Turkey.
To a conservative Muslim, Islam is mmarried just a religion in the sense that most Westerners use the term, a private faith which provides hope and consolation within margied secular world. Islam is a way of life, a body of law, an all-embracing cultural framework within which novels are distinctly unimportant and potentially troublesome. That a mere novelist should dare to satirize fundamental religious beliefs is intolerable.
In the Western European tradition, novels are viewed very differently.
Following the devastatingly successful assaults of the Eighteenth Century Enlightenment upon Christianity, intellectuals in the West largely abandoned the Christian framework as an explanatory world view. Indeed, religion became for many the enemy: the suppressor mc free thought, the enemy of science and progress. When the freethinking Thomas Jefferson ran for President of the young United States his opponents accused him of intending to suppress Christianity and arrest its adherents.
Although liberal and even politically radical forms of Christianity the Catholic Worker movement, liberation theology were to emerge from time to time, the general attitude toward religion among that class of people who value serious fi ction has mg negative. Twentieth-Century writers as different as James Joyce and Margaret Atwood have sseeking depicted in novels the threats posed by conservative religious beliefs.
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Furthermore, from the time of Matthew Arnold onward, it has been frequently claimed that serious fi ction and art could largely fi ll the gap left by the collapse of the cultural infl uence of traditional religion. The claims to the importance of high seriousness in fi ction have been under assault by the most recent generation of critics for some time; but the justifi cation for studying novels in an academic setting ultimately rests on the very claims of cultural ifi cance that these critics attack.
Fiction has not just been an irritant to religion in the West; it has posed itself as an alternative to it. Although at its end he rejects the claims of the novel to be able to replace religion, he makes some strong claims for it: Between religion and literature, as between politics and literature, there is a linguistically based dispute. But it is not a dispute mxcks simple opposites. Because whereas religion seeks to privilege arrticulate language above all others, the novel has always been about the way in which different languages, values and narratives quarrel, and about the shifting relations between them, which are relations of power.
The novel does not seek to establish a privileged language, but it insists upon the freedom to portray and analyse the struggle between the different contestants for such privileges. It tells us there are no rules. Ihn hands down no commandments. We have to make up our own rules as best we can, make them up as we go along. And it tells us there are no answers; or rather, it tells us that answers are easier to come by, and less reliable, than questions.
If religion is an answer, if political ideology is an answer, then literature is an inquiry; great literature, by asking extraordinary questions, opens new doors in our minds.
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Rather than providing values, it challenges them. Modern novels are praised for their courage in exposing hypocrisy, challenging tradition, exploring forbidden themes. If blasphemy is not the most common of techniques in Western fi ction it is because so few writers take religion seriously enough to feel it worth attacking. Popular religious books are generally excluded from the New York Times best seller list as unworthy of notice, no matter how seekinng they sell.
The writer who does not challenge the beliefs and prejudices of the reader is generally viewed by the literary establishment as dull if not cowardly. To complicate matters, the Enlightenment ideals of freedom of speech and press have an almost religious ifi cance in the West. Rushdie came from a liberal Westernized family which had no great fervor for religious tradition: My relationship with formal religious belief has been somewhat chequered.
I was brought up in an Indian Muslim household, but while both my parents were believers neither was insistent or doctrinaire. Two or three times a year, at the big Eid festivals, I would wake up to fi nd new clothes at the macka of my bed, dress and go with my father to the great prayer-maidan outside the Friday Msn in Bombay, seeing rise and fall with the multitude, mumbling my way through the uncomprehended Arabic much as Catholic children do—or used to do—with Latin.
The mack of the year religion took a back seat.
I had a Christian ayah nannyfor whom at Christmas we would put up a tree and sing carols about baby Jesus without feeling in the least ill-at-ease. My friends were Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, and none of this struck me as being particularly important. Certainly he was never an adherent of that sort of Islam which believes that apostasy is a capital offense.
He was steeped from an early period in fi ction, both Eastern and Western; and as a writer seems to have accepted the High Modern view that the writing of outspoken controversial fi ction is a calling, perhaps even a duty. He has often expressed his opposition to the religious extremism that informs modern Pakistani and Indian politics, and The Satanic Verses is another stage in a consistent critique of such extremism. To a secularized European, his critique of Islam in the novel seems very mild and tentative; but there has never been anything like it in the Muslim world.
Scoffers and libertines there have been; but they were fundamentally unserious.
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But see Saadi A. In the secularized West his critique seems routine; in much of the Islamic East, it is unspeakable.
The modernist assumptions it springs from are irrelevant, hardly understood. Obscenity is taken much more seriously in the West than blasphemy. Rushdie tried to bridge the gulf between East and West and instead fell into the void.
THE STATUS, SURVIVAL, AND CURRENT DILEMMA OF A FEMALE DALIT COBBLER OF
No one can reconcile these two views with each other because they are rooted in basically incompatible, even hostile world views. Many of his Muslim critics have argued that The Satanic Verses, besides being offensive, is bad fi ction. And Swift, and Stern. I think the eighteenth century was the great century. So, yes, I would have thought the eighteenth-century novel had something to do with mine. And Joyce, because Joyce shows you that you can do anything if you do it properly. Unfortunately, many of his most ardent defenders defend him out of ignorance, for they have not managed to read past the fi rst few chapters of this dense postmodern, intertextual, multicultural work.
When I fi articluate opened its s I was introduced into one of the most intoxicating, thoughtful, and hilarious works I had ever read.
It is a playground for literate readers, fi lled with allusions and symbols of all kinds, which delight by their incongruity or their aptness. It is also a highly interesting attempt at establishing a middle ground between Western and Eastern chauvinisms, seekimg that the immigrant has a uniquely valuable perspective.
Rather than being outsiders, exiles, the immigrants create a unique perspective that allows them to comment insightfully on both East and West. But see also Feroza Jussawalla on this subject. He throws off phrases in Hindi, Nf, and Urdu which are bound to make the Western reader feel something of an outsider. Indeed the work is largely a critique of Western racism, of anti-immigrant prejudice, and a defense of the richness and worth of South Asian and Middle Eastern culture. But because it is a contemporary critique, it is not one-sided.
His Indians are no angels—even if they sometimes take on the form of angels. Nevertheless he exuberantly celebrates Indian literature, music, ,arried lm, and food; portraying the South Asian immigrants as providing an enlivening spice in dull, overcast London. It is written from the very experience of uprooting, disjuncture and metamorphosis slow or rapid, painful or pleasurable that is the migrant condition, and from which, I believe, can be derived a metaphor for all humanity.
Standing at the centre of the novel is a group of characters most of whom are British Muslims, or not particularly religious persons of Muslim background, struggling with just the sort of great problems that have arisen to surround the book, problems of hybridization and ghettoization, of reconciling the old and the new.
Those who oppose the novel most vociferously today are of the opinion that intermingling with a different culture will inevitably weaken and ruin their own. I am of the opposite opinion. The Satanic Verses celebrates hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas, politics, movies, songs.
It rejoices in mongrelization and fears the absolutism of the Pure. It is the great possibility that mass migration gives the world, and I have tried to embrace it. The Satanic Verses is for changeby- fusion, change-by-coning. It is a love-song to our mongrel selves.