A look at a recent interview with Salman Rushdie and what Osho has to say about the fatwa that was imposed on him
Salman Rushdie is one of my favorite authors; many of you have probably read Midnight’s Children which was compulsory cult reading during the early eighties, and The Satanic Verses, for which Rushdie was fatwa-ed by the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, and accompanied by a public outcry among Muslims. To avoid being murdered, Rushdie had to go into hiding for years. I remember wondering after turning the last page of the book what the fuss was all about – I found it to be a highly appealing, unconventional, witty and intelligent work.
The book was also banned in India and Osho spoke about this incident in several discourses during the same series at length and began by condemning the ban, calling it a misuse of power.
However, a few days later after Rushdie acknowledged that he had hurt many people’s religious feelings, Osho said:
Now Salman Rushdie has started falling. Soon he will have to apologize, and after apologizing, Ayatollah Khomeini will ask him to do penance. “Come to Kaaba and fast for one month …”
Salman Rushdie has taken a wrong move. This is how people out of fear have been kept imprisoned. I was hoping that a man of the intelligence of Salman Rushdie would prefer death to apologizing. He has not committed any sin, and he has not done anything wrong.
I was hoping that he would put Ayatollah Khomeini in a corner. He should ask him, “On what grounds are you saying that I have committed anything against Islam? Tell me exactly what is the reason that you are asking for an apology or giving me a sentence to death.”
And that would have exposed Ayatollah Khomeini because none of these ayatollahs have given a reason. Rushdie simply stated a historical fact, that a few of the verses which Mohammed wrote in an earlier version of the Koran he dropped later on saying that he had been inspired by the devil to write these verses. Now, this is a historical fact, it is not Salman Rushdie’s imagination. Why should he ask forgiveness?”
Incited by the Ayatollah, The Satanic Verses turned out to be one of the first incidents to create worldwide uproar among Muslims. Much later, cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad published in Denmark in 2005, created another, widely published outcry with death threats to boot. Denmark went through a severe foreign political crisis. There are a number of publishers who are afraid of stirring any emotions among the Muslim clerics and public. Rushdie meanwhile continued to write several successful other books and has not only received a knighthood but also more than two dozen awards.
On June 26, 2011, the following interview with him by Tim Adams was published in the Guardian, where Rushdie speaks about his latest book and also takes on the recent unrest in Arab countries:
Your latest book, Luka and the Fire of Life, is dedicated to your youngest son, Milan, who is 14. And it’s a sequel to Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which was written for your eldest son, Zafar, now 31, at a time when your life was threatened by the fatwa. You’ve written a lot about fathers
Well, I only have sons, so in one sense it is all I know. The thing that has shifted with age is that when I was writing Midnight’s Children and those earlier books, right up to The Satanic Verses, the point of view was from the child looking up to the parent. Then you realise the point of view has shifted. Haroun was that moment – when I started writing as the dad rather than the child.
Your own father was a storyteller?
Not by profession, but he told us good stories. When people read these two books there is an assumption that the character Rashid is me, but I also think of it as being inspired by my father, the first storyteller in my life. A lot of the early Indian wonder tales I first heard in his version of them. He was a scholar of Arabic and Farsi so he was able to read some of this in the original.
Do you hear his voice when you are writing?
Not so much lately. But he still shows up in my dreams, usually as a quite severe critic. Though even then he is much nicer in my dreams than in life…much more understanding.
I also feel Lewis Carroll hovering around the edge of this new book, Luka and the Fire of Life. When did you first read Alice?
Before I ever came to England. The English children’s literature that got out to India was hit and miss. I mean, Arthur Ransome made it, and I just read that [Swallows and Amazons] as a piece of surrealism: who are these children on a lake who go off for days on their own and sleep on islands? Flying carpets were much less extraordinary. Billy Bunter made it; Winnie the Pooh didn’t. But Alice did get there and I loved those books. Almost the only thing I am proud of about going to Rugby school was that Lewis Carroll went there too.
I was remembering just after the fatwa that you wrote something about being “in a looking-glass world”, where things that seem most improbable become real. Are you writing a memoir of that time?
A looking-glass world was probably more fun than where I was. But yes, I have been immersed in that stuff. And it is almost done. Substantially it is about the period that began with the writing of The Satanic Verses in late 1984 until the police protection ended in early 2002.
Does that time feel like a life outside of your life?
No, it went on too long to feel like that. I didn’t always keep journals until this trouble started, but after that there was just so much event I knew I wouldn’t remember it unless I started writing it down. The other thing that made it possible is that a university in America, Emory, now has all my papers. They used to be in cardboard boxes in the attic but now every scrap of paper has a barcode. All I have to do is say I want this, this and this, and zing, there it is…
You’ve been living and writing a lot in New York. Where do you think of as home?
I have different ideas of home, and I don’t feel I have to choose between them. There will always be a sense that going to Bombay will feel like going home. London is the place I have lived longer than anywhere else, and both my children are here, and my sister. And then I feel very at home in New York. It’s a good place to write, not least because people work incredibly hard there. You feel like a loser if you are not grafting away.
You’re not married, but you have spent more time married than not. Would you prefer to be?
Well, I’ve not been married for four and a half years. And that’s fine. People tell me I am this incurable romantic, but perhaps I am finally cured. And I also think that my children may nail my feet to the floor if I tried to get married again.
Would you describe yourself as an atheist?
Of course. It’s all nonsense, and I’ve always thought it was. My father was like that too. The only religion that got into our house was that my mother didn’t like eating pig: I never had the flesh of swine till I came to public school in England. I had a ham sandwich and was not killed by thunderbolts.
But you always had faith in stories?
It is what I do. I mean, if you are a carpenter you have faith in carpentry.
Do you ever reread The Satanic Verses?
No, not really. The thing is, when I wrote it I thought it was the least political novel I had ever written. I thought it was a deeply personal book about migration, about examination of the self. One thing that does strike me now, though, is that if I go and talk in colleges, the students were barely born when it was published. All the stuff that went on is like ancient history to them. So they can just begin to read it as a book again, which is great.
But do you think history will also judge it as one moment when our world shifted, a kind of Archduke Ferdinand moment?
It was a harbinger. I don’t think it was the first moment but it was certainly one of the first visible signs of what has now become a much larger phenomenon. It didn’t feel like that at the time. I suppose it never does.
What did you make of the latest chapter, the news of Osama bin Laden’s death?
I thought: good. It’s about time. And of course I loved the fact that it turns out he enjoyed looking at pornography, and watching himself on TV – the more of a jerk he looks, the better for everyone. One of the likely consequences of the Arab spring is that al-Qaida immediately starts to look more irrelevant. It shows that this argument (which has been far too prevalent in the west) that there is a different set of criteria you have to use when you look at Muslim countries is bullshit. This is not an ideological revolution, or a theological one; it is a demand for liberty and jobs, desires and rights that are common to all human beings.
I remember you writing once that “life teaches us who we are.” Writing your memoir, have you been surprised at what you discovered about yourself?
Absolutely. In years like those you discover all your weaknesses as well as your strengths. And writing it, you have to be most brutally honest about yourself. It’s long. It will be 600 pages, so I guess there was plenty to discover…
Bhagawati for Osho News