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Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Rushdie as the first global salvo of radical Islam n Sudeep Paul

Written by Sudeep Paul |
June 28, 2009 10:35:21 am

Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Rushdie as the first global salvo of radical Islaml
When Kenan Malik arrived at the university that housed the Bradford Council of Mosques to speak to the council’s chairman,Sher Azam,soon after the burning of The Satanic Verses,one of the first to meet him was his old friend Hassan from London who had “lost his sense of who he was and where he’s come from”. Having returned to Bradford,Hassan had found “a sense of community and a ‘need to defend our dignity as Muslims…’ He was not going to allow anyone — ‘racist or Rushdie’ — to trample over them.”

Malik,a veteran commentator on race and multiculturalism in Britain,was born in India and migrated with his parents in the ’60s,and grew up in the heyday of “Paki-bashing”. His politics was forged in the anti-racist struggle of the radical left — a worldview that was avowedly secular and believed at the time that the world would be set right if the problem of racism was redressed. The Hassan above had been a member of the far-left Socialist Workers Party (like Malik had been),and apart “from Trotskyism,his other indulgences were Southern Comfort,sex and Arsenal”. When Malik met him in Bradford,he found Hassan’s “metamorphosis from left-wing wide boy to Islamic militant… no less extraordinary than that of the anti-heroes of The Satanic Verses”.

Hassan’s metamorphosis was symptomatic of the transformation that was taking place in Britain,which would lead to not just the Rushdie affair but ultimately 9/11 and 7/7. After the race riots of the ’80s,Britain embraced multiculturalism as state policy,seeking to respect all values and practices,identifying community leaders who would act as go-betweens for the government and ethnic groups. While race was about colour,multiculturalism emerged as a new and distinct marker of identity. Malik holds it,and the fear of free speech it fostered,responsible for a new tribalism wherein differences usurped the political and social centre-stage. The book’s pivot is the argument and exemplification that radical Islamists are not the lumpen,uneducated medievalists they are often assumed to be. Malik’s contention is that radical Islam was a clever exploitation of identity,where racist victimisation was transformed into the “jihadi” cause. It is not a reaction to western foreign policy per se. His research mirrors Marc Sageman’s (an ’80s CIA case officer in Afghanistan and author of Understanding Terror Networks and Leaderless Jihad) in that the terrorist is “not all that different from us” — educated,intellectual,professional and “smart”. In fact,as the French sociologist Olivier Roy has said,“The illusion held by Islamic radicals is that they represent tradition when in fact they express a negative form of Westernisation.”

Ayatollah Khomeini may have issued his fatwa to checkmate his Iranian rivals and Saudi Arabia’s hold on global Islam,but most of world politics since has been defined by his singular action — it turned a British issue,albeit with origins in India,into a global conflagration. Although The Satanic Verses was not read by its burners,its symbolic import saw its Japanese translator stabbed to death,its Norwegian publisher shot,a Penguin store firebombed and forced upon Rushdie the life of literature’s biggest fugitive: “The burning book became an icon of the rage of Islam… the image proclaimed,‘I am a portent of a new kind of conflict and of a new kind of world.’”

From Fatwa to Jihad is a detailed and arresting recount and analysis of recent history and a valuable contribution to Rushdie’s own cause of free speech. However,Malik disappoints in his seeming,illogical faith that the power of the law and state can do immense good for that freedom,even if individual governments fail to do so. Nor does Malik have an antidote to the ills of multiculturalism or an alternative to something that has otherwise laid many old western ills to rest. Rest assured,the British radical left and its gospel of a homogenous secularism are passé. The Rushdie battle continues.

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