Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A portrait of the artist as a victim of the Ayatollahs: A review of Salman Rushdie’ Joseph Anton

Author Salman Rushdie
Rushdie’s all-too-timely memoirs of the fatwa years are a reminder that things have grown progressively worse 

In a world where the black birds of hatred have felled colossal towers, threatened cartoonists with murder and attacked embassies over a film preview, Salman Rushdie’s years under the fatwa, a death warrant ordered by the Ayatollah Khomeini on Feb. 14, 1989, may not seem extraordinary. The fact that living under the shadow of terror in the name of religion, of cross-border assaults on freedom of expression, is now regarded as close to normal speaks worrying volumes about the world we now inhabit. 

It wasn’t always so, and a brilliant new book by Rushdie takes us down into the heart of darkness, a portrait of the artist as a victim of state-sponsored terror as mullahs and religious zealots called for murder over his novel, The Satanic Verses, which in their interpretation of it had blasphemed against the Prophet Mohammed and insulted Islam. Joseph Anton — the pseudonym Rushdie would use during his years in hiding under police protection — is a story of intolerance, anger, fear and betrayal, but also courage, resilience, love and friendship, in a decade-long battle between the forces of repression and freedom.

The book, US edition
The contours of the story are pretty well known: In 1988, Rushdie, the Indian-born author of the Booker Prize-winning Midnight’s Children and one of the greatest storytellers of our time, published his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, a book partly inspired by the life of the Prophet Mohammed and a deranged man’s musings on the early days of Islam. No stranger to controversy, Rushdie had already succeeded in angering Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan in Midnight’s Children and Shame respectively. The Satanic Verses was no exception. The Indian government banned it before its release, and soon afterwards, a large protest was organized outside the American Cultural Center in Islamabad, during which six people were killed. Muslim communities in the UK also felt the book was an assault on the Koran, and soon enough, in scenes that were more at home in Nazi Germany than late twentieth-century Britain, the book was burned, as was an effigy of the author himself. 

My book review, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

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