Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Author to be knighted (if he isn't bombed first)

Salman Rushdie has accepted the offer of knighthood from the Queen of England. But BBC and NPR report that this announcement led Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq, Pakistan's religious affairs minister, to basically call suicide bombers to action. According to the British newspaper, The Guardian, he said, "The west is accusing Muslims of extremism and terrorism. If someone exploded a bomb on his body he would be right to do so unless the British government apologizes and withdraws the 'sir' title."

For a bit of background: Rushdie is an accomplished author, whose novel "Midnight Children" won him the prestigious Booker Prize in 1981. He was accused by his fellow Muslims of making blasphemous statements in his 1988 novel "The Satanic Verses," and the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwah (or call for assassination) against him. So, he lived pretty much in hiding for the next 10 years, until the fatwah was called off. Since then, he has been living the life of a much-loved and -respected author: book tours, speaking engagements and other intellectual pursuits.

The U.K.'s "knight committee" (I don't know its official name or if it even has one) is made up mostly of artistic types who then pass their list of candidates onto Tony Blair to "rubber stamp" before it makes its way to the Queen. When they placed Rushdie on their list of 2007 candidates, they say it didn't occur to them that it might spark international controversy or threats of violence; they say they figured "The Satanic Verses" issue was water under the bridge. Today, Duncan Campbell, senior correspondent for The Guardian, reported on NPR that Rushdie is celebrating his 60th birthday in London with his family and friends. What will come of this remains to be seen.

Barrie Hardymon wrote this on NPR's Blog of the Nation:

With all the hubbub, fatwas, and attractive chefs surrounding him, it's easy to forget that Salman Rushdie is a wonderful writer. Before he wrote a little book called The Satanic Verses in 1988, he had already won the Booker Prize (for one of my favorites, Midnight's Children... though I can't recommend his children's book Haroun and the Sea of Stories highly enough). Well, more hubbub, I'm afraid. Saturday's announcement that the Indian-born (but still British) writer is to be knighted in the UK has enraged Iran and Pakistan all over again. To some, it's an honor richly deserved; but the long held belief that The Satanic Verses contains blasphemous references to Islam, makes the politics of the knighthood pretty tricky. However, Rushdie may not care; my favorite quote of his (about poets, but you can read artists in general) is this: "A poet's work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep." Here's hoping we (with your help) can do all of that here at NPR as well: start arguments... shape the world.

I, too, love that quote by Rushdie and wonder if it isn't an answer to the issue. In the end, we all should feel free to write anything we want without fear of reprisal, let alone death.

What do you think?

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