Background: Salman Rushdie is an Indian-born British citizen and author of several novels

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Background: Salman Rushdie is an Indian-born British citizen and author of several novels on (among other things) various aspects of of recent Indian and Pakistani history. _The_Satanic_Verses_ is specifically about the clash of cultures of Indian Muslim immigrants to Britain. One of the characters is an Indian movie star whose stage name is "Gibreel Farishta" (Gabriel Angel), whose reaction to the cultural clash (and loss of personal faith) is a gradually increasing dream-world/madness in which he takes on something like the archangel Gabriel's revelatory role in the formation of a religion much like Islam, in a series of surreal dream sequences. The book (largely for political reasons) drew ire from Muslims around the world (few of whom, presumably, actually read it), and eventually resulted in the the issuance of a sentence of death for Rushdie and his publishers by the Ayatollah Khomeini (aside: _TSV_ *does* contain a character who is an obvious and unpalatable caricature of Khomeini). Rushdie went into hiding (Feb '89) and has been there since. The death sentence was reissued by Khomeini's successors upon the Ayatollah's death in June '89. Moving on to that which should be of interest to our readership. In an essay _In Good Faith_, published in the Feb. 12, '90 _Newsweek_, Rushdie says this about himself and the charges of blasphemy and apostasy: "The point is this: Muslim culture has been very important to me, but it is not by any means the only shaping factor. I am a modern, modern*ist*, urban man, accepting uncertainty as the only constant, change as the only sure thing. I believe in no god, and have not done so since I was a young adolescent. I have spiritual needs, and my work has, I hope, a moral and spiritual dimension, but I am content to try and satisfy those needs without recourse to any idea of a Prime Mover or ultimate arbiter. "To put it as simply as possible: *I am not a Muslim*. It feels bizarre, and wholly inappropriate, to be described as some sort of heretic after having lived my life as a secular, pluralist, eclectic man. I am being enveloped in, and described by, a language that does not fit me. I do not accept the charge of blasphemy, because, as somebody says in "The Satanic Verses," "where there is no belief, there is no blasphemy." I do not accept the charge of apostasy, because I have never in my adult life affirmed any belief, and what one has not affirmed one cannot be said to have apostasized from. The Islam I know states clearly that "there can be no coercion in matters of religion." The many Muslims I respect would be horrified by the idea that they belong to their faith *purely by virtue of birth,* and that any person so born who freely chose not to be a Muslim could therefore be put to death. ... "I would like to say this to the Muslim community: life without God seems to believers to be an idiocy, pointless, beneath contempt. It does not seem so to non-believers. To accept that the world, here, is all there is; to go through it, towards and into death, without the consolations of religion seems, well, at least as courageous and rigorous as the espousal of faith seems to you. Secularism and its works deserve your respect, not your contempt." Last week, Rushdie, in conjunction with certain Islamic religious figures, made a statement (which, as I say, I have so far only heard/seen fragmentary and incomplete excerpts from), in which Rushdie: 1. embraced Islam (affirmed that "There is no god but Allah and Mohammed was his last prophet"), and said something to the effect that it was pointless to address spirituality without invoking God. 2. affirmed that he did not support anti-Islamic statements made by any of the characters in _The Satanic Verses_. 3. promised not to publish a paperback version of _TSV_ until such could be done without offense. The implication [from the clerics] was that by embracing Islam (while previously denying being a Muslim) Rushdie could not be answerable to "the already shaky basis of the (fatwa) death sentence" [paraphrased] -- the Iranian clergy, by the way, have had no truck with this and renewed the fatwa. I am uncertain what to make of this. The Rushdie affair is already a blot on modern social history, but this attempted resolution by forced conversion bothers me, particularly since it doesn't seem to bother those who have reported it. Clearly there is the possibility that, as Newsweek suggested, long months spent in hiding caused Rushdie to legitimately "find religion", though I personally doubt that. On the other hand, as a pragmatic matter, while I prefer freedom of religion, I don't consider it as cynical for a non-believer to profess [carefully worded] belief, as believers would consider forcible conversion between faiths. I notice that in all reports I've heard the "embrace of Islam" could fairly be expressed as "there is at most one god and there have been no prophets since Mohammed"; in a pinch I'd agree with that. Again, many including myself have discussed an existence of God in the sense of the human spiritual drive (it's equivocation, but turn-about is fair play). Likewise, I would maintain that none of the characters in _TSV_ make anti-Islamic statements: there is a religion presented that is madly-distorted version of Islam, but that is not the same. Finally, I'm pleased to observe that Rushdie does not repudiate the book or pledge to remove it from circulation or never publish a paperback, just not to do so at this time (and, of course, the publisher and bookstores have so far blocked that anyway). It is not yet clear what the result of this will be; there has been talk in recent days of Rushdie visiting Egypt (he denies this), and the possibility of reconciliation, though the Iranian hard-liners predictably haven't budged. In any event, I think this whole episode is considerably distressing. As an aside, I strongly recommend Mr. Rushdie's books, particularly _The Satanic Verses_ (I confess, I bought it when the whole mess arose, as a gesture in protest of censorship, but found it riveting, clever, and witty). His latest, _Haroun and the Sea of Stories_, a children's book, has just come out in hardcover (I got it for Christmas, and have only read a few chapters, but it's wonderful so far). - Jim Perry perry@apollo.hp.com HP/Apollo, Chelmsford MA This particularly rapid, unintelligible patter Isn't generally heard, and if it is it doesn't matter!

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