Panelists Mort Winston, professor of philosophy and religion, and Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore, a Muslim Sufi poet, agreed that controversy over Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses” comes from a difference in Eastern and Western values. However, they disagreed whether Rushdie’s views were justified.
Winston said “The Satanic Verses” was so controversial because it represented “a pre-modern worldview clashing with a postmodern worldview.”
The pre-modern worldview derives authority from the word of God. The modern worldview challenged this view with reason, logic and criticism, the modern basis for truth and authority; and the postmodern worldview asserts that there is no “priviledged epistemology,” or system of deriving knowledge, Winston said. In postmodernism, “knowledge is fractured,” a mosaic of different people, he said.
To a Muslim, Winston said, the Qu’ran is the word of God, spoken by the Archangel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammed. This belief in the Qu’ran as the direct word of God is so closely held that some consider it blashphemous to even translate it into other languages.
“The Qu’ran is the final seal of God’s revelation,” Winston said.
Winston said “The Satanic Verses,” which Rushdie’s novel is named for, are the verses of the Qu’ran that Muhammed later realized were not given to him by Gabriel, but by Satan disguised as the archangel. These verses were expunged from the Qu’ran.
“The novel calls into question the fundamental belief that the Qu’ran is the word of God,” Rushdie said.
The novel was published in 1988. aAyear later, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of Iran, issued a religious decree condemning Rushdie to death for his blasphemy.
“Doubt is the enemy of faith,” Winston said. He added that the very leadership of Iran, made up of clerics, like Khomeini, was also called into question since they derived their right to rule from Islam, he said.
Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore, a Muslim Sufi poet, explained conservative Muslim resistance to what Rushdie had written.
“How strange to discuss a work of fiction as bombs are dropped on Baghdad,” Moore said.
Rushdie, Moore said, “dovetails the American view of the Middle East.
“He give a lot of ammunition to those who have suspicion about Muslims in the Western world.”
Moore said that he had converted to Islam in the 70s after being part of the counterculture in the 60s at Berkeley where he had been a “crazy, wild psychadelic poet.” He said that he had been friends with people like poet Allen Ginsberg.
He also said he read about two-thirds of “The Satanic Verses” before he “threw it out the window.”
Moore said there were only three or four Islamic Satanic Verses, and that Rushdie suggested that the entire Qu’ran could be of a similar nature.
Moore said that Rushdie was changed when he left India at 14 to attend school in England.
“The English are as racist as you can get,” Moore said. “If your skin is not pearly white, you’re in trouble.”
Moore said that as a result Rushdie had “turned his back on dark people.” He said that Rushdie had gone back to Pakistan and tried to stage a production of the absurdist play “Waiting for Godot.” Rushdie had been asked to remove a ham sandwich from the play, since the eating of pork is prohibited in Islam, but he refused despite the sandwich’s relative unimportance to the play. Moore said Rushdie could have easily made it another type of sandwich.
“(Rushdie) has some chip on his shoulder about Islam,” Moore said. “The man is a walking critique.”
Philosophy professor Irfan Khawaja said that themes of partitioning recurred in Rushdie’s novels, and gave a historical perspective from which the partitions could be understood.
In 1971, Khawaja said that India and Pakistan had a “falling out.” In addition, Khajawa said that relaxed immigration laws in the United States led to an increase in Indian and Pakistani immigrants, further partitioning these people from their homelands. Indians and Pakistanis, Khawaja said, are a “partitioned people.”
“The partitioning was an event whose consequences are difficult to describe,” Khawaja said.
Khawaja described a mass exodus across the India-Pakistan border, saying Hindus and Sikh fled to India and Muslims to Pakistan, fearing violence from members of other religions. India is primarily Hindu while Pakistan is a Muslim nation.
Rushdie’s novel “Midnight’s Children” is about an Indian Muslim, Saleem Sinai, who is born on midnight on August 15, 1947, the day India became independent of the British empire.
Rushdie and the other children born in the first hour of Indian independence all have supernatural powers and are linked together by Saleem.
The Midnight Children’s conference “represents a utopian vision of India which was of course not to be,” Khawaja said. Indian failure to realize this utopia is not a defense of British rule but “an honest reckoning of humanity.”
Partitioning was also present in Khawaja’s favorite Rushdie novel, “Shame,” about Pakistan and “The Satanic Verses.”