I’ve always thought that referring to literary criticism as lacerating is a figure of speech. Yet a young Muslim, Hadi Matar, added a literal meaning to it by stabbing Salman Rushdie 15 times.
That tragic event happened on stage, where Rushdie was about to make a speech commending America for being a safe haven for exiled writers. In that context, Matar’s crime may be seen as an illustration.
I watched Sky News coverage of the aftermath and was both shocked and amused. The shock came when an eyewitness referred to the stabbed writer as ‘Mr Rushdie’.
The writer can be addressed as ‘Salman’, ‘Rushdie’ or ‘Salman Rushdie’. However, since he was knighted by his friend Tony Blair in 2007, the only thing he can’t possibly be is Mr Rushdie. Sir Salman will do nicely, thank you very much.
Then there was a state trooper presenting the law-enforcement aspect of the ‘alleged’ crime. We are, he said, trying to establish the motives behind the murder attempt.
That I found amusing. Surely any sentient postpubescent human being must have heard of Ayatollah Khomeini who declared a fatwa on Rushdie in 1989. This means that any pious Muslim is supposed to kill Rushdie for his book The Satanic Verses. A large cash reward is also on offer, thereby appealing to people’s piety and greed at the same time.
Since then, unsuccessful attempts have been made on Rushdie’s life, and half a dozen successful ones on the lives of his publishers and translators in various countries. I doubt the state trooper in question possesses a keen interest in post-modern literature, but even in its absence it shouldn’t have been hard to figure out Matar’s motive.
When interviewed for background interest, Matar’s classmate put it in a nutshell, if unwittingly: “He was a very devout Muslim and one of the few things that I remember talking to him about was kindness.” The young man didn’t say how Matar felt about kindness, but it doesn’t seem he extended that virtue to cover writers whose work he found offensive.
As for his being a devout Muslim, say no more. Such piety presupposes blind obedience to Koranic prescriptions, and that book contains at least 300 verses obligating Muslims to kill infidels and apostates.
Offending Mohammed is also a capital crime in Islam, but someone has failed to explain to Muslims living in the West that their canon law has no legal force in their adopted countries. In general, it’s fair to say that efforts at assimilation haven’t been a uniform success among Western Muslims.
That’s hardly surprising. The only approach likely to solve the problem would be telling Muslims in no uncertain terms that they should either abide by Western values or get out.
Yet such an uncompromising statement can only come from certain premises. The overarching one is that Western values aren’t just different, but better. Moreover, these are the only values by which a Western society will live. Everything else is and must remain a strictly private matter, reserved for one’s sitting room or perhaps some sort of community centre or prayer house.
Yet the ‘culture’ or, more appropriately, dictatorship of diversity precludes such premises, especially when it’s married to an unwavering commitment to equality. All religions, with their resulting cultures, are deemed worthy of equal respect and an equal share of voice.
That’s why Lefties can’t possibly object to Muslims marching through our streets with posters saying, “Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom to insult”. But of course it does, dears. One can’t think offhand of any constitutional document anywhere in the civilised world mandating freedom of only nice speech.
Yet flags with similar superimposed slogans have been toted throughout the West by all and sundry, such as feminists or LGBTQ and trans activists. They have succeeded in creating a subversive cancel culture whose very essence is denying free speech.
And Rushdie, the guiding light of the Occupy movement and a good friend of both Blair and Obama, has done his fair share of subversion. No doubt those two gentlemen will now make the usual speeches about their thoughts and prayers going to the stricken writer. They – and their likeminded comrades – won’t be put off by the incongruity of defending Rushdie’s right to free speech, while denying that right to those whose speech they find unpleasant.
I don’t mean that Rushdie has reaped what he sowed, and neither do I wish to gloat about his misfortune. I do despise most things he stands for, but I don’t see a knife as a valid way of expressing disagreement. So I do hope he recovers from his wounds.
Whether the wounds visited on our society by those who share Rushdie’s philosophy of life will heal as easily, if at all, is a different matter. As doctors in upstate New York are trying to save Rushdie’s life, I wish similar efforts were made to nurture the West back to health.