Salman Rushdie

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What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.

Sir Salman Rushdie (born Ahmed Salman Rushdie, Urdu: أحمد سلمان رشدی, Hindi: अह्मद सलमान रश्डी on 19 June 1947) is an Indian-born British essayist and author of fiction, most of which is set on the Indian subcontinent.

See also:
Midnight's Children (1981)
The Satanic Verses (1988)

Quotes[edit]

Meaning is a shaky edifice we build out of scraps, dogmas, childhood injuries, newspaper articles, chance remarks, old films, small victories, people hated, people loved; perhaps it is because of our sense of what is the case is constructed from such inadequate materials that we defend it so fiercely, even to the death.
I do not envy people who think they have a complete explanation of the world, for the simple reason that they are obviously wrong.
The only people who see the whole picture are the ones who step outside the frame.
  • God, Satan, Paradise, and Hell all vanished one day in my fifteenth year, when I quite abruptly lost my faith. … and afterwards, to prove my new-found atheism, I bought myself a rather tasteless ham sandwich, and so partook for the first time of the forbidden flesh of the swine. No thunderbolt arrived to strike me down. … From that day to this I have thought of myself as a wholly secular person.
    • "In God We Trust" (1985)
  • The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to turn other ideas — uncertainty, progress, change — into crimes.
    • Herbert Reade Memorial Lecture (6 February 1990)
  • Those who oppose the novel most vociferously today are of the opinion that intermingling with a different culture will inevitably weaken and ruin their own. I am of the opposite opinion. The Satanic Verses celebrates hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas, politics, movies, songs. It rejoices in mongrelization and fears the absolutism of the Pure. Melange, hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world. It is the great possibility that mass migration gives the world… The Satanic Verses is for change-by-fusion, change-by-conjoining. It is a love song to our mongrel selves.
    • Imaginary Homelands (1992)
  • It may be argued that the past is a country from which we have all emigrated, that its loss is part of our common humanity. Which seems to be self-evidently true; but I suggest that the writer who is out-of-country and even out-of-language may experience this loss in an intensified form. It is made more concrete for him by the physical fact of discontinuity, of his present being in a different place from his past, of his being "elsewhere"… human beings do not perceive things whole; we are not gods but wounded creatures, cracked lenses, capably only of fractured perceptions. Partial beings, in all the senses of that phrase. Meaning is a shaky edifice we build out of scraps, dogmas, childhood injuries, newspaper articles, chance remarks, old films, small victories, people hated, people loved; perhaps it is because of our sense of what is the case is constructed from such inadequate materials that we defend it so fiercely, even to the death.
    • "Imaginary Homelands (1992)
  • I don't think there is a need for an entity like God in my life.
  • I do not envy people who think they have a complete explanation of the world, for the simple reason that they are obviously wrong.
    • Salman Rushdie — Talking with David Frost (1993)
  • Literature is where I go to explore the highest and lowest places in human society and in the human spirit, where I hope to find not absolute truth but the truth of the tale, of the imagination of the heart.
    • The Hindu (26 February 1995)
  • The only people who see the whole picture are the ones who step outside the frame.
    • The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999)
  • I've been worrying about God a little bit lately. It seems as if he's been lashing out, you know, destroying cities, annihilating places. It seems like he's been in a bad mood. And I think it has to do with the quality of lovers he's been getting. If you look at the people who love God now, you know, if I was God, I'd need to destroy something.
    • Real Time with Bill Maher TV show (7 October 2005)
  • The fundamentalist seeks to bring down a great deal more than buildings. Such people are against, to offer just a brief list, freedom of speech, a multi-party political system, universal adult suffrage, accountable government, Jews, homosexuals, women's rights, pluralism, secularism, short skits, dancing, beardlessness, evolution theory, sex. There are tyrants, not Muslims. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that we should now define ourselves not only by what we are for but by what we are against. I would reverse that proposition, because in the present instance what we are against is a no brainer. Suicidist assassins ram wide-bodied aircraft into the World Trade Center and Pentagon and kill thousands of people: um, I'm against that. But what are we for? What will we risk our lives to defend? Can we unanimously concur that all the items in the preceding list — yes, even the short skirts and the dancing — are worth dying for? The fundamentalist believes that we believe in nothing. In his world-view, he has his absolute certainties, while we are sunk in sybaritic indulgences. To prove him wrong, we must first know that he is wrong. We must agree on what matters: kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches, disagreement, cutting-edge fashion, literature, generosity, water, a more equitable distribution of the world's resources, movies, music, freedom of thought, beauty, love. These will be our weapons. Not by making war but by the unafraid way we choose to live shall we defeat them. How to defeat terrorism? Don't be terrorized. Don't let fear rule your life. Even if you are scared.
    • Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992–2002

Midnight's Children (1981)[edit]

I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I've gone which would not have happened if I had not come.
These are just a few sample quotes; for more quotes from this work see Midnight's Children
  • Children are the vessels into which adults pour their poison.
  • Who what am I? My answer: I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I've gone which would not have happened if I had not come. Nor am I particularly exceptional in this matter; each "I", everyone of the now-six-hundred-million-plus of us, contains a similar multitude. I repeat for the last time: to understand me, you'll have to swallow a world.

The Satanic Verses (1988)[edit]

These are just a few sample quotes; for more quotes from this work see The Satanic Verses
  • Names, once they are in common use, quickly become mere sounds, their etymology being buried, like so many of the earth's marvels, beneath the dust of habit.
  • The world, somebody wrote, is the place we prove real by dying in it.

Address at Columbia University (1991)[edit]

Too many people had spent too long demonizing or totemizing me to listen seriously to what I had to say.
Excerpts From Rushdie's Address: 1,000 Days 'Trapped Inside a Metaphor' The New York Times (12 December 1991)
Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself.
  • For many people, I've ceased to be a human being. I've become an issue, a bother, an "affair." … And has it really been so long since religions persecuted people, burning them as heretics, drowning them as witches, that you can't recognize religious persecution when you see it? … What is my single life worth? Despair whispers in my ear: "Not a lot." But I refuse to give in to despair … because … I know that many people do care, and are appalled by the … upside-down logic of the post-fatwa world, in which a … novelist can be accused of having savaged or "mugged" a whole community, becoming its tormentor (instead of its … victim) and the scapegoat for … its discontents… . (What minority is smaller and weaker than a minority of one?)
  • I determined to make my peace with Islam, even at the cost of my pride. Those who were surprised and displeased by what I did perhaps failed to see that … I wanted to make peace between the warring halves of the world, which were also the warring halves of my soul… .
    The really important conversations I had in this period were with myself.
    I said: Salman, you must send a message loud enough to … make ordinary Muslims see that you aren't their enemy, and you must make the West understand a little more of the complexity of Muslim culture …, and start thinking a little less stereotypically… . And I said to myself: Admit it, Salman, the Story of Islam has a deeper meaning for you than any of the other grand narratives. Of course you're no mystic, mister… . No supernaturalism, no literalist orthodoxies … for you. But Islam doesn't have to mean blind faith. It can mean what it always meant in your family, a culture, a civilization, as open-minded as your grandfather was, as delightedly disputatious as your father was. … Don't let the zealots make Muslim a terrifying word, I urged myself; remember when it meant family. …
    I reminded myself that I had always argued that it was necessary to develop the nascent concept of the "secular Muslim," who, like the secular Jew, affirmed his membership of the culture while being separate from the theology… . But, Salman, I told myself, you can't argue from outside the debating chamber. You've got to cross the threshold, go inside the room, and then fight for your humanized, historicized, secularized way of being a Muslim.
  • Too many people had spent too long demonizing or totemizing me to listen seriously to what I had to say. In the West, some "friends" turned against me, calling me by yet another set of insulting names. Now I was spineless, pathetic, debased; I had betrayed myself, my Cause; above all, I had betrayed them .
    I also found myself up against the granite, heartless certainties of Actually Existing Islam, by which I mean the political and priestly power structure that presently dominates and stifles Muslim societies. Actually Existing Islam has failed to create a free society anywhere on Earth, and it wasn't about to let me, of all people, argue in favor of one.
  • I reluctantly concluded that there was no way for me to help bring into being the Muslim culture I'd dreamed of, the progressive, irreverent, skeptical, argumentative, playful and unafraid culture which is what I've always understood as freedom. Not me, not in this lifetime, no chance. Actually Existing Islam, which has all but deified its Prophet, a man who always fought passionately against such deification, which has supplanted a priest-free religion by a priest-ridden one, which makes literalism a weapon and redescription a crime, will never let the likes of me in.
  • Ibn Rushd's ideas were silenced in their time. And throughout the Muslim world today, progressive ideas are in retreat. Actually Existing Islam reigns supreme, and just as the recently destroyed "Actually Existing Socialism" of the Soviet terror-state was horrifically unlike the utopia of peace and equality of which democratic socialists have dreamed, so also is Actually Existing Islam a force to which I have never given in, to which I cannot submit.
    There is a point beyond which conciliation looks like capitulation. I do not believe I passed that point, but others have thought otherwise.
  • "Our lives teach us who we are." I have learned the hard way that when you permit anyone else's description of reality to supplant your own — and such descriptions have been raining down on me, from security advisers, governments, journalists, Archbishops, friends, enemies, mullahs — then you might as well be dead. Obviously, a rigid, blinkered, absolutist world view is the easiest to keep hold of, whereas the fluid, uncertain, metamorphic picture I've always carried about is rather more vulnerable. Yet I must cling with all my might to … my own soul; must hold on to its mischievous, iconoclastic, out-of-step clown-instincts, no matter how great the storm. And if that plunges me into contradiction and paradox, so be it; I've lived in that messy ocean all my life. I've fished in it for my art. This turbulent sea was the sea outside my bedroom window in Bombay. It is the sea by which I was born, and which I carry within me wherever I go.
    "Free speech is a non-starter," says one of my Islamic extremist opponents. No, sir, it is not. Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself.

Salon interview (1996)[edit]

Nothing really improves us. Whatever improves one person will disimprove another.
When life becomes a bad novel - The Salon Interview: Salman Rushdie
  • When I was growing up, everyone around me was fond of fooling around with words. It was certainly common in my family, but I think it is typical of Bombay, and maybe of India, that there is a sense of play in the way people use language. Most people in India are multilingual, and if you listen to the urban speech patterns there you'll find it's quite characteristic that a sentence will begin in one language, go through a second language and end in a third. It's the very playful, very natural result of juggling languages. You are always reaching for the most appropriate phrase.
  • It’s fun to read things when you don't know all the words. Even children love it. One of the things any great children’s writer will tell you is that children like it if in books designed for their age group there is a vocabulary just slightly bigger than theirs. So they come up against weird words, and the weird words excite them. If you describe a small girl in a story as “loquacious,” it works so much better than “talkative.” And then some little girl will read the book and her sister will be shooting her mouth off and she will say to her sister, “Don't be so loquacious.” It is a whole new weapon in her arsenal.
  • Nothing really improves us. Whatever improves one person will disimprove another. Some people are paralyzed by the consciousness of death, other people live with it. … The fatwa certainly made me think about it a lot more than I ever had. I guess I know I'm going to die, but then, so are you. And one of the things that I thought a lot about at the time of the fatwa and ever since is that quite a few of the people I really care about died during this period, all about the same age as I am, and they were not under a death sentence. They just died, of lung cancer, AIDS, whatever. It occurred to me that you don't need a fatwa, it can happen anytime.

The Hindu interview (2012)[edit]

  • There is no right in the world not to be offended. That right simply doesn’t exist. In a free society, an open society, people have strong opinions, and these opinions very often clash. In a democracy, we have to learn to deal with this. And this is true about novels, it’s true about cartoons, it’s true about all these products.
  • A question I have often asked is, ‘What would an inoffensive political cartoon look like?’ What would a respectful cartoon look like? The form requires disrespect and so if we are going to have in the world things like cartoons and satire, we just have to accept it as part of the price of freedom.

Quotes about Rushdie[edit]

Rushdie shows us with what fantasy our sort of history must now be written — if, that is, we are to penetrate it, and perhaps even save it. ~ Malcolm Bradbury
Alphabetized by author
I think when you are Salman Rushdie, you must get bored with people who always want to talk to you about literature. ~ Riya Sen
I never called for the death of Salman Rushdie; nor backed the Fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini — and still don’t. … I foolishly made light of certain provocative questions. … Certainly I regret giving those sorts of responses now. ~ Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam)
  • Rushdie shows us with what fantasy our sort of history must now be written — if, that is, we are to penetrate it, and perhaps even save it.
  • In Islam there is a line between let's say freedom and the line which is then transgressed into immorality and irresponsibility and I think as far as this writer is concerned, unfortunately, he has been irresponsible with his freedom of speech. Salman Rushdie or indeed any writer who abuses the prophet, or indeed any prophet, under Islamic law, the sentence for that is actually death. It's got to be seen as a deterrent, so that other people should not commit the same mistake again.
    • Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam), as quoted in "Yussuf Islam, Formerly Cat Stevens, Expresses Support For Rushdie Death Sentence" in The Christian Science Monitor (1989)
  • I'm very sad that this seems to be the No. 1 question people want to discuss. I had nothing to do with the issue other than what the media created. I was innocently drawn into the whole controversy. So, after many years, I'm glad at least now that I have been given the opportunity to explain to the public and fans my side of the story in my own words. At a lecture, back in 1989, I was asked a question about blasphemy according to Islamic Law, I simply repeated the legal view according to my limited knowledge of the Scriptural texts, based directly on historical commentaries of the Qur'an. The next day the newspaper headlines read, "Cat Says, Kill Rushdie." I was abhorred, but what could I do? I was a new Muslim. If you ask a Bible student to quote the legal punishment of a person who commits blasphemy in the Bible, he would be dishonest if he didn't mention Leviticus 24:16.
  • I never called for the death of Salman Rushdie; nor backed the Fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini — and still don’t. The book itself destroyed the harmony between peoples and created an unnecessary international crisis.
    When asked about my opinion regarding blasphemy, I could not tell a lie and confirmed that — like both the Torah and the Gospel — the Qur’an considers it, without repentance, as a capital offense. The Bible is full of similar harsh laws if you’re looking for them. However, the application of such Biblical and Qur’anic injunctions is not to be outside of due process of law, in a place or land where such law is accepted and applied by the society as a whole.
  • In 1989, during the heat and height of the Satanic Verses controversy, I was silly enough to accept appearing on a program called Hypotheticals which posed imaginary scenarios by a well-versed (what if…?) barrister, Geoffrey Robertson QC. I foolishly made light of certain provocative questions. When asked what I’d do if Salman Rushdie entered a restaurant in which I was eating, I said, “I would probably call up Ayatollah Khomeini”; and, rather than go to a demonstration to burn an effigy of the author, I jokingly said I would have preferred that it'd be the “real thing”.
    Criticize me for my bad taste, in hindsight, I agree. ... Certainly I regret giving those sorts of responses now. However, it must be noted that the final edit of the program was made to look extremely serious; hardly any laughs were left in and much common sense was savagely cut out. … Balanced arguments were cut out and the most sensational quotes, preserved.

External links[edit]

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