The Satanic Verses remains a book about the struggles of migration and the frictions of cultural exchange. It pokes fun at all manner of targets, not least America and Britain. Above all, perhaps, it dramatises the conviction that there is nothing more sacred than the freedom to question what is sacred. Twenty years on, it's a principle that urgently needs to be remembered.In an excellent piece in the Observer Andrew Anthony describes how the book, first published twenty years ago, ignited a cultural war across the globe - the repercussions of which are still being felt, especially in terms of greatly increased censorship in Britain :
Who would dare to write a book like The Satanic Verses nowadays? And if some brave or reckless author did dare, who would publish it? The signs in both cases are that no such writer or publisher is likely to appear, and for two reasons. The first and most obvious is fear. The Satanic Verses is a rich and complex literary novel, by turns ironic, fantastical and satirical. Despite what is often said, mostly by those who haven't read it, the book does not take direct aim at Islam or its prophet. Those sections that have caused the greatest controversy are contained within the dreams or nightmares of a character who is in the grip of psychosis. Which is to say that, even buried in the fevered subconscious of a disturbed character inside a work of fiction - a work of magical realism fiction! - there is no escape from literalist tyranny. Any sentence might turn out to be a death sentence. And few if any of even the boldest and most iconoclastic artists wish to run that risk.
Literary Saloon pointed me in the direction of another article worth reading on the same issue : Twenty Year's On : Internalising the Fatwa by Kenan Malik. Particularly interesting :
The lesson of the Rushdie Affair that has never been learnt is that liberals have made their own monsters. It is the liberal fear of giving offence that has helped create a culture in which people take offence so easily.Another Postscript :
Screech left this link to Christopher Hitchens Vanity Fair essay on the same theme in the comments. Very well worth a read.