Monday, January 12, 2009

Twenty Years of the Satanic Verses

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.

Postscript :

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.


screech said...

Hitchens wrote something similar in Vanity Fair.

Amir said...

This year will be the 40th anniversary of May 13. And therefore ...


May 13

Editors: Fathi Aris Omar & Jimadie Shah
Publisher: Gerakbudaya


This year, May 13 will bring added meaning to all Malaysians, particularly our post-1969 young generation, because we will be marking its 40th year. The Youth Societies and Youth Development Act 2007 defines ‘youth’ as being anyone below the age of 40.

The May 13 incident will be approaching its final year of youth, will become an adult and, therefore, mature. The question now is: have we successfully exorcised the ghost of May 13 and are we showing enough maturity today in facing all issues pertaining to race and religion?

To answer this question, we in Gerakbudaya wish to gather all writings in various forms, sketches and photographs from our youth –
in short, expressions of their views on this tragedy.

All contributions will be compiled in a book and published by Gerakbudaya. This book will be officially launched at the 2nd KL Alternative Bookfest (KLAB) on 9-10 May, 2009 at the Annexe, Central Market.


We will give ample opportunities to contributors whose creations fulfil the theme and criteria stipulated.

The main theme of this book is to get rid of the ghost of May 13, towards a better Malaysia.

Style of writing

The following styles of writing can be applied although you are free to write in any way:

1) Stories from secondary sources like from parents, teachers, members of political parties, lecturers and others
2) Creative writing
3) Interviews with people who were directly involved and experienced the tragedy, political and social leaders and others
4) Open letter to politicians
5) Essay

Each piece of writing that is sent must not exceed 2000 words. There is no minimum limit.

Contributions must be in Bahasa Malaysia or English

For those who are doing sketches or photographs, the contribution must not exceed 4 pages.

Every contribution must bear your own name or widely-known pen name.

Contributors must be 40 years and below, and Malaysian citizens.

Email your contributions and all enquiries with the subject' May 13' to

Everyone who contributes will be given 2 copies of the book and a good chance to publish books with Gerakbudaya or with our other publisher, SIRD.

Closing date for all entries is 28 February 2009.

bibliobibuli said...

many thanks for that link. another very interesting piece.

bibliobibuli said...

hey amir, this deserves a separate post! will put it up front

Amir said...

Thanks! Gerakbudaya is actually a new imprint (it will have a separate look and feel from its parent company SIRD) that is meant to target the thinking yoof market. Or rather to seek to prove that the market exists!
I am not a shareholder or anything. Just spreading da word.

Anonymous said...

Satanic Verses not as good as Midnight's Children, but he's a great writer.

- Poppadumdum