Another Friday in Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi—and as if on cue, the hoarse, bearded and pyromaniacal pour out of the mosques into the streets armed with Union Jacks and effigies of Queen Elizabeth II, Tony Blair and the newly knighted Sir Salman Rushdie.
Having protested Danish cartoons and popish detours into Byzantine history to the point of exhaustion, the proverbial Muslim street is once again seething. Pakistan’s minister of religious affairs said Mr. Rushdie’s award justified suicide bombings, while a group of traders in Islamabad banded together to place a $140,000 bounty on his head. Fathi Sorour, the speaker of Egypt’s parliament, declared that, “Honoring someone who has offended the Muslim religion is a bigger error than the publication of caricatures attacking Prophet Muhammad.” Malaysian protesters besieged the British high commission (embassy) in Kuala Lumpur chanting, “Destroy Britain” and “Crush Salman Rushdie.” With the irony perhaps lost in translation, Iran, whose president thinks nothing of threatening to wipe Israel off the map, condemned the award and called it a clear sign of (that mysterious new ailment) “Islamophobia.”
For many of us, however, her majesty’s conferral is a welcome example of something that has grown exceedingly rare: British backbone. After years of kowtowing to every fundamentalist demand imaginable—from accommodating the burqa in schools and colleges to re-orienting prison toilets to face away from Mecca—the British seem to be saying enough is enough. Nobody expects Mr. Rushdie to be awarded the Nishan-e-Pakistan, the Collar of the Nile or Iran’s Islamic Republic Medal, but in Britain, as elsewhere in the civilized world, great novelists are honored for their work. A pinched view of the human condition or poorly imagined characters may harm your prospects. Blasphemy does not.