September 14, 2006
Salman Rushdie Q & A: there's a fascination with death among suicide bombers
(Page 2 - Previous Page)
SR: You have to look at each individual case. The only way to find out why someone decides to engage in armed combat is to look at their individual personality. In Shalimar's case, it's a mixture of personal and political reasons.
EF: Injured male pride plays a role, because the American ambassador in Delhi stole his true love. But it's also about how Kashmir develops from a peaceful, multicultural society into a hotbed for terrorism. It's about brutal attacks by the Indian army, which drive Shalimar into the arms of the jihadists. Didn't you get into trouble with this portrayal of the Kashmiri reality?
SR: Fortunately, very little. My book wasn't banned in India, as "The Satanic Verses" was -- as was, for a short time, "The Moor's Last Sigh," because of alleged libel against an Indian politician. I received many positive reviews in India and even the most important literature prize. Being half Kashmiri, I am particularly fond of that region -- that lost paradise. Perhaps another reason why there were no protests is that everyone realized how thoroughly I had done my research there and how much I know about conditions there.
EF: Your protagonist is a likeable man, at least at the beginning of the novel.
SR: Yes. I was not interested in painting a black-and-white picture: here the perpetrator, fundamentally depraved from the start, and there the innocent victim. I didn't want to make things that easy for myself. I was interested in showing the development, how someone gets into the clutches of the fundamentalists. And how on the other hand, terrorist groups keep a lookout for potential assassins, spy out their environment, beguile people and seduce them and exploit their weaknesses. The book is called, "Shalimar the Clown," not "Shalimar the Killer."
EF: National political issues play a major role in the struggle over Kashmir, but religious issues are also key. Are you worried about the power of radical religious currents worldwide?
SR: Fundamentalists of all faiths are the fundamental evil of our time. Almost all my friends are atheists -- I don't feel as though I'm an exception. If you take a look at history, you will find that the understanding of what is good and evil has always existed before the individual religions. The religions were only invented by people afterward, in order to express this idea. I, for one, don't need a supreme "sacred" arbiter in order to be a moral being.
EF: Perhaps not, but many people seem to need a god. Religions worldwide are experiencing a comeback. Striving for spirituality is more pronounced than ever. Is this a negative development in your opinion?
EF: That's a clear answer. But also offensive to many people.
SR: In my opinion, the word "spiritual" ought to be put on an index and banned from being used for, say, 50 years. The things that are put about as being "spiritual" -- it's unbelievable. It even goes as far as a spiritual lap dog and a spiritual shampoo.
EF: You yourself once wrote: "We need answers to the unanswerable. Is this life all there is? The soul needs explanations, not rational ones but ones for the heart."
SR: Of course there are things beyond material needs; we all sense that. For me the answers are simply not in the religious, heavenly realm. But I don't dictate to anyone what to believe and what not to. And I don't want that to be dictated to me either.
EF: Why is it that Islam -- with its claim to supremacy and strict rules for everyday life -- exerts such an attraction on many young people?
SR: You don't expect me to explain the attractions of Islam, do you?
EF: Which compromises should and could the West make in order to contain the threat of terrorism?
SR: I'm not the man for compromises, either. I think you're talking to the wrong person.
EF: But in the light of the attacks Sept. 11, 2001, attacks you yourself wrote that in order to protect free societies against terrorism, limiting rights was inevitable.
SR: I was thinking of stricter aircraft checks or things like that -- of annoying but easily understandable constraints. I hadn't thought it possible that the Bush administration would go about setting up the machinery of an authoritarian state.
EF: Has it done that?
SR: Oh yes. Over the past few years, I've been the president of PEN in New York, the chairman of the American writers' association. Again and again, we've had to deal with these far-reaching attacks on civil liberties. And most complaints have been justified, because it wasn't even apparent in what way arrests and surveillance operations were connected with anti-terrorism. And I know what I'm talking about. From my own history of being threatened, I have indeed developed a sympathy for intelligence activities, my protectors enjoy my greatest respect.
EF: So are Bush and Blair going too far?
SR: This is the problem with politicians who by nature tend toward being authoritarian: When they are given the chance, they go too far. We have to watch out there. I find it deeply depressing that the Anglo-American politics and Arab politics are currently corroborating each other -- that is: their worst prejudices.
Take a look at Iraq, at Lebanon. There is no just side in either conflict. But at the same time, we need moral clarity, something I have often missed recently in many liberally minded people -- and I myself am liberal. We need clarity about what is right and wrong, the willingness to defend our values with clear words and to actually call the guilty persons guilty.