September 14, 2006
Salman Rushdie Q & A: there's a fascination with death among suicide bombers
(Page 3 - Previous Page)
EF: What do you mean by that?
SR: I've always been strictly against blasphemy laws, which are supposed to protect religions against alleged defamation. It's perfectly all right for Muslims to enjoy religious freedom like everyone else in a free society. It's perfectly all right for them to protest against discrimination, whenever and wherever they are faced with it. And undoubtedly there are often reflexive reactions in the West, which lead to premature, anti-Islamic suspicions. What is not at all in order, on the other hand, is for Islamic leaders in our countries to demand that their faith be protected against criticism, disrespect, ridicule and disparagement. Even malicious criticism, even insulting caricatures -- these are part of our freedom of speech, of pluralism, of our basic values, which they have got to bow down to if they want to live with us.
EF: What role can literature play to encourage tolerance -- and to discourage intolerance?
SR: There is no alternative to the peaceful coexistence of cultures. Promoting that is a task that literature ought to set itself. You see, fundamentalists believe that we don't believe in anything. In their view of the world, they are in possession of absolute certainties, while we are descending into decadence. We will be able to triumph over terrorism not by waging war on it, but through a conscious, fearless way of life. If there is a choice between absolute safety and freedom, then freedom must always prevail.
EF: After Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa in 1989, you lived underground for practically a decade....
SR: ....And I was just about to thank you for the fact that the word "fatwa" hadn't been mentioned yet in our conversation....
EF: ....But it is inevitable. Much as you may hate it.
SR: Yes, yes, I know. It's as though something that is not me were world famous. In the years afterward, I sometimes felt as though other people were writing the story of my life. But I have left that behind me long ago. I live a free, normal life as a resident of New York and London, and I go on frequent trips to the town of my birth, Mumbai (Bombay).
EF: All three of them are cities that have been hit by serious terrorist attacks. But all three have proven resilient and have maintained their commitment to a free and open lifestyle.
SR: It's interesting you should say that. Perhaps that's precisely why I love these cities.
EF: According to the Shiite interpretation, Khomeini's fatwa cannot be withdrawn because it is a religious edict. Even if there is officially no bounty on your head any more, agitators surrounding the current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could reactivate the fatwa at any time.
SR: I have read these speculations by journalists. But I don't consider them of any importance.
EF: Do you still remember the day when the fatwa was proclaimed. Do you mark its anniversary every year?
SR: How could I strike that date from my memory -- it was Valentine's Day. That way at least I don't forget the flowers for my wife.
On Sept. 17, the American Jewish Congress 30th Annual Dinner "Profiles in Courage: Voices of Muslim Reformers in the Modern World" with Salman Rushdie, will be held at 6 p.m., at the Four Seasons Hotel, 300 South Doheny Drive, Los Angeles. For tickets and information, call (3133) 496-4280.