Rushdie’s knighthood and “courage”
This is an article by Ruth Dudley-Edwards, criticising the decision to give a knighthood to the infamous Salman Rushdie. The contention is a familiar one - that his books, including Midnight’s Children, which won him the 1981 Booker prize - aren’t much good, and that he basked in the admiration of literary London after writing a gratuitously offensive book which led to him costing the taxpayer a huge amount of money for protection, and then went off to New York and started slagging off the UK, including that same literary community:
In his official citation, Rushdie gets his gong for “services to literature”. To which the only sensible response is, “what services and what literature?”. Like many who have attempted to read his work, I have never yet managed to make it to the end of one of Rushdie’s books. I’ve tried, I honestly have. When he won the Booker Prize in 1981 with Midnight’s Children, I conscientiously attempted to read it three or four times, but struggle as I might, I could never get past page 50: there was something about its portentous tone and an absence of simple humanity that irritated me profoundly. So too did the way he banged on relentlessly in public about his sufferings as a post-colonial expatriate. It seemed to me that he didn’t like India, his birthplace, and he certainly didn’t like the United Kingdom, his host country. But he was, of course, a wow with the masochistic liberal intelligentsia who loved his savaging of British values as insufficiently cosmopolitan. Yet, as a taxpayer, I never grudged a penny of the £10 million or so spent on protecting Rushdie for a decade after Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for his murder because he considered The Satanic Verses blasphemous towards Mohammed.
However, disputing the talk of his “courage”, Dudley-Edwards contrasts his behaviour with that of Ayaan Hirsi and “Ed” Husain:
Certainly, Rushdie should never be compared with those brave Muslims who risk their lives by telling unpalatable truths about fanatical Islam - people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somalian who became a Dutch MP and because of her outspoken criticism of the treatment of Muslim women has had to seek refuge in America. Or Ed Hussain, author of The Islamist, who is under threat because of his revelations about how he was radicalised in 1990s London. They write to warn us of danger, not merely to blow a raspberry at the Ayatollahs.
This seems to be a standard tactic among Islamophobes: to wheel out “facts” which have long since been refuted in a forum where they are unlikely to be challenged. Either Dudley-Edwards is doing this here, or has simply not bothered to do basic research. Is she not aware that Ayaan Hirsi did not flee to the USA as a result of the danger she faced in the Netherlands, but because the sob story on which she based her political career was found to be unreliable? As for Ed Husain, he has busied himself attacking a target which poses no threat to anyone, namely Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and has written at least two articles in the past two weeks complaining about threatening material about him on the Internet, in the Observer and the New Statesman, even appearing on the front of the latter’s website, but his central complaint in the NS piece proves unfounded (you can read the offending poem here and judge for yourself whether it really contains a coded call for his murder). Not once has he acknowledged the criticisms on the Muslim web of his writings and his subsequent media appearances by people who find his reading of events inaccurate.
I don’t doubt that Ayaan Hirsi may have been in danger, of course, but like Salman Rushdie, who would have slipped into obscurity if Khomeini had not issued his fatwa in an attempt to boost his country’s influence on the world’s Muslims, it did bring her an awful lot of publicity and made her the toast of ignorant white ‘liberals’ (and of some not so liberal but equally ignorant). The fact that something takes courage does not make it worth anything in itself: what Ayaan Hirsi has done is issue broad generalisations about an entire religion and religious community, tarring the good with the same brush as the bad using an exaggerated “real life” horror story as a backdrop. That she was rescued when her house of cards came crashing down only reflects on the bad faith of those who took her in.
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