I make no bones about wearing my Salman Rushdie fandom on my sleeve, even going so far as to use an out-of-context Midnight’s Children quote as the epigraph for my first book. So there was no way I wasn’t going to read the man’s recent New Yorker piece about the years he spent living in fear of assassination due to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s extreme distaste for The Satanic Verses. The story was a tough slog at first, in part because of its weird third-person voice, but also because it emanates a slight humblebrag vibe. (The first section, in which Rushdie crosses paths with the cream of Britain’s literary elite, gave me the sense that the article’s title should have been “I Hang Out With Cooler People Than You.”) But once Rushdie hit the backstory on why he chose to write The Satanic Verses, and how his intentions were woefully misunderstood by readers who refused to engage with the text, I was hooked.
This passage, in particular, stood out as a perfect summation of the whole furor’s tragi-comical nature:
“Death, perhaps, is a bit too easy for him,” Iqbal Sacranie, of the U.K. Action Committee on Islamic Affairs, said. “His mind must be tormented for the rest of his life unless he asks for forgiveness from Almighty Allah.” (In 2005, this same Sacranie was knighted at the recommendation of the Blair government for his services to community relations.)
I would bet everything I own that Sacranie never read a single word of The Satanic Verses before condemning its author to Sisyphean torments. As always, backlashes are driven more by the straightforward narrative that an allegedly wronged groups wishes to tell, rather than the more complex one that actually exists.