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Monday, August 27, 2007
The Danish 'Mohammedan' cartoons

I got into a discussion recently about the Danish cartoons and whether or not we should have published them. Here's my contribution.

Of course we should have published at least one of the Danish cartoons:
Figure at the gates of paradise saying to large numbers of approaching dead suicide bombers: ‘Stop! We’ve run out of virgins!’
It’s very funny and makes a serious political point. We have been appeasing the nutters ever since the fatwah on Salman Rushdie.

I was working in W. 23rd St, New York in 1989 when the original Satanic Verses furore began, just a few doors away from Viking Penguin, Rushdie's US publisher. The police were doing a good job of keeping the demonstrators under control, so I had no hesitation in going out to harangue the mob about the nastiness of Khomeini's fatwa and Mohammedanism's ridiculous 'sensitivities'. I told them to grow up. I was livid. But a group of US writers, Norman Mailer among them, went further: they held public readings of The Satanic Verses in a Manhattan hall. I was unable to get in, such was the demand.

The general attitude in the US was one of robust confrontation. And what was the reaction in the UK? Virtually blaming Rushdie for the whole business and hoping that it would just go away. John le Carré, by comparison with Mailer et al, was pathetic. I have wondered why the UK authorities were so craven, ever since. What they did was create an environment in which Mohammedan extremism could flourish. To confront it now is far more difficult than it would have been in 1989.

I am often critical of the US tendency to be 'in your face', but I have to say that they got it right, then. They now seem to have a lesser problem with home-grown Islamism than we do in Europe, with our 'more diplomatic' approach. Subsequently, Iqbal Sacranie, one of Rushdie's principal persecutors, got a knighthood! The shit should have been imprisoned.

For too long, governments have listened to those who would have Mohammedanism dictate what we should and should not do in this country. I do hope we've learnt the lesson about encouraging this dark-age relic; it should be robustly confronted. The knighting of Salman Rushdie may be one indication that we have at last realised that a more robust stance is warranted but we've had it wrong for nearly twenty years.

There are two similarities between The Satanic Verses and the Danish cartoons. The 'blasphemous' nature of Rushdie's book was highly debatable but it was seized upon by Khomeini as a political focus; the Danish cartoons were exaggerated by the inclusion with them of two very crude and unfunny drawings, that never appeared in print. They were obviously included as a rabble-rousing device.

We create problems for ourselves when we let allow religiosi of any sort to lie, explicitly or implicitly, about any aspect of our society. We compound the problem by appeasing the liars; it only emboldens them and it makes it far more difficult when we ultimately decide to react. If we had reacted properly in the UK when there were 'kill Rushdie' threats in the UK, we wouldn't need to be having this debate about the Danish cartoons.


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