Wednesday 20 February 2019

Thirty years since Rushdie's verses and we've learned nothing

Starting the fire: Muslims in Bradford, England, burning The Satanic Verses in 1989
Starting the fire: Muslims in Bradford, England, burning The Satanic Verses in 1989
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

For a variety of coincidental reasons, 2018 has been very much the year of remembering times past.

That's hardly surprising, when you consider both the visit of the Pope and the historic abortion referendum.

But amidst the cosy nostalgia and understandable desire to compare things now to how they used to be back then, one anniversary has gone largely unmarked.

What is even weirder is that it's an anniversary which has had more impact on the world, and the destabilisation of the West, than any of our own local stories. Last month marked the 30th anniversary of the publication of The Satanic Verses.

Salman Rushdie's novel must now seem like a name from a history lesson to many people, but the insane religious fury it unleashed still echoes today.

Quick recap for the young - Rushdie releases The Satanic Verses, six months later, in February 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issues a fatwa calling for his head and the world, as we know it, would never be the same again.

We now live in a time when the slaughter of the staff of Charlie Hebdo fades from the front page after a few days. But back in those more innocent times, there was genuine shock that a revolutionary and quite possibly insane religious lunatic in Iran could cause riots across the Western world, and see effigies burned from Bradford to London.

The late 1980s were a time of incredible and mostly positive change.

For starters, the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain fell as the USSR finally collapsed under the weight of its own entropy and it seemed to usher in an era of peace and relative stability. In fact you could argue that the peace and relative stability lasted from 1989 to September 11, 2001, and while the decade in between may have been great, the global death threat and bounty on Rushdie's head was a worrying foretaste of what was to come.

In the decades since the release of the troublesome book, we have gone backwards as radical Islam has advanced.

Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that if Rushdie wrote the book today, he would be arrested and charged with a hate crime.

That's an irony not lost on those of us who find it grimly amusing that the very police force, the London Met, which was tasked with keeping him safe from terrorists is now the same force which issues repeated warnings against 'offending' Islam, and arresting those who fall foul of that ridiculous diktat.

As society has largely abandoned one organised religion it has allowed, through weakness, cynicism and cowardice, the rise of an extreme ideology which has become so normalised that when the Charlie Hebdo attack happened, many weren't surprised. What was more horrifying was that some observers said the staff had brought it upon themselves.

We've allowed the genuinely insane idea of killing in the name of offensive words to become normalised. We've stood back, and allowed fanatics who believe in something to browbeat a craven West which believes in nothing. It's quite possible to believe that if the British government had cracked down on the hate preachers and rioters when they had the chance, we would have been spared so much pointless bloodshed and loss of life and, perhaps more importantly, liberty, in the subsequent years.

As is often the case with religious fury, the whole saga was one of concocted outrage and bogus claims of 'hurt' and 'offence'. After all, few of the protesters could read, and even fewer of them had read the book.

No, the Rushdie affair was a way for malign influencers to flex their muscles and see how far the West was prepared to bend over. In the end, they must not have been able to believe their luck. Here were people who kill for the slightest provocation, yet they managed to present themselves as the true victims - the ultimate expression of the phrase 'cry-bully'. The UK should have started arresting and deporting anyone who called for his head when it had the chance. Instead, it buried its head deep in the sand and hoped the problem would all go away. But it was never going to go away and the inaction was seen, correctly, as weakness and an invitation to make ever more extreme and undemocratic demands on a democratic society.

There is a very real possibility that we're entering the last few decades of Western supremacy and that threat comes from the inside, not externally.

As we schism into ever-more fractured tribes and groups, engaging in our own civil war over fripperies like pronouns and any perceived slight, Islamic extremists have nothing but contempt for the decadent, weak-willed society they see around them. Can you blame them for being emboldened?

Rather than the radicals learning from the West, we have learned from the radicals - after all, what are 'hate' crime laws but a fatwa under a different name?

If you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything and here in our corner of the planet, we are falling very, very badly. Remember that in a few weeks' time when you have the chance to vote against blasphemy in the referendum.

I know - let's slag off half the human race

I was on radio the other day when I suddenly realised that the contributors to an Irish current affairs show had just been arguing for 20 minutes about the presumptive nominee for the US Supreme Court.

It's pretty mad, when you think about it. But when it comes to high drama and tension, the American system really is the only game in town, even if Trump's White House is more likely to remind us of Fawlty Towers than The West Wing.

We're seeing a massive rising tide of political participation across the West and that's partly, if not entirely primarily, as a result of the Trump effect.

That's neither an endorsement nor a criticism, but merely an observation and it's ironic that the most hated man in the world has done more to educate the people about politics than a million civics classes.

I'd like to meet the one Irish person who doesn't have a view on Trump one way or the other. Does such a person even exist?

One person I'd rather not meet is Cameron Mixon, a young law student who stood outside Capitol Hill during the Kavanaugh hearings.

Ms Mixon was proud to wear a T-shirt with the not-at-all-stupid slogan 'Men Are Trash' and she has become a darling of the kind of eejits who think that's A Very Good Thing.

Even better, and just as predictably, a bunch of men's rights activists have condemned her T-shirt and claimed that it's a form of 'hate speech'.

Look, for the last time, stupid statements aren't hate speech and so what if they are? It's not a crime to hate half of humanity - it's just imbecilic.

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