Cloud 9 Minus One

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Reading Satanic Verses January 24, 2012

I thought I was one of ten people in India who had read Satanic Verses. I can now add another four people to that list, the four who read sections from it at the JLF. Though that doesn’t prove that they’ve read the entire book. I doubt they have since on the whole the book is unreadable. But I’m not one to give up on something halfway through. Having started the project, I was determined to take it up right through to the finish. I’m happy to have done it. I can now confidently dissuade anyone from reading Satanic Verses if they are in the mood to read a novel. At the same time, the book provides some of the most moving passages that I’ve read in a long time. Ironically, these passages pertain to Mohammed, his crisis of faith, his single-mindedness and his ego, all elements integral to a true leader. If there’s one work that makes Rushdie eligible for the Big N itself, it is this book.
How sad that governments delight in pitting such a masterpiece of prose against a few illiterate clerics who know nothing of scholarship, religious doctrine or history. The Indian government, particularly, treats the Muslims of this country as stray dogs, to be thrown a few scraps whenever the barking becomes savage, and otherwise to be completely ignored, left to fend for themselves. When I read Satanic Verses, I had the strangest impression that Rushdie was struggling with his faith and trying to come up with answers. The book is not the work of a hardened sceptic but a struggling believer. Rushdie wants to believe, yet there are too many questions. If only those questions could be resolved, perhaps belief would follow.
If the radicalised Muslim clergy in India addressed the concerns of people like Rushdie, rather than berate him for his thoughtlessness, perhaps they would win a follower more devoted than the ones they already have. Who would say no to that? But that’s not how these people see the world. For them it is divided into a binary of believers and heretics. Everything in between is treated as the latter.
I’m sorry, Mr. Rushdie, that you didn’t get the answers you were seeking. Perhaps if you’d moulded yourself in the image of the Prophet, you would have brushed aside all opposition and plodded on regardless. But you didn’t, for you aren’t the Prophet. You are what the rest of us are, a human being who doubts, one who needs reassurance when he cries out, not death threats.

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