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center | Rushdie’s attack is a wake-up call to unite against religious violence

An end to religiously inspired or justified violence worldwide is a prerequisite for peace, progress and human unity

The deadly attack on Salman Rushdie on August 12 needs to be reframed in global discourse. It’s not just about defending free speech as many commentators have pointed out, including famous authors like JK Rowling. Instead, the attack highlights the global threat posed by Islamist extremism, intolerance and violence. Unless the world unites against such terrorism in the name of faith, we will inevitably witness repeated incidents like this.

How sadly ironic that on the eve of the day of remembrance of the horrors of partition, when we commemorated and sympathized with the suffering of millions of people caused by the horrible and bloody partition of India 75 years ago, the author of midnight children, Salman Rushdie, was seriously injured in a knife attack in New York. The attacker, believed to be a Muslim fanatic named Hadi Matar, is in custody.

A child of a score himself, Rushdie wrote what at least Western critics and media saw as the definitive book on India’s independence from the British and the decline, if not threat of death, of this independence during the emergency of Indira Gandhi in 1975. No wonder the book was rewarded. not only the Booker Prize in 1981, but it is the only novel to have won the Booker of Bookers not once, but twice, in 1993, the 25e anniversary of the prize, but also in 2008, when the prize turned forty.

Unfortunately, it’s not midnight children, who offended Indira Gandhi, but satanic verses (1988), which nearly caused his death, which made Rushdie world famous. This not only exposed him to the death sentence of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, but forced him to apologize, go into hiding and change his residence more than twenty times. After being stabbed multiple times by Hadi Matar, Rushdie was on a ventilator and may even lose an eye. While much of the free world condemned the attack, several Muslim organizations and individuals expressed support for Matar and his murderous assault, even praising him for it.

Perhaps the most unpleasant and dangerous of these endorsements is that of the right-wing Iranian newspaper, Kayhan“Bravo to this courageous, duty-conscious man who attacked the apostate and depraved Salman Rushdie in New York. Let us kiss the hands of the one who tore the neck of the enemy of God with a knife. The fatwa on Rushdie has never been taken down and can still be viewed on the Iranian state website. Moreover, the reward for Rushdie’s death has been increased from Khomeini’s $3 million to $6 million, additional sums promised not only by Iranian religious organizations but also by that country’s media.

Islamist reprisals against satanic verses around the world has already left a trail of blood, with editors and translators massacred, and several more dead in riots in India, Pakistan, Turkey and elsewhere. India, by the way, was the first country in the world to ban the book. Rushdie was also banned from appearing at the Jaipur Literature Festival after Islamist organizations in the city threatened the organizers with dire consequences. This is all well known and bears repeating for one reason only. Rushdie’s stabbing some thirty-four years after that fateful book has once again exposed the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about or take seriously even today.

The Rushdie incident should be viewed in light of the genocide and displacement of Kashmir Pandits in the 1990s, the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001, the 9/11 attack on the United States (3,000 dead), the 2002 Bali bombings (200 killed), the 2004 Madrid train killings (192 killed), the 2005 London Underground bombings (50 killed), the 2006 Mumbai train explosions (200 killed), the genocide and sexual slavery of Yazidis from 2007 by the (several thousand dead), the 2008 attacks on Jaipur, Ahmedabad and Mumbai, India (300 killed), the bombing of a train in Moscow in 2010 (40 killed), the 2014-15 Borno, Kano and Baga massacres in Nigeria (520 killed), the massacre of Christian students at the University of Garissa, Kenya in 2015 (148 killed ), the Charlie Hebdo murders of 2015, the Easter Massacre in Sri Lanka in 2019 (270 killed) and several other ongoing acts of deliberate terror and violence committed by Islamic radicals around the world.


Read also

Salman Rushdie, visions of Vijayanagara and the inevitability of a ghar wapsi

Salman Rushdie Attack: Why the World Gives Islam Such a Long Rope

Salman Rushdie removed his respirator and is able to speak, the day after the attack, confirms agent Andrew Wylie

“Salman Rushdie embodies freedom, fights against obscurantism”: Emmanuel Macron mobilizes for the author

A look back at the protests against Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses

“Rajiv Gandhi banned my book because of Muslim votes,” Rushdie said in a 1998 letter.


What is listed above is only synoptic and symptomatic. The total list, with all the gory details, has yet to be compiled. Part of the problem is how to define Islamist terror or violence. Would the violence of partition that resulted in hundreds of thousands of murders, rapes and kidnappings be included? Would the Turkish massacre of Armenians and Kurds which amounts to millions also fit in such a list? Or the recent targeted killings in India of those allegedly supporting Nupur Sharma? Or, to take a broader view, the victims of jihadist attacks around the world over the last fifty years or so, when Islamist fanaticism received a new boost largely from the oil money generated by OPEC embargoes and rising prices?

Many religions and ideologies, including Christianity and Communism, have been misused by violence and genocide in the past. Indeed, one could go so far as to say that no religious tradition is entirely free from violence, including even Buddhism and Jainism, which call themselves non-violent. Yet we must face the bitter truth that today it is in the name of Islamist extremism that the gravest threat to the freedoms we cherish poses.

To counter it, civil society everywhere must stop looking the other way, succumb to apologetics or participate in a conspiracy of silence. Governments around the world need to take serious notes, dot the i’s and cross the t’s so to speak, trace the links and share intelligence, to prevent further outbreaks like this. Most importantly, religious leaders in the Islamic world and elsewhere, especially those who are custodians of holy sites, must unequivocally condemn such acts of violence, whether committed by individuals or groups, in the name of of their religion.

It’s time to create a more humane, tolerant and compassionate world where we stop getting offended when our beliefs are supposedly insulted. Please, we must appeal to these religious fanatics, not convert perceived insults into rage and hurt at others. An end to religiously inspired or justified violence worldwide is a prerequisite for peace, progress and human unity.

The author is a professor of English at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. The opinions expressed are personal.

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