Salman Rushdie’s story of living under a ‘fatwa’ is ultimately a moving tale of fidelity to principle.
(Page 2 of 2)
This is not to deny that "Joseph Anton" – surprisingly poignant in its treatment of Rushdie’s relationships with his family, tireless supporters, and dedicated police officers – features a good deal of grandstanding about the virtues and importance of literature; it just places the issue in context. The book’s other irritants also have straightforward explanations. Consider the incessant name-dropping. It took Iran nearly a decade to begin distancing itself from the fatwa, during which time Rushdie’s personal life was so constricted – police living in his home, solo excursions prohibited, several airlines refusing to fly him – that his social interaction occurred almost exclusively with writers and celebrities in secured locations.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
It should go without saying, but sadly does not, that whatever you may think of Rushdie as a novelist (and many consider him a fine one indeed), such opinions must not be allowed to impinge on an evaluation of "Joseph Anton." This is a book about a fiction writer who did not intend to become the poster boy for freedom of speech, but when presented with the mantle, wavered only briefly before accepting it. And although Rushdie wanted “a more particular defense, like the quality defense made in the cases of other assaulted books, 'Lady Chatterly's Lover,' 'Ulysses,' 'Lolita,' ” he understood that even when he and his backers argued for the literary worth of "The Satanic Verses," this defense could not be allowed to overshadow the larger issue of an imperiled civil right.
"Joseph Anton" is about Rushdie the man, not the novelist – and he acquits himself admirably. As chance would have it, however, Rushdie’s true measure as a man can best be determined by his response to a more recent accusation of blasphemy, one directed at the maker of “Innocence of Muslims,” a low-budget, overdubbed film that differs from "The Satanic Verses" most saliently in that it is arguably of little or even no artistic merit. Rushdie, who described the film as “garbage,” also pointedly defended the filmmaker’s right to create it.
In other words, Rushdie (who now lives in the US), has not only emerged triumphant from a lengthy battle with religious tyranny, an experience movingly recounted in "Joseph Anton"; he has remained faithful to the principle in whose name he and many other people defied his persecutors and stood up for his controversial novel.