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The politics of Salman Rushdie’s fiction Parreiras-Horta, Luis Paulo 1994

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THE POLITICS OF SALMAN RUSHDIE’S FICTIONByLuis Paulo Parreiras-HortaB.A., The University of British Columbia, 1992A THESIS SUBMI1TED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OFTHE REQUllEMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OFMASTER OF ARTSinTHE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES(Department of Political Science)We accept this thesis as conformingto the required standardTHE UNWERSI1Y OF BRITISH COLUMBIAJune 1994Luis Paulo Parreiras-Horta, 1994In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanceddegree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make itfreely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensivecopying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of mydepartment or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying orpublication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my writtenpermission.(Signature____________________________Political ScienceDepartment of_______________________The University of British ColumbiaVancouver, CanadaDate July 25, 1994DE-6 (2188)Table of contents.• . . 11.11026AbstractIntroductionChapter 1: Midnight’s Children:Rushdie dreams a secular IndiaChapter 2: The Satanic Verses:Articulating a modernity of the East.Chapter 3: “Mahound:”The lampooning of the prophet andthe reclamation of the poetChapter 4: “The Story of Ayesha:”Rushdie’s retractionConclusionBibliographyAbstractThis thesis seeks to explain the politics of Salman Rushdie’s fiction and situatethe principal debates over the publication of The Satanic Verses within political andliterary theory. I argue here that Rushdie is a modern rather than a post-modernwriter, and detail how as a writer he is drawn to the philosophies and aesthetics ofmodernity: secularism and socialism, modernism and surrealism. The modernityhe espouses in The Satanic Verses, I suggest further, differs significantly from that headvocates in the Booker Prize winning Midnight’s Children. In Midnight’s ChildrenRushdie espouses a Western secularlism which is not, to him, alien to the Bombayand the India he was born into -- no less Indian, that is, than his family’s faith inIslam. In The Satanic Verses, in contrast, Rushie seeks nothing less than to articulate amodernity of the East. As a short of rival Qur’an, The Satanic Verses envisions -- anditself seeks to help bring into being -- a secular Muslim culture. Fundamental to theblossoming of said culture, the novel proposes, are secular reclamations of the grandnarrarives of Islam. Rushdie invites Muslims to celebrate their own scepticalphilosophers and secular writers in addition to their Western counterparts, andwarns against the embrace of Western secularlism at the expense of Muslim culture.Provocatively, Rushdie suggests that given the Western intelligentsia’s currentespousal of post-modernism, one must now travel to the intellectual circles of theEast to find strong defenders of modernity -- as does Saladin Chamcha in The SatanicVerses. Within the realm of literary theory, I conclude that post-colonial theory, withits expectation that the post-colonial writer celebarate rather than question his homeculture, and post-modernism, with its assumption that one cannot interpret novelssuch as The Satanic Verses, offer inadequate explanations of the politics of Rushdie’sfiction. Within the realm of political theory I differentiate Rushdie from left-leaningphilosophers such as Cornel West and Charles Taylor, who believe that modernitycannot stabilize itself without recourse to faith. If Rushdie can be said to have anaffinity with a political philosopher, than that philosopher would be JurgenHabermas, quintessential defender of modernity and critic of post-modernism.iiiIntroductionOn February IA, 1989, the government of Iran issued a fatwa calling forthe death of Salman Rushdie and offering a reward of one million dollars cash--inaddition to eternal salvation--for his assassination. The fatwa was issued inresponse to the perceived blasphemy against Islam contained in his novel TheSatanic Verses, which was published in Britain and nominated for the BookerPrize in 1988. An arrow has been launched, the foreign minister of franexplained, which sooner or later must pierce its target. When the AyatollahKhomeini died his successor reaffirmed the fatwa and doubled the bounty onRushdie’s head to two million.’ The declaration of the fatwa against Rushdiehad the immediate effect of catapulting him, until then best known in literarycircles for his Booker Prize winning novel Midnights Children, to the attentionsof Imams, politicians and intellectuals of all fields across the globe. Rushdie’sfiction had always been decidedly and aggressively political in nature, and thepublications of Midnight Children and Shame had become political events intheir own right. Jndira Gandhi sued Rushdie in Britain for his portrayal of herand her regime in Midnightc Children—in it Rushdie blames Indira for much ofwhat went wrong in India after independence, accusing her of abandoningNehru’s secular nationalism in favour of one overtly Hindu in nature and of thusinflaming communalist tensions. Shame, in turn, was banned in Pakistan, acountry the very existence of which the novel called into question, along withthe idea that the Qurn could serve as the constitution for any state in themodern world. Rushdie was also known in his adopted home of Britain forwriting controversial articles on race and religion in politics; he caused quite astir by stating in a BBC broadcast that ‘[ilf you are a liberal, you say that black1 For a detailed chronology of the first four years of the fatwa, see the chronology appendedto The RtLshdie Letters (Steve MacDonogh ed; Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993).people have problems. If you aren’t, you say they are the problem. But themembers of the new colony have only one real problem, and that problem iswhite people.”2 Despite these previous controversies, little of note was writtenon Rushdie’s politics until after the fatwa.The controversy over the publication of The Satanic Verses—what is oftenreferred to as the Rushdie affair--has been of unprecedented political dimensionfor a modem work of art. The Rushdie affair, Charles Taylor writes withreference to multiculturalism, presents liberals with a cruel dilemma; for the actof choosing sides on the affair forces them to abandon the pretence of stateneutrality (no longer can they maintain that a liberal constitution is value neutralwith reference to conflicts between host and immigrant cultures).3 BhikhuParekh, in mm, suggests that multiculturalism in only one of the important issueswhich have to be redefined in political philosophy in light of the Rushdie affair.Rushdie, Parekh suggests, “stands at the centre of such large battles as thosebetween Christianity and Islam, secularism and fundamentalism, Europe and itsex-colonies, the host society and its immigrants, the posts and the premodernists, art and religion, and between scepticism and faith.”4 To Parekh theminimum agenda for the political philosopher in the wake of the Rushdie affair isto rethink the relationship between freedom of expression and equality, andbetween individual and communal rights in general.5 Public Culture, in aneditorial comment on the Rushdie affair, insists on its importance to disciplinesother than literary and political theory: “it is interesting that it is the Rushdiecase,” the editor notes by way of example, “that has pushed anthropologistsbeyond ethical relativism.”6 The case “was more than a political issue,’ Geoffrey2 ‘The New Empire Within Britain,” Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991(London: Granta Books, 1991), 138.Charles Taylor Multiculturalism and “the Politics ofRecognition:” An Essay (Princeton:Princeton University Press, 1992), 62-63.“The Rushdie Affair: Research Agenda for Political Philosophy,” Political Studies (1990 v38),696.ibid, 707.6 “Editor’s comment,” Public Culture (1989 v2 [11) 127.2Wheatcroft concurs, “it was a Kulturkampf It divided continent from continent,culture from culture, nation from nation; in the United States and in England itsavagely divided opinion.”7 Wheatcroft likens the Rushdie affair to the Dreyfusaffair of the late nineteenth century, and calls it “a defining event of our time.”8 Iventure further that no thinker in the arts and humanities can afford to ignore it.To intelligently engage the affair is to rethink what one believes and how all of itfits together. Conservatives in Britain are forced to, in their defence of freedomof speech, question blasphemy laws which protect Christianity. Liberal theoristsand practitioners of government must rethink state neutrality andmulticulturalism. The more left-leaning or progressive camps in the west mustcome to terms with the logical implications of their own campaigns againstfreedom of expression. Anthropologists and literary critics must ponder anewethical relativism. Theorists of international relations must attest if the fatwarepresents the dawn of an age Samuel Huttington has predicted wifi bedominated by the clash of civii2ations, not ideologies. Scholars and practitionersof Islam must decide if sceptical Muslims wifi be allowed to think write dreamwhat they will. All of this because of a book.Taylor and Parekh’s claims about the importance of the debate arewarranted. As a sort of rival Qur’an, The Satanic Verses envisions--and itselfseeks to help bring into being--a secular Muslim culture. The specific criticismsRushdie makes in the novel of the text and practice of Islam—such as thatpertaining to Islam’s treatment of women—are themselves commonplace, andhave become controversial mostly due to the manner in which they arearticulated. What is remarkable in Rushdie’s retelling of the birth of Islam, in“Mahound” and “Return to Jahilia,” is his salvaging of the Muslim skepticaltradition, a tradition he sees nascent at the time of revelation itself. Rushdiedreams a shadow Mahound, the poet Baal, a man who refuses to submit to“The Friends of Salman Rushdie,” The Atlantic (March 1994) 22.ibid.3Mahound and his God, and who is able to move beyond the idea of God. It isremarkable that Baal voice these now commonplace criticisms, and that he voicethem then. Fundamental to the blossoming of a secular Muslim culture, Rushdieproposes in The Satanic Verses, are secular reclamations of the grand narrative ofthe Qur’an itself. This is an extraordinarily ambitious and provocative idea, ofwhich Rushdie’s revisionist portrayal of the prophet Muhammad constitutes onlya part. Rushdie invites Muslims to celebrate their own skeptical philosophers andsecular writers, and warns against the embrace of Western secularism at theexpense of Muslim culture. Provocatively, one of the protagonists of the framenarrative of The Satanic Verses, Saiadin Chamcha, embraces both the secularistand Marxist facets of modernity in a voyage from West to East, and not, as to beexpected, the reverse. Saladin’s voyage represents a reversal of the equationRushdie presents in Shame. In Shame Rushdie travels East to understand theethics of shame--of the pre-modern world. Contemporary Pakistan is likened tomedieval Europe. Time, or history, has come to a halt, and dictators manipulatereligion to perpetuate themselves in power. In a tone which is reminiscent ofthat of The Economist when it gives advice to the political elites of ‘backward’countries, the narrator of Shame recommends to the leaders of Pakistan theprinciples of liberty, fraternity and equality, “all available from stock at shortnotice,’1 with which they are to build a post-Islamic Pakistan.9 MidnightsChildren in turn, for all its Indiannes, like Shame does no more than advocate asecular and Western framework of government for the Indian subcontinent. TheSatanic Verses constitutes a far more ambitious work than either MidnightChildren or Shame because in it Rushdie seeks nothing less to articulate amodernity of the East.Unfortunately, the debates Taylor and Parekh sketched on The SatanicVerses have been mostly side-stepped so far. Much of the blame for this, Isuggest, can be attributed to the assumption that The Satanic Verses is not onlyShame(London: Picador, 1983), 251.4unreadable’° but uninteipretabie--thát, as Brad Leithauser puts it, the book “is sodense a layering of dreams of hallucinations that any attempt to extract anunalloyed line of argument is false to its intention.” David Birch lodges asimilar complaint regarding the side-stepping of the debate on the politics ofMidnights Children, in his article “Postmodernist Chutneys.”2 Writing ten yearsafter the publication of the Booker Prize winning novel, Birch complains that theassumption that Midnightc Children is an open text has made a discussion of itspolitics all but impossible. Midnight:s Children is not, Birch states, an open text—not a ‘postmodernist chutney’. If Midnights Children reveals Rushdie’s affinitywith a philosopher and a philosophy, Birch suggests, then that philosopher isJurgen Habermas,’3 quintessential defender of modernity and critic of post-modem philosophers.’4 Leithauser writes of how The Satanic Verses isintentionally constructed as an open text, but this is yet to be shown—as in thecase of scholarship on Midnightc Children, the premise that Rushdie is a writerof post-modem fiction (from which follows the conclusion that Rushdie’s line ofargument cannot be ascertained) is assumed rather than argued for. The SatanicVerses, Rudoff Bader ventures, is “a playful meta-text created by a fanciful,imaginative mind;”5 the book can be only be understood if the reader is familiarwith “the liberating irrationality of postmodernist magic realism.”6 In explainingwhy Muslims deem The Satanic Verses blasphemous, Akhtar, Jussawalla, andKabbani offer close readings of “Mahound” and “Return to Jahilia” (the twoThat The Satanic Verses is ‘unreadable’ was already a cliche a year after the fatwa (as Rushdiehimself complains in ‘In Good Faith,” Imaginary Homelands, 412), and the assumption remains,five years later, to help muddle the debate (as Wheatcroft complains in “The Friends of SalmanRushdie,” 28).in The New Yorker (May 15th 1989, pg 127), as cited by Malise Ruthven in A Satanic AffairSalman Rushdie and the rage ofIslam (London: Chatto & Windus, 1990) 132.12“Postmodernist Chutneys,” Textual Practice (1991 v5 [1] 1-7).‘ “Postmodernist Chutneys,” 7.‘ See Habermas’ The Philosophical Discourses ofModernity (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press,1990).‘ “The Satanic Verses An Intercultural Experiment,” International Fiction-Review (1992 v19 [21,)72.16 ibid, 75.5chapters which retell the birth of Islam) as well as detailing these passages’concordance with the novel as a whole.’7 In arguing that the novel is notoffensive to Muslims, Rudolf Bader offers no more than disconnected snippets ofthe text, preferring to found his argument on comparably eclectic references tocritical theory. Post-structuralist critics lack their structuralist colleagues’ penchantfor scientific inquiry, and are thus unlikely to even attempt to establish TheSatanic Verses as an open text (which would imply, at the very least, arguing thatthe novel can be read both as an affirmation and as a refutation of faith).Whereas a structuralist such as Umberto Eco grounds his arguments on the opennature of Joyce’s texts on a close reading of how they are constructed,’8poststructuralist or post-modernist critics think it enough to make broad references tothe presence of dreams and complex references in the text in warranting theirassumption that The Satanic Verses is post-modern. Some seem to operate on ashort-hand version of post-modernism--which bears little resemblance to post-modernism as brilliantly articulated by Jonathan Culler in On Deconstruction’9--by which they understand that any text which juggles many narratives andperspectives at once (or perhaps just any work of contemporary literature whichis difficult to read) is post-modem.2° Unlike Culler, and unlike Birch,21 thosewho insist on interpreting Rushdie as a writer of post-modem fiction demonstratelittle if any sign of having engaged Den-ida, Foucault and Lyotard or even17 Shabbir Ahktar, Be Careful with Muhammad: The Salman Rushdie Affair (London: BellewPublishing, 1989); Feruza Jussawalla, “Resuffecting the Prophet: The Case of Salnan theOtherwise,” Public Culture (1989 v2 [11 106-117); Rana Kabbani, Letter to Christendom.18Umberto Eco, Luvre Ouverte (Paris: Editions du Soleil, 1965). One should not deduce fromEco’s argument on Joyce that all novels since Joyce (or even just novels influenced by Joyce) areopen texts. Eco himself warns against such a mistake in Interpretation and Overinterpretation(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).19 Jonathan Culler On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism (Ithaca: CornellUniversity Press, 1982).20 Of those critics cited here, this statement holds true for Bader, Cundy, DuVernet, Leithauser,Srivastava and Wright.21 It is evident from Birch’s article and from his Language Literature and Critical Practice: WaysofAnalyzing Text (London: Routledge, 1989) that Birch is well acquainted with postmodemphilosophy and literary theory.6introductory texts on post-modern philosophy. Aruna Srivastava’s attempt toliken the political philosophies of Salman Rushdie (in Midnights Children andShame) and Mahatma Gandhi to those of Nietzsche and Foucault, for example, isoutright embarrassing.22The debate on modernity in The Satanic Verses starts, as Birch suggests,with Midnight Children. What Birch affirms, I wifi argue for here—thatMidnight Children is a decidedly modern, not post-modern, piece. Most of theconfusion surrounding the politics of Midnight Children, I suggest in Chapter 1,can be traced to Rushdie’s desire to make his argument for a secular governmentin India sound not Western (which indeed it is) but Indian. I devote threeseparate chapters to The Satanic Verses. In the first I discuss the politicalsignificance of the frame narrative of the novel, in which Gibreel Farishtadiscovers faith as he journeys West, and Saladin Chamcha discovers modernity ashe journeys East. In the second I touch upon the question of the offensivenessof the chapters in which Rushdie reclaims the narrative of the Qur’an for hissecular Muslim culture. Finally, in the third, I address the frequently articulatedclaim that the chapters which retell the Hawkes Bay Incident, “Ayesha” and “TheParting of the Arabian Sea,” constitute an affirmation of faith and a refutation ofmodernity (and thus the loose thread in Rushdie’s anti-Qur’an). In myconclusion I sketch some of the principal ramifications of my argument forliterary and political theory.There is a certain sense of urgency to the understanding of Rushdie’spolitics. With the political spotlight on an ‘unreadable’ book, what literary criticsand other academics write and fail to write on the affair is not inconsequential topolitical events themselves. Given the importance of the issues at hand, sidestepping the debate itself constitutes a political act, as demonstrated by thedevelopment of the debate over the affair in Britain. Historian of Islam Malise22 Aruna Srivastava, “The Empire Writes Back’: Language and history in Shame and MidnightsChildren,” ARTEL 1989 v20 (4) 62-78.7Ruthven toured Bradford and other British cities with large Muslim communitiesin the wake of the fatwa and she describes some of the conferences set up bythe government to foster a spirit of understanding between Rushdieites and antiRushclieites. In one such conference, literary critic Ian Wright sought to explainto his largely Muslim audience that TheSatanic Verses had to he understoodwithin the context of ‘postmodern magic realism.’ A Muslim member of theaudience protested that the novel was offensive--that any real attempt to reach anunderstanding between Rushdieites and anti-Rushdieites had to address thequestion of the novel’s offensiveness. Wright insisted that in relation to Rushdie’snovel one can talk not of meaning but only of “the different levels of meaningthat could be extrapolated from his text.”23 If only Muslims were well versed inliterary criticism, Wright implied, they would understand the inappropriateness ofdeeming post-modern magic realist texts offensive or inoffensive. The questionof offence is particularly significant in Britain, given the continued existence ofblasphemy laws there which protect Christianity against works deemedblasphemous. The most recent and relevant precedent invoked in the discussionof the Rushdie affair is the Gay News case of 1977. At that time the magazinewas convicted of blasphemous libel for its publication of a poem by JamesKirkup, “The Love That Dares to Speak its Name,” a fantasy in which thecenturion who removes Christ from the cross fornicates with his corpse.24 Theverdict, the result of a private prosecution, was upheld on appeal and in theHouse of Lords. Eleven years later members of the Muslim communitydemanded that these blasphemy laws be broadened to include faiths other thanChristianity. Shabbir Akhtar and Rana Kabbani published books arguing—withclose reference to the text of The Satanic Verses--that Rushdie’s novel was23 As opposed—presumably--to talking of the different (and potentially offensive) meanings thatcan be extrapolated from a text. Ruthven, A Satanic Affai 132, my italics.Wheatcroft provides the plot description for the poem in The Friends of Salman Rushdie,”30, but Malise Ruthven provides a much richer discussion of the Gay News case as precedent inA SatanicAffafr V8offensive to Islam, in such a manner that if it had concerned Christ and notMuhammad, Christians would want it banned.25 Christian leaders in Britain--theArchbishop of Canterbury among them--proved sympathetic to arguments suchas those put forth by Akhtar and Kabbani, acknowledging that the choice theBritish government faced was that of either revoking the blasphemy laws or--asthey preferred--amending them to protect Islam. The British government didneither—acquiescing in the assumption that Rushdie’s unreadable book was—as somany literary critics claimed—also incapable of offence. To the perceived offencecontained in The Satanic Verses, British Muslims added that of being told thatthey are not well read enough to ascertain if they should be offended byRushdie’s book, and that of knowing that that the British legal system wificontinue to protect Christianity but not Islam against perceived blasphemy.Criticism such as Wright’s exacerbates the tension between host and Muslimcultures, and his argument should not pass unexamined. Both in societies inwhich the novel was banned, and in those in which it was not, an understandingof Rushdie’s politics opens a door into the significance of freedom of speech andof censorship. Most Muslim governments other than Iran, The New York Timescomments, apparently hope “that the Rushdie issue wifi simply go away.”26 Butof course, as the example of Britain shows, the Rushdie affair and itsconsequences will not go away.25 Shabbir Ahktar, Be Careful with Muhammath The Salman Ru.shdie Affair (London: BellewPublishing, 1989); Rana Kabbani, Letter to Christendom.26“No slur to Islam in Rushdie talk, President insists,” The New York Times (A:7, December 11993).9Chapter 1 Midnigbt’s Children: Rushdie dreams a secular India“We have to build the noble mansion of free India, where all her childrenmay dwell.” Jawaharlal Nehru, Independence night.’Rushdie’s Indian politics, and the manner in which they are articulated inMidnight Children, are best understood in terms of a series of paradoxes. “Atthe heart the idea of India,” Rushdie writes, “there is a paradox: that itscomponent parts, the States which coalesced into the union, are ancient historicalentities, with cultures and independent existences going back many centuries;whereas India itself is a mere thirty-seven years old. And yet it is the ‘new-born’India, the baby, so to speak, the Central government, that holds sway over thegreybeards.”2 The baby, further, differs significantly from the greybeardsregarding the principles upon which India should be governed: “[h]ere is anotherof the paradoxes at the heart of the India-idea: that the ethic of independencemovement, and of the independent State, has always been secular; yet there canbe few nations on earth in which religion plays a more direct or central role inthe citizens’ daily lives.”3 Secularism, Rushdie confesses, “has been much underattack of late, outside India as well as inside it;” but it is nonetheless “aparadoxical fact” that secularism ‘is the only way of safeguarding theconstitutional, civil, human, and yes, religious rights of minority groups.”4However counter-intuitive the enterprise of a secular framework of governmentfor India may seem, Rushdie insists it is better than a “Hindu imperium”—thebaby must have its way, lest the greybeards take to bickering among themselves,“and produce civil unrest on a scale that would dwarf the Partition troubles.”5Cited in Midnights Child?n (New York: Penguin Books, 1991, page 136). In this chapterreferences to Midnights Childn will be included in parenthesis and those to all other sourcesin footnotes.2 ‘The Assassination of Indira Gandhi,” Imaginary Homelands, 41.“The Assassination of Indira Gandhi,” Imaginary Homeland 42-3.Introduction, Imaginary Homelands, 2.“In God We Tn.ist,” Imaginary Homelands 385.10Also under attack of late, Rushdie confesses, is the idea that the Indian writerwho writes from outside India can write of the heart of India, can determinewhat the facts of Indian politics are. The Indian writer who writes from outsideIndia, Rushdie admits, may be obliged “to deal in broken mirrors, some of whosefragments have been irretrievably lost.”6 “But,” he protests, “there is [what else?]a paradox here. The broken mirror may actually be as valuable as the one whichis supposedly unflawed.”7 Rushdie is particularly concerned with what theIndian press has written on Midnights Children; that “the despair of the writerfrom-outside,” and particularly the despair of his own narrator in MidnightsChildren, “may indeed look a little easy, a little pat.”8 “But I do not see the bookas despairing or nihilistic,” he protests:What I tried to do was to set up a tension in the text, a paradoxicalopposition between the form and content of the narrative. Thestory of Saleem does indeed lead him to despair. But the story istold in a manner designed to echo, as closely as my abilitiesallowed, the Indian talent for non-stop self-generation. This is whythe narrative constantly throws up new stories, why it ‘teems.’ Theform—multitudinous, hinting at the infinite possibilities of thecountry--is the optimistic counterweight to Saleem’s personaltragedy. I do not think that a book written in such a manner canreally be termed a despairing work.9The pessimism of Saleem’s story is to be attenuated, then, by the optimisminherent in his manner of teffing it; Rushdie claims to have constructed what canonly be termed—to borrow a term of Edward Said’s which Rushdie is so fond of—a pessoptimistic’° novel. It is not surprising, then, that Midnights Children hasbegot both optimistic and pessimistic critics. The optimists tend to be Western,and to focus on Rushdie’s celebration of ‘the infInite possibilities of the countryat the complete expense of consideration of why Saleem’s story leads him todespair; on form at the expense of content.” The pessimists, as Rushdie6 “Imaginary Homelands,” Imagina7y Homelands, 11.“Imaginary Homelands,” Imaginary Homelands, 11.“Imaginary Homelands,” Imaginary Homelands, 16.“Imaginary Homelands,” Imaginary Homelands; 16.‘° “on Palestinian Identity: A Conversation with Edward Said,” Imaginary Homelands; 174-5.‘ The sort of critic that writes not of Rushdie’s India but of his Indianness. Rushdie criticizesthis kind of criticism in “Commonwealth Literature’ Does Not Exist,” Imaginary Homelands, 61-70.11acknowledges on more than one occasion, tend to be lndian,’ much moreknowledgeable about--and thus concerned with--Saleem’s story, and not nearlyas dazzled by the Indianness of Rushdie’s form.The series of paradoxes through which Rushdie explains the politics ofIndia and Midnightc Children, coupled with the contradictory nature of thecriticism the novel has inspired, may seem to warrant the assumption that thenovel has been constructed as an open text and that extracting an unalloyed lineof argument from its pages is false to its intention. But such an assumption is notwarranted; if anything the paradoxical truths Rushdie advocates are remarkablyunderstandable and consistent, and they invite, rather than make impossible, adebate on his Indian politics. Rushdie’s use of the term paradox represents anecessary acknowledgment of the inherent contradictions in his Indian politicsand in his relationship to India as a writer-from-outside. It would be naive forRushdie to ignore the contradiction involved in advocating a secular frameworkof government for the least secular of nations, or that in his belief that the writer-from-outside India has as privileged, if not more, an insight into India than hiscounterpart in Delhi or Bombay. These are both, as he puts it, paradoxicaltruths. But they are also, he insists, necessary truths. India, and Indian literature,he fears, are increasingly defined in less paradoxical, and consistently Hindu,terms. By way of example Rushdie cites a seminar on Indian writer in English in1982 where an eminent Indian academic delivered a paper on Indian culture“that utterly ignored all minority communities,” and where a distinguishednovelist began his contribution by reciting a Sanskrit sloka and declaring that“[e]very educated Indian wifi understand what I’ve just said.”3 Rushdie tracesthis redefinition of Indian literature and society in overtly Hindu terms to theauthoritarian rule of Indira Gandhi between 1974 and 1977 known as the12 “The Riddle of Midnight: India, August 1987,” 33, and “Imaginary Homelands,” 16, Imagina,yHomelands.‘ Introduction, Imaginaiy Homelands, 2.12Emergency. It was during the Emergency, he writes, that the government ofIndira Gandhi ‘abandoned its policy of representing the coalition of minorities,and began to transfonn itself into an overtly Hindu party. Not only Hindu, butHindi.”4 ‘The reason why so many of us were outraged by the Emergency wentbeyond the dictatorial atmosphere of those days, beyond the jailing of opponentsand the forcible sterilizations;” by adopting an overtly Hindu nationalism, Rushdiesuggests, Indira Gandhi’s Congress took the lid off “the Pandora’s box ofcommunal discord.”5 “Such actions invariably bring forth reactions,” Rushdieexpands, “and the growth of communalist policies in India stemmed this shift bythe ruling party. From Hindu nationalism sprang separatism of all sorts; ifHindustan was really to be turned into the home of Hindus, no wonder someSikhs began to talk of a homeland.’6 “It has seemed to me, ever since ithappened,” Rushdie reiterates, “that the imposition of the Emergency was an actof folly comparable to the opening of that legendary box; and that many of theevils besetting India today—notably the resurgence of religious extremism—can betraced back to those days of dictatorship and State violence.”7 Against the bleakprospect of the dawn of a Hindu imperium, Rushdie insists on the viability of asecular framework of government. “Secularism, for India,” Rushdie writes, “is notsimply a point of view; it is a question of survival.”8 Indian secularism is, then,a necessary paradox.Authors do not choose the books they write, Rushdie states in reference toThe Satanic Verses.’9 Neither, I add, do they choose their critics. In the processof advocating a secular and thoroughly Western framework for government inIndia, Rushdie set up a tension between the content and form of MidnightsChildren, to make it clear it was Indira’s India, not India itself, he was“In God We Trust,” Imaginaiy Homelands, 386.‘ Introduction, Imaginary Homelands, 3.16 “In God We Trust,” Imaginary Homelands, 386.Imaginary Homelands, 52.In Good Faith, Imaginary Homelands, 404.19 “In Good Faith,” Imaginary Homelands, 408.13disenchanted with--that his “pickles of history,” as Saleem phrases it, “are, despiteeverything, acts of love” (550). Rushdie did such a good job of celebrating Indiathat Western critics seem yet to stumble upon the idea that he was doinganything else in his pessoptiniistic novel. Winner of the Booker Prize in 1981,and of the Booker of Bookers in 1993 (as the best novel in the twenty-five yearhistory of the award), Midnights Children has been swamped by optimisticcriticism. Midnights Children is heralded for its Indianness: its allegedly Indianconceptions of time and history, the Indian manner in which it denounces Britishcolonialism.20 The only thing which is not deemed Indian is its politics:Rushdie’s portrayal of the history of independent India, which takes up roughlyfour-hundred out of the novel’s five-hundred pages, has yet to be examined asanything more than a celebration of India and a critique of colonialism. Of thetwelve articles written on Rushdie’s treatment of history in Midnight Children sofar,2 not a single one considers the need to the novel’s discussion of the policiesof Jawarharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Thirteen years after the publication ofRushdie’s pessoptimistic novel, it is not hard to understand why Rushdie wrotethat “[un the case of Midnights Children I certainly felt that if its subcontinentalreaders had rejected the work, I should have thought it a failure, no matter whatthe reaction in the West.”22 Indian critics and readers did not reject the work, butthey did deem it “despairing” and “nihilistic,”23 and it is important to know whythey did so, given the degree to which scholarship on Midnightc Childrendictates how Rushdie’s other novels are read. Midnightc Children does not, asSrivastava and Riemenschneider have it, favourably juxtapose Indian notions ofhistory and time with those of the West. Quite on the contrary: Rushdie insists20 See, for example, Aruna Srivastava’s “The Empire Writes Back’: Language and History inShame and Midnightc Children (ARIEL 1989 October v20 [41 62-78) and DieterRiemenschneider’s “History and the Individual in Anita’s Desai’s ClearLight ofDay and SalmanRushdie’s Midnights Children,” (World Literature Written in English 1984 Winter v 23 [11 196-207).As of june 1993 CD-ROM edition of the MLA International Bibliography.Imaginary Homelands,” Imagznay Homelands 19-20.23 “Imaginary Homelands,” Imaginary Homelands, 16.14on a modern framework of government for India in Midnights Children, and ona modern and Western concept of history and time in “In God We Trust.”In Midnight Children Rushdie seeks to give the lie not only to the officialfacts but also to the official--and overtly Hindu--ideology of the Emergency.Midnightc Children, as Rushdie points out, is not a guide-book to orencyclopaedia of India,24 and neither should it be interpreted as such. But 1agree further with Rushdie that--as he writes in relation to Attenborough’s film ofGandhi—artistic selection creates meaning.”25 Rushdie leaves on the cutting-room floor, I venture, much of what might have complicated his favourablejuxtaposition of Nehru’s secular nationalism with Indira’s overtly Hindunationalism. The single most significant cut is that of the influence of MahatmaGandhi’s ideals in independence and in the independent state.In dreaming an India where the ethic of the independence movement and of theindependent state has always been secular, Rushdie downplays the significanceof Mahatma Gandhi to both. When Richard Attenborough downplays Nehru ssignificance to independence in his film Gandhi, Rushdie protests that “[tihe film,by turning Nehru into Bapuji’s acolyte, manages to castrate itself.”26 “Nehru wasnot Gandhi’s disciple,” Rushdie explains,They were equals, and they argued fiercely. Their debate wascentral to the freedom movement--Nehru, the urban sophisticatewho wanted to industrialize India, to bring it into the modem age,versus the rural, handcraft-loving sometimes medieval figure ofGandhi: the country lived this debate, and it had to choose. Indiachose Gandhi with its heart but in terms of practical politics, itchose Nehru. One can understand nothing about the nature ofIndia’s independence unless one understands the conflict betweenthese two great men.27Mahatma was a profoundly religious man: he prayed twice a day, and hisreligious convictions ran deeper than his socialism. His socialism, in turn,PEt’: Or, Unreliable Narration in Midnights Children,” Imaginary Homelands, 25.Attenborough s Gandhi,” ?magrna7y Homelands; 103.26 ,,Attenborough s Gandhi,” Imaginary Homelands, 105.27 ,Attenborough s Gandhi,’ Imaginary Homelands; 105.For this brief contrast of Nehru’s and Mahatma Gandhi’s political visions I have drawn fromDavid Eugene Smith’s India as a Secular State (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963).15owed more to John Ruskin and Leo Tolstoy than to Marx; instead of themodernization of society through state intervention Mahatma wanted thepresence of the state reduced, allowing for a return to a society Rushdie wouldterm “rural, handcraft-loving, and sometimes medieval.” Jawarharlal Nehru,influenced by the philosophy of Marx and the experience of many visits to theU.S.S.R. and China, placed a great emphasis on state secularism and statesocialism, and was less of a traditionalist and of a conservative than Gandhi.Gandhi was fond of citing similarities between Hindu scriptures, the Bible andthe Qu ‘ran; he believed a tolerant discourse of religious syncretism, reminiscentof Hinduism, could accommodate all the people of India. Nehru insisted insteadon a secular framework for the state. One can understand nothing about thenature ofIndia s independence unless one understands the conflict between thesetwo great men. Yet the conflict between these two great men is absent fromMidnight’s Children, a novel very much concerned with independence andwhich devotes no less than one hundred twenty-three pages—which make upBook One--to the final formative years of the independence movement (1919-1947). Saleem acknowledges Mahatma Gandhi’s hold on the Indian people bydepicting a scene in Amritsar, 1919:Leaflet newspaper mosque and wall are crying: Hartal! Which is tosay, literally speaking, a day of mourning, of stillness, of silence.But this is India in the heyday of Mahatma, when even languageobeys the instructions of Gandhiji, and the word has acquired,under his influence, new resonances. Hartal--April ? agreemosque newspaper wall and pamphlet, because Gandhi hasdecreed that the whole of the India, shall, on that day, come to ahalt. To mourn, in peace, the continuing presence ot the British.And Saleem ifiustrates Mahatma’s popularity again by describing the commotionin a movie theatre at the announcement of Mahatma’s death: “[t]he audience hadbegun to scream before he finished; the poison of his words entered their veins—there were grown men rolling in the aisles clutching their bellies, not laughingbut crying, Hai Ram! Hai Ram!--and women tearing their hair” (169). Nothing16within the universe of Midnights Children justifies such a commotion, however;Mahatma and I-us ideals have simply been edited out of Saleern’s India. Rushdiedoes not even voice the criticisms he has of Mahatma’s and which he expresseselsewhere29--the relevance of Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals to the independencemovement and to independent India is simply dismissed by Saleem’s imagination.When he juxtaposes Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru in his non-fiction,Rushdie does not edit out the complicating variable of Mahatma Gandhi:Her use of the cult of the mother—of Hindu mother-goddesssymbols and allusions--and the idea of shakti, of the fact that thedynamic element of the Hindu pantheon is represented as female--was calculated and shrewd, but one feels that this, too, would havedisturbed her father, who had never been in favour of MahatmaGandhi’s use of Hindu mysticism. Jawaharlal saw the divisivenessimplicit in the elevating of any one Indian ethic over the others;Indira, less squeamish, became, by the end, too much a Hindu andtoo little a national leader.3°By taking Mahatma Gandhi out of the equation of Midnightc Children, Rushdiemanages to present Indira’s Hindu mysticism--and not Nehru’s secularism—asdiscordant with the India idea, as if Hindu mysticism had not played a prominentrole in the struggle for independence, as if it had no redeemable history in thehistory of Indian independence. Rushdie stacks the cards in favour of secularismin India, by presenting Indira’s authoritarian and chauvinistic Hindu mysticism asthe only option to the secularist ethic of Nehru.The near absence of Mahatma Gandhi in the novel allows Saleem toequate the ethic of independence to that of Nehru. The children of midnightwhich the title refers to are the children of independence; born like Saleem at theprecise moment of India’s arrival at independence, they are mysteriouslyhandcuffed to history,’ their destinies “indissolubly chained” to that of India (3).And yet, as the presence of Nehru and the absence of Mahatma in the novelmakes clear, Rushdie’s midnight’s children are not so much the children ofindependence as they are the children of Nehru independence. “We have tobuild the noble mansion of free India,” Rushdie cites Nehru at the moment of29 “Attenborough’s Gandhi,’ Imagina7y Homelands, 105-6.30 “Dynasty,” Imaginary Homelan€4, 50.17independence and of Saleem’s birth, ‘where all her children may dwell” (136).Further, Rushdie conjures up a letter from Nehru to baby Saleem, makingindissoluble the link between Saleern’s fate and that of Nehru’s India: “Dear BabySaleern, My belated congratulations on the happy accident of your moment ofbirth! You are the newest bearer of that ancient fate of India which is alsoeternally young. We shall be watching over your life with the closest attention; itwill be, in a sense, the mirror of our own” (143, my italics). References toNehru’s letter recur in the text, constantly identifying Saleem not only withindependence but with Nehru. At the age of eleven Saleem is able to convenethe children of midnight in a telepathic conference--the Midnight’s Children’sConference. The MCC is a forum where children from different regions, castes,languages and faiths can chat freely; where all of India’s children may dwell.“Below the surface transmissions—the front-of-the-mind stuff which is what I hadoriginally been picking up,” Saleem explains, “language faded away, and wasreplaced by universally intelligible thought-forms which far transcended words”(200). The Midnight’s Children’s Conference, I suggest, represents nothing lessthan the noble mansion which Nehru dreamt of but never came into being. InMidnight Children the MCC is destroyed by a direct order of Indira Gandhi.“Today the papers are talking about the supposed rebirth of Mrs. IndiraGandhi,” Saleem--the narrator of Midnights Children—complains, “Today,perhaps, we are already forgetting, sinking willingly into the insidious clouds ofamnesia; but I remember, and will set down how I--how she--how it [Indira’sdays in power] happened” (460). This, Rushdie writes in his non-fiction, theproper function of literature. “Writers and politicians are natural rivals,” Rushdiewrites, “[b]oth groups try to make the world in their own images; they fight forthe same territory.”3’ Literature, he writes with reference to the Emergency inIndia, “can and perhaps must give the lie to official facts.”32 After returning to‘ “Imaginary Homelands,” Imaginary Home1ands 14.32 ibid.18power in 1979, Rushdie explains, Indira Gandhi’s major objective was “to achievea personal rehabilitation, to obliterate the memory of the Emergency and itsatrocities, to be cleansed of its taint, absolved of history.”33 Rushdie cites by wayof example an interview Indira gave to the BBC:she said that there were some people around who claimed that badthings had happened during the Emergency forced sterlizations,things like that; but, she stated, this was all false. Nothing of thetype had ever occurred. The interviewer, Mr Robert Kee did notprobe the this statement at all. Instead he told Mrs Ganchi and thePanorama audience that she had proved, many times over, herright to be called a democrat.34This interview was representative of the acquiescence of media and politicians inIndira’s rehabilitation, Rushdie suggests, “[sihe told the world that the horrorstories about the Emergency were all fictions; and the world allowed her to getaway with the lie”--probably, Rushdie suggests, because capital both in India andin the West “saw that a rehabilitated Mrs Gandhi would be of great use, and setabout inventing her.”35 Rushdie sets his novel against this re-invention of IndiraGandhi, writing a contraband history of Indira’s atrocities--of the “bad things” theworld seemed ready to forget. Rushdie possesses the rather immodest convictionthat he has succeeded, by writing Midnights Children, in determining how IndiraGandhi wifi be remembered by history—that his novel goes some way towardsrefusing her the absolution she so much desired. This conviction is evident in aletter Rushdie writes Rajiv Gandhi at the time of the banning of The SatanicVerses in India. Rushdie tells Rajiv not to think that Indira’s rehabilitation couldsurvive the legacy of Midnight Children; while the present belongs topoliticians, the future, Rushdie ventures, belongs to art.36 “Thirty jars stand upona shelf,” Saleem writes in the novel’s last chapter, referring to the thirty chapterswhich have preceded it, “waiting to be unleashed upon the amnesiac nation”(549). “One day, perhaps,” Saleem continues, “the world may taste the pickles ofhistory. They may be too strong for some palates, their smell may be“Dynasty,” Imaginary Homelands; 51.“Imaginary Homelands,’ Imaginary Homelands; 14.“Dynasty,” Imaginary Homelands; 51.36 “Open Letter to Rajiv Gandhi,” The New York Times (October 19 1989).19overpowering, tears may rise to eyes; I hope nevertheless that it will be possibleto say of them that they possess the authentic taste of truth” (550). Saleem’spickles proved too strong for Indira’s palate and she took Salman Rushdie tocourt in Britain for his portrayal of her.37 In Midnight:s Children, as in Rushdie’snon-fiction, the damage done by Indira’s Emergency to Indian political lifetranscends “the jailing of opponents and the forcible sterlizations.”38 In the novelthe social worker in charge of sterilizing Saleem herself explains the broaderpolitical significance of the Emergency. “The people of India worship our Ladylike a god. Indians are only capable of worshipping one God” (521). “Whatabout the pantheon,” Saleem protests, “the three hundred and thirty million godsof Hinduism alone? And Islam and bodhisattvas...” (521). “Oh, yes! My God,millions of gods, you are right!” she interjects as Saleem begins to venture outsidethe Hindu pantheon, “But all manifestations of the same OM” (521, italics inoriginal). The syncretism she speaks of is exclusive to Muslims and otherreligious minorities in India, as she implicitly acknowledges with her nextquestion: “You are Muslim, you know what is OM? Very well. For the masses,our Lady is a manifestation of the OM” (521).Within Saleem’s India, it is hard to resist the conclusion that the paradox of asecular India is both desirable and obtainable. Outside of the realm of fiction,however, it is sufficient to check Rushdie’s argument for a secular India againstits sources for its faults to appear. “[W]e cannot discuss religion in the modemworld,” Rushdie writes, “even in such societies such as India or Ummah-Islam, asif it still operated in the world before the rise of the nation-state.”39 On thesignificance of the rise of the nation-state to the understanding of the role ofRuthven mentions the case in passing in A Satanic Affafr38 Introduction, Imaginary Homelands, 3.“In God We Trust,” Imaginary Homelands, 381.20religion in the modern world, Rushdie draws from Benedict Anderson’s ImaginedCorninunitiesAnderson warns against the idea that the imagined communities ofnations simply grew out of the decaying bodies of the imaginedcommunities of faith and the dynastic realms that supported theri.Rather, he argues, quoting Erich Auerbach and Walter Benjamin,the crucial change was in our apprehension of time. Time, in theimagined community of Christendom, was held to be near its end;and also contained the idea of simultaneity--God’s eye could see allmoments, past, present, and future, so that the here and now wasonly part of the eternal. Benjamin calls this ‘Messianic time’. Ourmodem concept of time, by contrast, is guided by ticking clocks. Itmoves forward. ft is a ‘homogeneous, empty time, in Benjamin’sphrase. And, says Anderson, the idea of a sociological organismmoving calendrically through homogeneous, empty time is aprecise analogy of the idea of the nation.’ ... When religion entersthe political arena today, then, it does so as an event in linear time;that is, as part of the world of the nation-state, and not a rejectionof it.4’Rushdie understands that some of history’s participants— such as the Iranianrevolution’s AM Shariati--may want to turn back the clock, to stage “a revoltagainst history,” but he notes that despite Shariati’s best efforts “time in Iran haspersisted in running forward.”42 As Rushdie cites Friedrich Durrenmattelsewhere, “What has once been thought cannot be unthought”43—once themodem conception of time had been thought, the notion of a theocracy becameobsolete. “[W]hat Pakistan has been discovering, very painfully,” Rushdiesuggests, “is that no religion is any longer a sufficient basis for a society. Theworld has changed too much for that.” He hopes India wifi learn fromPakistan’s experience and preserve its secular framework of government—ratherthan becoming “a Hindu imperium.”45Following Anderson Rushdie stresses the need to understand thepredominantly nationalistic nature of the Iranian revolution, and of other40 More specifically, Anderson cites Auerbach’s Mimesis: the Representation ofReality in WesternLiterature (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor, 1957), and Benjamin’s Illuminations (London:Fontana, 1973).41“In God We Trust,” Imaginary Homelands, 381-2. Rushdie quotes here from the first chapterof Anderson’s Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Oi-igin and Spread ofNationalism(London: Verso, 1983).42 “In God We Trust,” Imaginary Homelands 383 and 384 respectively.43 , .In Good Faith, Imaginary Homelands, 410.44 ,, In God We Trust, Imaginary Homelands, 387.“In God We Trust,” Imaginary Homelands, 385.21contemporary religious revivals. Imagined communities of faith have beenbroken up into nation-states, so it no longer makes to speak of Muslim and Arabnations as a ‘united, unified, homogeneous” community,46 even if theresurrection of such a community and the abolishment of the nation-state isadvocated by Iranian leaders such as Au Shariati and the Ayatollah Khomeini.47Today the imagined community of Islam fails to transcend national identity evenwithin Muslim nation-states such as Pakistan, where the Punjabi, Sindhi andBaloch nationalisms of old are again in evidence --“a very clear demonstration,”to Rushdie, “of the impracticability of trying to place religious beliefs at the centreof contemporary po1itics.” And the clock cannot be turned back (assumingthere is in fact a will to do so), because the conditions which made possible theexistence of imagined communities no longer exist. What enabled Christianityand Islam to be imagined communities, “international groupings whose unitiesexisted in the minds of the believers,” Rushdie writes borrowing from Anderson,was the existence of sacred languages through which the religionscould be mediated to many ditferent people speaking manydifferent tongues. These languages, and the role of the literateelites as the mediators of theianguages to the largeiy ffliteratemasses... provided the underpinning substructure of the greatuniversal laiths. The decline in power of the sacred languages andtheir interpreters, and the parallel rise in the idea of the nation,chaned the world’s relationship to belief in the most fundamentalway.The imagined community of Islam, Anderson writes, lacked the idea “of a worldso separate from language that all languages are equidistant (and thusinterchangeable) signs for it;” ontological reality, then, was “apprehensible onlythrough a single, privileged system of representation”-.-here Qur’anic Arabic.5°46In God We Trust,” Imagznaiy Homelands, 382.“Rhetoric, however memorable, remains rhetoric,” Rushdie writes, arguing that “anyexamination of the facts will demonstrate the rifts, the lack of homogeneity and unity,characteristic of present-day Islam. The murky war between Iran and Iraq reveals, if it revealsnothing else, the primarily nationalistic character of the States involved.” Pages 384 and 383respectively, “In God We Trust,” Imaginary Homelands.“In God We Trust,” Ima.gina7y Homelands, 387.“In God We Trust,” Imaginary Homelands 381.° Imagined Communities: Reflections on tbe Origin and Sjnvad ofNationalism, 21-22.22Print language, however, brought nationalism,5’and made impossible the returnto a world where reality was mediated primarily by the interpreters of sacredlanguages. The rise of the nation-state, then, is no more reversible than theinvention of the printing press. Nationalism, Rushdie affinns citing Tom Nairn,“always moves forward while claiming to look back, in a kind of progress-by-regression,’ and that is why, Rushdie believes, Khomeini managed to producethe semblance of a revolt against history with his nationalist revolution.52A return to the imagined community of faith is no more an option inPakistan than in the Muslim world in general; it has been rendered impossible bythe fact of nationality. But Rushdie does believe, however, that within pluralsocieties such as India and Pakistan, secular nationalisms may be able to capturethe imagination, respectively, of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, and of Punjabis,Sindhis and Balochis. This is where Rushdie differs from Anderson andHobsbawm. Rushdie echoes Anderson’s citation of Erich Auerbach and WalterBenjamin on the apprehension of time, and of Tom Nairn’s suggestion thatnationalism progresses “in a two-faced, a Janus-headed manner,”53 but whatRushdie does not cite is the reason Anderson gives for writing ImaginedCommunities. What led him to explore the origin and spread of nationality,Anderson reveals, was socialism ‘.s inability to overcome nationality in theCommunist world.54 Anderson’s line of argument in Imagined Communitiesowes as much to Hobsbawm as it does to Auerbach, Benjamin and Naim, butRushdie does not cite Hobsbawm. It is useful to analyze what Hobsbawmaffirms--and Rushdie does not—about the development of Indian nationalism inImagined Communities, 122.52 “In God We Trust,” Imaginary Homelands; 384. Tom Naim’s seminar work, The Break-Up ofBritain (London: New Left Books, 1977), is also cited by Anderson in Imagined Communities.“in God We Trust,” Imaginaty Homelands; 384.Imagined Communities, the introduction. Anderson relies here on the work of historian EricJ. Hobsbawm.23independent India.” To Hobsbawrn, the main challenge for the elites in Indiahas always been that of keeping the support of the traditional (and anti-modern)masses without jeopardizing their own modernizing plans: to make the paradoxof secular government in India viable. This was relatively easy in the first yearsafter Independence. India was ninety percent illiterate at the time ofindependence, which allowed the upper middle class virtual free reign inconstructing the institutions and processes of a modern nation-state. TheBrahmin, Oxbridge-educated elite had an influence over the masses comparableto that of the interpreters of sacred languages in the imagined communitiesAnderson describes. Yet in the decades that followed independence Indiawitnessed the rise of a middle class which was not content to follow the lead ofthe elite. Most significantly, the monster of Hindu nationalism reared its Janus-head. The new Hindu middle class insisted on looking back, and resentedNehru’s emphasis on secularism and modernity. The middle castes flexed theirmuscle, protesting against egalitarian and democratic impulses; there was a grassroots reaction against all forms of affirmative action for the Harijans, oruntouchables. The rise of the AGP--the Hindu fundamentalist party--was thelogical consequence of the rise of this new middle class. It became necessary forthe Congress Party to claim to look back while moving forward, and market aHindu nationalism of its own. The Congress Party, then, did not so much lift thelid off the Pandora’s box of communal discord, as much as it had to adapt to anenvironment where this Pandora’s box had inevitably burst.India has changed too much, to Hobsbawm, for the elites to havetheir way. Rushdie is not unaware of arguments such as Hobsbawm’s:Now it can be argued forcefully that the idea of secularism in Indiahas never been much more than a slogan; that the very fact ofreligious block voting proves this to be so; that the divisionsbetween the communities have by no means been subsumed in acommon ‘Indian’ identity; and that it is strange to speak ofI have pieced together fragments on India from Hobsbawm’s Nations and Nationalism since1780--Programme, Myth, Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992). Hobsbawmdoes not discuss Pakistan at length.24nationalism when the main impetus in present-day India comesfrom regionalist, separatist political groups.5”“The union’s survival,” Rushdie counters, “is an answer of a sort, a rough andimperfect answer, but at least an indication that for many Indians the idea of thegigantic-nation-state has taken root.”57 This is a weak argument--the continuedexistence of India no more proves secularism’s success in capturing theimagination of the different peoples of India than the continued existence ofPakistan proves that Islam has succeeded in subsuming national identities in acommon ‘Pakistani’ identity. The question Rushdie needs to answer is that ofhow the secular nationalism of the elites in India would capture the imaginationof the different communal groups; how the baby wifi talk the graybeards intosubmission, once it no longer has other instruments of persuasion. Rushdieinsists that the question of secularism in India is a question of leadership: “Does,”he asks, “India still have the wifi to insist on this safeguard?”58 But heacknowledges that the paradox of Indian secularism is at the point of unraveling,and that he does not know how this can be avoided. “It’s my guess,” heconcludes on the fortieth anniversary of Indian independence, “that the oldfunctioning anarchy will, somehow or other, keep on functioning, for anotherforty years, and no doubt for another forty years after that. But don’t ask mehovbr.”59:: : God We Trust,” Imaginary Homelands, 385.In God We Trust,” Imagznay Homelands; 385.58 Introduction, Imaginary Homelands; 3.“The Riddle of Midnight: India, August, 1987,” Imaginary Homelands; 33.25Chapter 2: The Satanic Verses: Articulating a modernity of the East.If Rushdie can be likened to a political philosopher, Birch proposes, thanthat philosopher would be Jurgen Habermas) Though Birch is writing aboutMidnight Children, and provides little more than intuition in the way of arationale for the affinity, I will argue that The Satanic Verses provides evidence ofthe likeness between author and philosopher. The Satanic Verses is notconcerned with secularism as a form of government as much as it is withmodernity as an intellectual enterprise. Jurgen Habermas proposes that weunderstand modernity as a new time-consciousness:Whereas in the Christian West the “New Age” [neue Zeit] haddesignated the future age that would dawn only on JudgementDay, from the late eighteenth century on the “modern age”[Neuzeit] means one’s own period, the present... The epochal newbeginning that marked the modern world’s break with the world ofthe Christian Middle Ages and antiquity is repeated, as it were, inevery present moment that brings forth something new. Thepresent perpetuates the break with the past in the form of acontinual renewal.2Habermas charts the philosophical ramifications of the same change in timewhich Anderson and Rushdie discuss with regards to the phenomena ofnationality. In perpetuating the break with the past modernity, Habermas writes,draws on itself for the establishment of an intellectual horizon which makesmeaning possible. With the advent of modernity, one can no longer rely onexemplary periods or models which, in the past, one would have adhered to“without hesitation”.3 The question to be posed then, becomes:Can modernity stabilize itself in the knowledge that it derives itsnormative orientations from within itself, or must it allow itself, asan ungrounded product of the disintegrative process ofsecularization, to be drawn back within thehorizon of eschatology and cosmology?4Philosophers today define themselves through their response to this question:Habermas argues that modernity can stabilize itself, though he fears that the1 “Postmodernist Churneys,” Textual Practice (1991 v5 [11), 7.2 1—Iabermas, Jurgen The New Conservatism: Cultural Criticism and the Historians’Debate(Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1990), page 48.The New Conservatism, 48-9.TheNew Conservatism, 136.26belief that it cannot has become predominant during the course of the 1980’s.He identifies a neo-conservative backlash against modernity in Germany,Republican America, and in Thatcherite Britain which is the stage for much of theframe narrative of Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. In brief neo-conservativecultural policy operates on two fronts:On the one hand, it is to discredit intellectuals as the social bearersof modernism, at once obsessed with power and unproductive; forpostmaterial values, especially expressive needs for self-realizationand the critical judgements of a universalist Enlightenment morality,are seen as a threat to the motivational bases of a functioningsociety of social labour and a depoliticized public sphere. On theother hand, traditional culture and the stabiizin forces ofconventional morality, patriotism, bourgeois religion, and folkculture are to be cultivated. Their function is to compensate theprivate lifeworid for personal burdens and to cushion in against thepressures of a competitive society and accelerated modernization.5Habermas finds that cultural neo-conservativism has followers outside ofconservative ranks—that some of those who support social modernity (asembodied by the modem industrial welfare state) do so at the expense of culturalmodernity. Habermas cites the example of Joachim Ritter, who fears that modemmen wifi be reduced to the mere structure of their needs if the powers oftradition (which modernity frowns upon) do not retain “the strength tocompensate for the unavoidable abstractions of bourgeois society.”6 My ownexample is that of Charles Taylor, who criticizes the “recent rash of neoconservative measures in Britain and the United States, which cut welfareprogrammes and regressively redistribute income, thus eroding the bases ofcommunity identification,”7but who is also an advocate of cultural conservatism.“There is large element of hope,” Taylor writes, faced with what he perceives asthe malaise of modernity, ‘flit is a hope which I see implicit in Judaeo-Christiantheism (however horrible the record of its adherents in history), and in its centralThe New Conservatism, 61.6 The New Consewatism, 33.Sources ofthe Se/ the making of the modern identity (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard UniversityPress 1989), 505.27promise of a divine affirmation of the human, more total than humans can everattain unaided.”8Like Habermas, Rushdie believes in modernity’s ability to stabilize in theknowledge that it derives its normative orientations from within itself. And likeHabermas, Rushdie senses the alternative is a return tO faith. The frame narrativeof The Satanic Verses posits the two alternatives, in the form of the juxtapositionof “two fundamentally different types of seffi” Gibreel, who “has wished toremain, to a large degree, continuous--that is, joined to and arising from hispast,” and Saladin, “a creature of selected discontinuities, a willing re-invention.”9The story of Gibreel is that of an Indian who regains in Britain the faith he hadlost in India. The story of Saladin Chamcha, with which I will concern myselfhere, is that of an Indian immigrant to Britain who discovers modernity onlyupon his return to India. Provocatively, Rushdie suggests that the West nowinvites from the immigrant only an echo of modernity, and that Saladin wifi arriveat modernity not by pursuing Englishness, but rather, by rediscovering, andredefining, his roots. Rushdie is excited by the prospect of a secular Muslimculture, which would become the common enterprise of Muslim philosophers,historians and writers. He is encouraged by Fouad Zakariya’s Laicite ouIslamism in which the contemporary Muslim philosopher attempts to modernizeMuslim thought. He admires “the great Arab historian Albert Hourani” forsalvaging, in his Histoty of the Arab Peoples, some of the rich skeptical traditionof Islam. According to the twelfth-century Muslim philosopher Ibn RushdAverroes, as paraphrased by Hourani, “not all the words of the Qur’an should betaken literally. When the literal meaning of Qur’anic verses appeared tocontradict the truth to which philosophers arrived by exercise of reason, thoseverses needed to be interpreted metaphorically.”0 Hourani describes ArabS Sources of the Se/ 521.The Satanic Verses (Dover: The Consortium, 1992), 427. Page references to the novel areenclosed in parenthesis from this point on.10 “One Thousand Days in a Balloon,” Imagined Communities 436.28civilization in the twelfth century as urban and sophisticated, and far moretolerant of religious minorities than their European contemporaries.” Islam,Rushdie believes, need not be “Actually Existing Islam,” but rather, a “progressive,irreverent, sceptical, argumentative, playful and unafraid culture,”2 as Houranidescribes it in the past and Zakariya envisions it in the future. It is this secularMuslim culture that Rushdie sought to help usher in with The Satanic Verses.Rushdie is not making here an argument concerning the structure of governmentin Muslim nations, neither does he Set up a tension between the form and thecontent of his work. It is a more personal argument—the debates which takeplace within the novel concern the impact of religion and modernity on the livesof individuals, artists of some sort or another, who must decide between modernand pre-modern explanations of the world.In Midnights Children, Doctor Aziz returns from Europe a Marxist and asecular man. When the twenty-five year-old Aadam.Aziz returns to Kashmir aftercompleting medical school in Germany, he sees Kashmir “through traveled eyes,”and feels “as though the old place resented this educated, stethoscoped return.”3And indeed it does. Aziz is unable to remake his friendship with the oldboatman Tai, who had told him countless Stories when he was a boy. NowAziz’s Heidelberg bag “sits between doctor and boatman, and has made themantagonist&’ (16). “Sistersleeping pigskin bag from Abroad full of foreigners’tricks. Big-shot bag,” Tai says in his fury, “[niow if a man breaks an arm that bagwill not let the bonesetter bind it in leaves. Now a man must let his wife liebeside that bag and watch knives come and cut her open. A fine business, whatthese foreigners put in our young men’s heads. I swear: it is a too-bad thing.That bag should fry in Hell with the testicles of the ungodly” (16). Aziz lands ajob at Agra University, and moves out of Kashrnir with his young wife. “Forget“ Albert Hourani, A History ofthe Arab Peoples (New York: Warner Books, 1992).12 “A Thousand Days in a Balloon,” Imagined Communities 437. Italics in original.‘ Midnightc Children (New York: Penguin Books, 1991), 5. In this paragraph references toMidnights Children will be included in parenthesis.29about being a good Kashmiri girl,” he tells Naseem, and “[sitart thinking aboutbeing a modern Indian woman” (33). Naseem refuses to come out of purdah,explaining that strangers will see more than her face and feet, “[tihey will seemore than that! They will see my deep-deep shame!” (33). Aziz is no moresuccessful at night when he asks her to move a little: “Move where?... Movehow?... My God, what have I married? I know you Europe-returned men. Youfind terrible women and then you try to make us girls like them! Listen, DoctorSahib, husband or no husband, I am not any.. .had word woman” (32). Europereturned, Aziz had at first tried to be the good Kashmiri boy of old. But as heattempts his morning prayer he hears the voices and mockery of his Germanclassmates in his head, he is caught “in a strange middle ground, trappedbetween belief and disbelief,” and he comes to think of the ceremony of prayeras no more than a charade (6). He decides never again to bow in submission toAllah, but the loss of his faith comes with a price: in its place there is a void, “avacancy in a vital inner chamber, leaving him vulnerable to women and history”(4). With time, Islam and India will reclaim him, he wifi himself forfeit being amodern Indian man for the semblance of his former faith and of his formerKashmiri self. But Aziz never quite succeeds in silencing the echoes of Vorwarts,and Lenin’s W7at is To Be Done?, and of the five years he spent in Germany.Rather than with faith, he fills the void in his heart with guilt for not being able tochange completely back from “that German Aziz” (26)--as Tai had put it.Saladin Chamcha, in contrast, discovers both Marxism and secularismupon his return to India. In Britain Saladin Chamcha inhabits the post-modernworld of commercials and television. Saladin is quite unaware of the artifIcialityof his environment, unlike Mimi Mamoulian, his co-star on a tv show, who offersthe following analysis:I have read Finnegans Wake and am conversant with post-modernist critiques of the West, e.g. that we have here a societycapable only of pastiche: a “flattened” world. When I become thevoice of a bottle bath? I am entering Flatland knowingly,understanding what I m doing and why. Viz., I am earning cash.30Chamcha believes he has done more than make money: 71J have struggled, in myfashion, to find my way towards an appreciation of the high things, towards asmall measure of finesse” (260). But Saladin does live in flatland, and in hisstruggle towards “an appreciation of the high things” he is capable only ofimitation, of pastiche. Had he not fallen from a plane at a height of twenty-ninethousand and two feet, and been subsequently fired, Chamcha might haveremained a post-modem man like his boss, Hal Valance, “a monster: pure, self-created image, a set of attributes plastered thickly over a body that was, in Hal’sown words, ‘in training to be Orson Welles” (266). Saladin envied Hal’s “self-made man’s paradise” (269), and enjoyed eating with Hal a lunch which was“predictably jingoistic: rosb/ boudin Yorkshire, choux de bruxelles” (269). BornSalahuddin Chamchawala in Bombay, Saladin the immigrant sought all his life toimitate the English way of life. “Othello, ‘just that one play’,” Chamcha oncestated, “was worth the total output of any dramatist in any other language, andthough he was conscious of hyperbole, he didn’t think the exaggeration verygreat” (398). Here Chamcha brings to memory Thomas Babington Macaulay,President for Public Instruction in Bengal, who affirmed in 1834 that “a singleshelf of a good European library is worth the whole native literature of India andArabia.”4 At that time Macaulay introduced in Bengal an English educationsystem he hoped would create “a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour,but English in taste, in opinion, in morals and in intellect”5--people, I suggest,such as the Saladin Chamcha of before the plunge towards the English Channel.“Him and his Royal Family, you wouldn’t believe,” Pamela, his British wife,recalls, “Cricket, the Houses of Parliament, the Queen. The place never stoppedbeing a picture postcard to him” (175). “One of the reasons she had decided toadmit it end her marriage before fate did it for her,” the narrator explains, “was14 cited in Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread ofNationalism (London: Verso, 1983), 86.‘ cited in Imagined Communities, 86.31that she had woken up one day and realized Chamcha was not in love with herat all, but with that [her] voice stinking of Yorkshire pudding and hearts of oak,that hearty, rubicund voice of ye olde dream-England which he so desperatelywanted to inhabit” (180).In England Saladin is “apolitical” (177), and is incapable of realizing what’sgoing on even when he has it explained to him by Hal Valance:‘The thing that’s so amazing about her is the size of what she’strying to do.’ Her? Baby? Chamcha was confused. ‘I’m talkingabout you-know-who,’ Valance explained helpfully. ‘Torture.Maggie the Bitch.’ Oh. She’s radical all right. What she wants--what she actually thinks she can fucking achieve—is literally toinvent a whole goddamn new middle class in this country. Get ridof the old wooWy incompetent buggers from flicking Surrey andHampshire, and bring in the new. People without background,without history. Hungry people. People who want, and whoknow that with her, they canbloody well get. Nobody’s ever triedto replace a whole fucking class before, and the amazing thing isshe might just do it if they don’t get her first. The old cInss. Thedead men. You follow what I’m saying.’ ‘I think so,’ Chamcha lied.‘And it’s not just the businessmen’ Valance said slurrily. ‘Theintellectuals, too. Out with the whole faggoty crew. In with thehungry guys with the wrong education. New professors, newpainters, the lot. It’s a bloody revolution. (270)As he boarded that fateful flight from India back to England, Saladin was intraining to become another Hal Valance, a post-modem representative of theclass of people Macaulay had hoped to bring into being. Saladin had been givensigns that he was about to wake up from the dream England he inhabited, butuntil the fall he ignored them. When for example Hal’s wife wanders intointerrupt their jingoistic lunch, and signal it is time for Chamcha to leave, Halexplains that “[o]fl Sunday afternoons we go to bed and watch pornography onvideo. It’s a whole new world, Saladin. Everybody has to join sometime” (270).“No compromises. You’re in or you’re dead,” the narrator notes, “It hadn’t beenChamcha’s way; not his, nor that of the England he had idolized and come toconquer. He should have understood then and there: he was being given, hadbeen given, fair warning” (270). Later, during his trip to India, Saladin comes tothink of the role he had created for himself--the pastiche of an Englishman--as atrap, as he explains to his lover Zeeny Vakil:32When he was young, he told her, each phase of his life, each selfhe tried on, had seemed reassuringly temporary. Its imperfectionsdidn’t matter because he could easily replace one moment by thenext, one Saladin by another. Now, however change had begunto feel painful; the arteries of the possible had begun to harden. ‘Itisn’t easy to tell you this, but I’m married now, and not just to wifebut life.’ (63).India “jumbled things up’ for Saladin, “measuring him against her forgottenimmensity, her sheer presence, the old despised disorder” (54). Saladin isoverwhehned by a passionate political debate he witnesses in a bar, finds himselffalling in love with Zeeny Vakil, and finds his proper English accent slipping. Ashe settles into his seat on Flight 420, however, Saladin feels “with deep relief, thetell-tale shiftings and settings in his throat which indicated that that his voice hadbegun of its own accord to revert to its reliable, English self’ (73). But Saladindoes not revert to his old reliable English selfWhen he returns to India again, now as Salahuddin Chamchawala, hesucceeds in discarding his British, conservative self Salahuddin finds himselftaking part in a political demonstration organized by the Communist Party ofIndia (Marxist): ‘the formation of a human chain, stretching from the Gateway ofIndia to the outermost suburbs of the city, in support of ‘national integration”(537). Though he at first dismisses the significance of his participation in theevent—”Me takingpart in a CF (M) event. Wonders will never cease; I really mustbe in love” (538)--at the demonstration itself he “could not deny the power of theimage” (541). Another image, that of his dying father, leads him to embracesecularism. When he watches his father Changez die, Salahuddin also discardsthe possibility of a return to faith:Then all of a sudden Changez Chamchawala left his face; he wasstill alive, but he had gone somewhere else, had turned inwards tolook at whatever there was to see. He is teaching me how to dieSalahuddin thought. He does not avert his eyes, but looks deathr4’ht in theface. At no point in his dying did ChangezCfiamchawala speak the name of God. (531)When the mullah comes to take care of his father’s corpse, Salahuddin interruptsthe mullah’s work:Small pieces of black cloth were being stuffed into Changez’s’mouth and under his eyelids. ‘This ckth has been to Mecca,’ themullah said. Get it out! ‘I don’t understand. It is holy fabric.’ Youheard me: oui, out. ‘May God have mercy on your soul.’ (532).33Chapter 3 “Mahound:” The lampooning of the prophet and thereclamation of the poet.‘Excuse, baba, but you should not blaspheme.”Reviewing Vargas Liosa’s The War of the End of the World in 1984 Rushdie isdistressed by a single ambiguity:the Baron quite forfeits the readers’ sympathy (and to be honest, inthe case the of this reader, so, nearly, does the Baron’s creator)when he rapes his wife’s servant as a way of being close to dearEstela again. ‘I always wanted to share her with you, my darling,’he ‘stammers’, and mad Estela makes no demur. The servant,Sebastiana is not asked to comment. It is an ugly moment in abook which, for the most part, avoids coarseness at the most brutalof times.2And yet, when Rushdie published a novel of his own four years later, itcontained a comparable scene. In The Satanic Verses Changez Chamchawalapays an aging servant to pretend she’s his dead wife. She dresses in his wife’sold saris, lies sensually on the sofa when Changez is visited by his son Saladin,and—it is strongly implied--does not refuse Changez his connubial rites. Thewomen present are allowed to comment, but only to consent to what is takingplace, arguably making Rushdie’s scene both uglier and less ambiguous thanLlosa’s. “[Tin this manner we may keep her spirit alive,” explains Kasturba, theservant (68). When Saladin protests these goings-on his own lover intervenes:“Why be such a sourpuss? You’re no angel, baby, and these people seem tohave worked things out okay” (68). There is a gap, as the juxtaposition of thesetwo scenes hints, between how Rushdie thinks women should be portrayed infiction and how he portrays them in his own. In Rushdie’s non-fiction he is anavowed feminist: he does not miss in Imaginary Homelands a single opportunityto criticize a text, government or a religion for its treatment of women.“Pakistan,” he writes with conviction, “neither wants nor needs a legal systemwhich makes the evidence of women worth less than that of men,”3 and half of1 The Satanic Verses, 66. References to The Satanic Verses from this point on will be includedin parenthesis, as in the next two chapters dedicated to its study.2 “Mario Vargas Liosa,” Imaginary Homelands, 313.“Zia U1-Haq. 17 August 1988,” Imaginary Homelands, 54.34the Qur’anic rules he calls into question elsewhere are so faulted for theirtreatment of women.4 He cites the women’s movement as a predecessor to the‘Charter 88’ movement he supports,5 prompts Edward Said in an interview todiscuss the “unheard voices of Palestinian women,”6 and criticizes John Le Carrefor his characterization of women (“[tb put it simply: women usually meantrouble”).7 Something of this concern with women’s rights is evident in hisfiction: when he stresses the benefits of a secular nationalism for women inMidnights Children,8 when he writes of Anahita Muhammad in Shame,9 andwhen he questions the laws the Prophet lays down determining the conduct ofwomen in “Mahound” of The Satanic Verses (366-7). And yet his fiction is yet todisplay a single credible female character. Timothy Brennan’° among others hasadequately described Rushdie’s characterization of women as embarrassing, andnot even Grimus escapes from said criticism.1’ Rushdie’s male protagonists, inturn, often blame women for their woes, as Saleem does in Midnight Children“the long series of women who have bewitched and finally undone me good andproper.”12 When in The Satanic Verses Saladin protests Changez’s prostitution ofthe servant Kasturba he is reminiscent of Rushdie the essayist; yet it is alsosignificant that here—as in much of Rushdie’s fiction—women are not given theopportunity to speak out on such issues themselves.“In Good Faith,” Imaginary Homelands, 400.“Charter 88,” Imaginary Homelands, 164.6 “On Palestinian Identity: a Conversation with Edward Said,” Imaginary Homelands, 180.“Jean le Carre,” Imaginary Homelands, 219.8 Midnightr Children, 294.Shame, 115-6.‘° Salman Rushdie and the Third World: Myths of the Nation, 164.See Cynthia Cundy’s “Rehearsing Voices’: Salman Rushdie’s Grimus’ in TheJournal ofCommonwealth Literature (1992 v27 [11).12 Midnightc Children, 289. Saleem later makes a list of all the women who he blames for hismisfortunes (484). And yet, unlike Hyder, Farishta or Chamcha, Saleem also feels a need to askwhy he blames women for his fate: “perhaps--one must consider all possibilities--they alwaysmade me a little afraid.” (Midnights Children, 229). This moment of introspection is offset,however, by more ambiguous considerations: “How are we to understand my too-many women?As the multiple faces of Bharat-Mata? Or as even more.. .as the dynamic aspect of Maya, ascosmic energy, which is represented as the female organ?” (Midnights Children, 485).35A similar discrepancy exists, I will argue here, between how Rushdieexpects others to write about Islam and his own presentation of the ProphetMuhammad and believing Muslims in “Mahound’ and “Return to Jahilia” of TheSatanic Verses. In his non-fIction, Rushdie protests the presentation of Islam inthe Western media and academic circles. Rushdie is particularly indebted toEdward Said’s trilogy on the subject, the gist of which he understands as follows:In the first volume, Orientalism, he analyzed ‘the affiliation ofknowledge with power’, discussing how the scholars of the periodof Empire helped to create an image of the East which providedthe justification for the supremacist ideology of imperialism. Thiswas followed by The Question ofPalestine which described thestruggle between a world primarily shpecI by Western ideas—thatof Zionism and later of Israel—and the Largely ‘oriental’ realities ofArab Palestine. Then came Covering Islam, subtitled ‘How theMedia and the Experts Determine How we See the Rest of theWorld’, in which the West’s invention of the East is, so to speak,brought up to date through a discussion of responses to the Islamicrevival.Not only does Rushdie interview Said on the question of Palestinian identity buthe cites Said whenever the West’s presentation of Islam is the question at hand.“What ‘Islam’ now means in the West,” Rushdie writes invoking Said,is an idea which is not merely medieval, barbarous repressive andhostile to Western civilization, but also united, unified,homogeneous and therefore dangerous: an Islamic Peril to placebeside the Red and Yellow ones. Nc5t much has changed since theCrusades, except that now we are not even permitted a single,leavening image of a ‘good Muslim’ of the Saladin variety. We areback in the demonizing process which transformed the ProphetMuhammad all those years ago, into the frightful and fiendish‘Mahound’ .‘In this vein Rushdie criticizes Naipaul for--in his anxiety to prove the existence ofan Islamic stranglehold on new Islamic states—presenting a much too simplifiedversion of Islam in Among the Believers;’5 he notes that “[t]he medieval,misogynistic, stultifying ideology which Zia imposed on Pakistan in his‘Islamization’ programme was the ugliest possible face of the faith;”6 and feels aconstant need to differentiate between “Actually Existing Islam” and the faithitself.’713 “on Palestinian Identity: A Conversation with Edward Said,” Imaginaty Homelands; 166.“In God We Tnist,” Imaginaiy Homelands; 382.‘ “Naipaul Among the Believers,” Imaginary Homelands; 374.Zia Ul-Haq. 17 August 1988,” Imagzna7y Homelands, 54.17 “One Thousand Days in a Balloon,” Imaginary Homelands; 437.36When Rushdie claims in an article’8 that he had sought in The SatanicVerses to reclaim the narrative of Islam from its opponents, then, his statement ofgood intentions is entirely consistent with what he has written of Islam elsewherein his non-fiction:I must have known, my accusers say, that my use of the old devil-name ‘Mahound’, a medieval European demonization of‘Muhammad’, would cause offence. In fact, this is an instancewhere de-contextualization has created a complete reversal ofmeaning. Apart of the relevant context is on page ninety-three ofthe novel. ‘To turn insults into strengths, whigs, tories, Blacks allchose to wear with the pride the names they were given in scornlikewise, our mountain-climbing, prophet-motivated solitary is tothe medieval baby-frightener the Devil’s synonym: Mahound.’Central to the purposes of T!e Satanic Verses is the process ofreclaiming language from one’s opponents. (...) ‘Trotsky’ wasTrotsky’s jailer s name. By taking it for his own, he symbolicallyconquered his captor and set himself free. Something of the samespirit lay behind my use of the name ‘Mahound’.19The trouble is that, as in regards to his concern with women’s rights, thisstatement of good intentions finds little textual backing in the novel itseffi As Iwifi show by way of a close reading of the two chapters in question, the contextof The Satanic Verses—despite the passage Rushdie cites which is indeedreminiscent of Said—does little to attenuate the negative connotations of‘Mahound’. And while Brennan would not claim that Rushdie’s characterizationsof women are intentionally negative, it is hard not to perceive “Mahound” and“Return to Jahilia” as deliberate refutations—rather than reclamations—of theoriginal narrative of Islam as presented in the Qur’an. Literature, Rushdie writes,must give the lie to the official version of events; in the case of The SatanicVerses, Rushdie questions not medieval Europe’s ‘Mahound’ (as he would like tobe able to claim), but rather the official history of the Prophet Muhammad, aspresented in the Qurn. Rushdie seeks a secular reclamation of the narrative ofIslam, not from the opponents, but from the proponents of Islam as faith.The incident of the satanic verses, from which Rushdie’s novel takes its title, isbased on a story which is reported by two early Muslim commentators, Tabari18 “In Good Faith,” Imaginary Homelands.19 “In Good Faith,” Imaginary Homelands; 402.37and lbn Sa’d, and accepted by several scholars of Islam, among them FaziurRahman, Sir Wffliam Muir, W. Montgomery Watt and Maxime Rodinson.2° Thestory is simple: Muhammed, encountering difficulty in his effort to convert thecitizens of would-be Mecca, is offered a compromise. If Muhammed agrees tothe canonization, in Islam, of three of the city’s gods, the city and all its souls willbe his. He consults Gibreel, who reveals God’s assent to the offer. He returns tothe city and proclaims his new revelation. Yet later Muhanimed recants it, sayingthat it was the work of Shaitan, not Gibreel. In this version of history the verseswhich sanctioned compromised were not godly but satanic. In Rushdie’streatment of the disclosure of ‘the satanic verses’, good and evil, Allah andShaitan, are absent from both revelation and recantation. Gibreel andMuhammed (here Mahound) are left to fend for themselves; literally, they wrestleand tumble together in trance until Gibreel is forced to say what Mahound wantsto hear. This is a consciously secular and historical rewriting of the incident:both Mahound and Gibreel have to contend with God’s absence at the momentof revelation. Both archangel andprophei further, come to experience doubt.Gibreel Farishta makes for an unusual archangel, as he is a decadenttwentieth-century actor from Bombay ‘theologicals’; he has played gods andmessengers from many different religions and evidently the role-playing isstarting to get to him. As he falls asleep at night, he feels drawn into a dream ofthe city of Jahilia, of Mecca before its conversion to Islam. He is more than aspectator: he is the archangel Gibreel, omniscient. While he has been given thepart, however, he has not been fed the proper lines; God, it seems, hasmisplaced his cue cards. “Mahound comes to mefor revelation, asking me tochoose between monotheist and henotheist alternatives,” Gibreel laments, “and I’mjust some idiot actor having a bhaenchud nightmare, what thefuck do I know,yaar, what to tell you, hep. Hep.” (109 italics in original). No divine assistance isforthcoming. Gibreel as archangel resents the absence of Allah: “He never turns20 Malise Ruthven A Satanic Affair: Salman Rushdie and the rage ofislam, 37/39.38up,” Farishta explains, “The one it’s all about, Allah Ishvar God. Absent as everas we writhe and suffer in his name” (111). Gibreel feels for Mahound, senseshis anguish, but has nothing to offer him. For a fleeting instant, when ‘revelation’comes, Gibreel feels God is about to intervene, “Mahound’s eyes open wide,” henotes, “he’s seeing some sort of vision, staring at it,”--but then Gibreelremembers: “oh, that’s right... He’s seeing me” (112). Words pour forth fromGibreel’s lips; his lips are moving, or rather, they are being moved by someoneor something else:What, whom? Don’t know, can’t say. Nevertheless, here they are,comingout of my mouth, up my throat, past my teeth: the Words.Being God’s postman is no fun, yaar.Butbutbut: God isn’t in this picture. (112)The curtain rises and the main star is out; the puppet wonders what hashappened to the puppeteer. Like Vladimir and Estragon without Godot, Gibreeland Mahound have to make do without God.Mahound’s own account of the process of revelation allows for theinterpretation that he hears only that which he already knows, the answer he hasalready settled on. “This listening,” he explains to his scribe, “is not of theordinary kind; it’s also a kind of asking. Often, when Gibreel comes, it’s as if heknows what’s in my heart. It feels to me, most times, as if he comes from withinmy heart: from within my deepest places, from my soul” (106). Is GibreelFarishta dreaming Mahound, or is it Mahound that conjures up Gibreel? Perhapsthey dream each other, simultaneously: what is missing from this picture, in anyevent, is evidence of a God that would dream them both. In Rushdie’s novel, weknow Mahound is willing to compromise before he seeks revelation. When heinforms his followers of the offer of compromise, they protest--they will not allowfor a deity other than Allah. Mahound attempts to persuade them. He begins byattempting to downplay the concession: “It’s a small matter... a grain of sand”(105). But the stubbornness of his followers forces him to be blunt about hismotivation:39‘Haven’t you noticed? The people do not take us seriously. Nevermore than fIfty in the audience when I speak, and half of those aretourists. Don t you read the lampoons that Baal pins up all overtown?... They mock us everywhere... Sometimes I think I mustmake it easier for the people to believe... You all know what hasbeen happening. Our faiFure to win converts. The people will notgive up their gods. They wifi not, not... Shaitan and Gibreel. Weall, already accept their existence, halfway between God and man.Abu Simbel asks that we admit just three more to this greatcompany. Just three, and, he indicates, all Jahilia’s souls wifi beours.’ (106-107)His small band of followers remain unconvinced. They urge him to pose thequestion to the archangel. When he returns from the trance, he bypasses theusual routine of informing his followers of the revelation and proceeds directly toa tent where most of the citizens of Jahilia are gathered for the annual poetrycompetition. Without any hesitation, he recites the verses that will sanction thecompromise: “Have you thought upon Eat and Uzza, and Manat, the third, theother?... They are the exalted birds, and their intercession is desired indeed”(120).Mahound is not satisfied with the result of the compromise. His disciplesare angry with him and have lost morale. The city, which is putting on acarnival, seems as corrupt as ever. There is, to him, little evidence that he hassucceeded in saving the souls of its inhabitants. Mahound finds he needs torethink the compromise. Like the revelation that made it possible, however, therecantation must also be sanctioned by the archangel. Overwhelmed by hismistake Mahound faints during the carnival. The next morning he talks himselfinto the idea that the compromise was sanctioned by Shaitan, not Gibreel,speaking this new truth “out aloud to the empty air, making it true by giving itvoice” (123). The verses he recited in the poetry tent were not, then, “the realthing but its diabolic opposite, not godly but satanic” (123). Trouble is, Mahoundis still being observed by Gibreel, who begs to differ on the nature of theprophet’s compromise: “it was me both time.s baba, mefirst and me second alsome. From my mouth, both the statement and the repudiation, verses andconverses, universes and reverses, the whole thing, and we all know how mymouth got worked” (123 italics in original). By blaming his own sins on Shaitan,40Rushdie’s Mahound also succeeds in wooing back his followers, though theprophet is himself surprised by the extent to which he is able to save face. Hisdisciples conjure up the necessary rationalizations on his behalf, and Mahoundhas merely to concur: Yes... It was a wonderful thing I did. Deeper truth.Bringing you the Devil. Yes that sounds like me” (125). Mahound is bitter andcynical; he hates having to go along with the charade. What Mahound wifi notadmit to his follower is that Abu Simbel’s offer of compromise caused him todoubt his faith. When he approached Gibreel with Abu Simbel’s offer ofcompromise, his anguish was awful:He asks: is it possible that they are angels? Lat, Manat Uzza. . .can Icall them angelic? Gibreel, have you got sisters? Are these thedaughters of God And he castigates himself, 0 my vanity, I am anarrogant man is this weakness, is it just dream of power? Must Ibetray myself’for a seat on the council? Is this sensible and wise oris hollow and self-serving?... The souls of the city of the world,surely they are worth three angels? is Allah so unbending that hewill not embrace three more to save the human race? —I don’tknow anything. --Should God be proud or humble, majestic orsimple, yielding or un—? What kind of idea is he? What kind ofidea am 1? (111 italics in the original)He retreats to Yathrib, north of Jahilia, to collect himself and to consolidate hisleadership before returning to claim the souls of Jahilia.In Yathrib one of the most controversial sets of laws in the Qu ‘ran—namely that regarding women--is laid down by the prophet and later confirmedby Gibreel. Mahound, his former scribe Salman explains, “didn’t like his womento answer back, he went for mothers and daughters, think of his first wife andthen Ayesha: too old and too young, his two loves” (366). But in Yathrib, whereMahound and his followers stayed in the twenty-five years that constituted theirexile from Jahilia, the women not only answered back but possessed the right todivorce their husbands at will. When Mahound notices his female converts“beginning to go for that sort of thing, getting who knows what ideas in theirheads” (366), he falls into yet another series of timely revelations: “the angel startspouring out rules about what women mustn’t do, he starts forcing them back intothe docile attitudes the Prophet prefers, docile or maternal, walking three stepsbehind or sitting at home being wise and waxing their chins” (367). The closer41you are to the conjurer, however, the easier it is to spot the trick (363), andMahound’s favourite wife does not prove to be as credulous as the rest ofMahound’s followers. She was not fooled by hi talk about necessity andpolitical alliances and pressed Mahound on the matter of his needing twelvewives. “Finally,” Salman recounts, “he went into—what else?--one of his trances,and out he came with a message from the archangel. Gibreel had recited versesgiving full divine support. God’s own permission to fuck as many women as heliked” (386). “Your God,” Ayesha answers Mahound promptly, “certainly jumpsto it when you need him to fix things for you” (386). No other versions ofMahound’s revelations are offered in the text to contradict Gibreel, Salman andAyesha on the matter; Rushdie’s Mahound is the most pragmatic of falseprophets—more politician than prophet.My close reading of these controversial chapters demonstrates that they do notconstitute—as Rushdie would have it a posteriori—a reclamation of Mahouñd. It isingenious for Rushdie to juxtapose his Mahound favourably with the babyfrightener of medieval European tradition in his non-fiction. But such afavourable comparison does not a reclamation make. That Rushdie did no worsethan European writers at the time of the crusades in his portrayal of Muhammadis hardly cause for the faithful of Islam to celebrate. That he did little betterexplains much of the controversy surrounding the publication of The SatanicVerses. The focus for the Muslim outrage over the publication of the novel, MiMazrui and Badawi explain, was “less the raising of doubt than the lampooningof the Prophet.”2’ Shabbir Akhtar published a book-length study of the novelwhich sought to detail just how the novel is offensive in its treatment ofMuhammad.22 “Actually Existing Islam” takes offence too easily, Rushdie arguesin his defence, for it “has all but deified its Prophet, a man who fought‘ Cited in Ruthven A Satanic Affair; 47.Shabbir Ahktar, Be Careful with Muhammad! The Salman Rushdie Affair (London: BellewPublishing, 1989).42passionately against such deification.”23 Historian of Islam Malise Ruthven atteststo such a deification, explaining that non-Qur’anic anecdotes and literary traditionhave established Muhammad’s conduct as “the absolute model for Muslim life.”24Every detail of Muhammad’s life “down to the cut of his beard, the clothes hewore, the food he liked,” Ruthven explains, became in the formative period ofIslamic culture the ideal for the whole civilization.25 Accordingly, in the Islamicliterary tradition,Muhammed’s moral perfections are matched only by his physicalbeauty and the absence of all physical impurities. He was bornfully circumcised. The earth swallowed up his excrement; moreacceptable body products like hairs and nail-clippings werecollected as talismans. His shirt was enough to cure a jew’sblindness.. 26Rushdie argues that he sought not to lampoon the Prophet but merely to reclaimhis humanity, drawing from a different set of literary and historical anecdotes:I knew that stories of Muhammad’s doubts, uncertainties2errorsfondness for women abound in and around Muslim tradition. iZome, they seemed to make him more vivid, more human, andtherefore more interesting, even more worthy of admiration. Thegreatest human beings must struggle against themselves as well asthe world. I never cfoubted Muhammad’s greatness, nor, 1 believe,is the ‘ahound’ of my novel belittled by being portrayed ashuman.But Rushdie’s Mahound lacks all the redeeming features that—for example—NilcosKazantzakis’ Christ possesses. In The Satanic Verses Mahound’s greatness isseldom if ever asserted; bereft of his divinity, he is belittled; he would be moreworthy of admiration if Rushdie had granted him human strengths as well asweaknesses. Rushdie’s Mahound may not be a monster or a hideous creature,yet still he is no more than a false prophet, a self-serving politician whomanipulates religion (like Shame’s Hyder before him) whenever it suits hispersonal or political needs.23“One Thousand Days in a Balloon,” Imaginary Homelands, 437.24 Malise Ruthven, A Satanic Affair; 34.25 ibid.26 Malise Ruthven, A Satanic Affair 32.27 “In Good Faith,” Imaginary Homelands, 409.Nikos Kazantzakis The Last Temptation ofChrist (New York: Bantham Modem Classics,1968).43Muslims, Rushdie insists, are offended not by the actually existing book(which they have not, by and large, read), but rather by The Satanic Verses asdescribed “in the various pamphlets that have been circulated to the faithful.29This is likely true, I)ut I suggest that were the faithful to read the book theywould easily fInd cause for offence. Rushdie cites six statements published insuch pamphlets which he deems false but which have acquired the authority oftruth by virtue of their repetition. Yet some of these statements are not as farremoved from the novel as Rushdie would have them. ‘Rushdie says the ProphetMuhammad asked Godforpermission to fornicate with every woman in theworld)0 Salman the Persian does tell us as much, and Rushdie does not give usreason..to doubt his namesake as narrator (further, Rushdie acknowledges theintent of questioning Qur’anic verses on the particular subject of women).31‘Rushdie says the Prophet wives are whores.’ This Rushdie does not say—rather,twelve whores take up the names of the Prophet’s wives to excite their customers(and, in dramatic terms, to reinforce the parallel between their husband Baal andMahound). ‘Rushdie calLs the Prophet by a devils name.’ This Rushdie does do,and his justification of his use of ‘Mahound’ is unconvincing. ‘Rushdie calls theCompanions of the Prophet scum and bums.’ Rushdie explains that they are sodescribed by their persecutors when the conversion of Jahilia is yet to takeplace,32 but he does not explain why after the conversion is complete Khalid, forexample, remains blood-thirsty and slow-witted, even in the eyes of Mahound(375). ‘Rushdie says the whole Qur’an was the devils work.’ Certainly, within thecontext of “Mahound” and “Return to Jahilia,” it makes as much sense to arguethat the whole Qur’an was the devil’s work as it does to affirm it was the workof God. The narrator throughout may or may not be Shaitan, and his talk, “devil29 “In Good Faith,” Imagina,y Homelands; 396.The six statements, none of which are italicized in the original, are cited in “In Good Faith,”Imaginary Homelands; 397.31 “In Good Faith,” Imaginary Homelands; 399-400.32 “In Good Faith,” Imaginary Homelands; 401.44talk. Shaitan interrupting Gibreel. Me?” (93). ‘Rushdie calls the ProphetMuhammad a homosexual.’ Rushclie does not call Mahound a homosexual in asmany words, but he introduces a strong element of homoeroticism in hisdescription of the process of revelation. This is introduced first from thenarrator’s point of view: “Gibreel and the Prophet are wrestling, both naked,rolling over and over, in the cave of the fine white sand that rises around themlike a veil;” then from Gibreel’s: “and let me tell you he’s getting in everywherehis tongue in my ear his fist around my balls;” and again, when Mahound throwsthe fight, from Gibreel’s: “it’s what he wanted... so the moment I got on top hestarted weeping for joy and then he did his old trick, forcing my mouth open andmaking the voice, the Voice, pour out of me once again, made it pour all overhim, like sick” (122-3 italics in original).33 The controversy is not, then, merelythe product of a gross misrepresentation of Rushdie’s novel on behalf of hisopponents. Religious Muslims have no more cause to celebrate the publicationof The Satanic Verses than Indira Gandhi did that of Midnight Children, or theleaders of Pakistan Rushdie’s to acclaim his suggestion that they find for theirnation a “real reason for being--let us say, a post-Islamic Pakistan.”What Rushdie does reclaim in retelling the birth of Islam in Jàhilia is the story ofits poets; it is entirely appropriate for “Mahound” and “Return to Jahilia” to haveprompted a debate on censorship and freedom of speech, for the author himselfprivileges such a debate in the novel. “As for the poets,” it is written in theQur’an, “the perverse follow them. Hast thou not seen how they wander inevery valley and how they say that which they do not?”35 In The Satanic VersesMahound does not consider the conversion of Jahilia to Islam complete until theArguably this homoeroticism is also present in the first revelation (110-112). See Sara Suleri’sexcellent, and thoroughly convincing, study of this in The Rhetoric ofEnglish India (Chicago:University of Chicago Press, 1992).“In God We Tnist,” Imaginary I-jomelandc, 387.Cited in Ruthven A Satanic Affafr45poet Baal, a longtime critic, has been executed. Mahound forgives all otheropponents: Hind, former Matriarch and defacto ruler of Jahilia, who waged waragainst Mahound and ate his uncle’s heart raw; and Salman the Persian,Mahound’s former scribe, who as scribe dared to change Qur’anic lines. Baal hecannot forgive. The conflict between Baal and Mahound is first posited as onebetween the pagan and the Islamic imagination; as a young man, Baal worshipsthe Goddess Lat, arch-enemy of Mahound’s Allah in the Jahilian imagination. Asa servant of Eat, and at the bidding of Abu Simbel, Baal writes ballads whichsatirize the prophet Muhanimed and his lack of success in converting citizens ofJahilia to Islam. At the time of the conversion of Jahilia, however, Baal “hadarrived at godlessness,” he had begun, “stumblingly,” to move beyond good andevil, “beyond the idea of gods and rules” (379). Baal becomes “the secret,profane mirror of Mahound” and begins to write again after many years (384);and when he writes he is inspired by his love for his twelve wives, not Al Lat orAllah. Baal describes the process of inspiration in terms disconcertinglyreminiscent of Mahound’s own revelations: “It’s strange... It is as if I can seemyself standing beside myself. And I can make him, the standing one, speak;then I get up and write down his verses” (385). Though he does not understandthis process fully, Baal takes it for the coming of the muse. Mahound, incontrast, feels a need to explain the same process in religious terms, to pass offhis inspiration and his ideas as God’s truth, and to make others abide by hiswhims and rules. When Mahound sentences Baal to death it is clear from theexchange that he damns not just a poet but literature itself:‘Whores and writers, Mahound. We are the people you cannotforgive.’Mahound replied, ‘Wnters and whores. I see no differencehere.’ (392)The birth and spread of Islam, the text reminds us, depended on the suppressionof the non-Islamic imagination. Saleem had already hinted as much in MidnightsChildren: “In Arabia.. .at the time of the prophet Muhammad, other prophets also46preached... Prophets are not always false simply because they are overtaken,and swallowed up, by history. Men of worth have always roamed the desert.’36Writers must play their part, The Satanic Verses reminds us, to rescue thosenarratives swallowed up by history, that the suppression of the dissidentimagination never be complete. “A poet’s work,” Baal explains, “[tb name theunnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world andstop it from going to sleep. (97). For as Rushdie allows Baal to learn afterMahound’s conversion of Jahilia, “no imperium is absolute, no victory complete”(378).36 Midnigbtc Children, 365.47Chapter 4 The Story ofAyesha Rushdie’s retraction?Khadija, the tactless old lady who had been for half a century thecontented and contenting spouse of Sarpanch Muhammad Din, sawan archangel in a dream. ‘Gibreel,’ she whispered, ‘is it you?’ ‘No,’the apparition replied. ‘It’s I, Azraeel, the one with the lousy job.Excuse the disappointment.’ (479-480)In Karachi, in February 1983, thirty-eight people entered the sea at Hawkes Bayin the hope that its waters would part and they would be able to complete apilgrimage to the Shi’a holy city of Kerbala in fraq.’ Response to the incident inPakistan was largely determined by sectarian affiliation: Sunnis dismissed thepilgrims as lunatics while Shi’ates praised them as martyrs. A group of wealthySh’ia businessmen flew the bodies of the pilgrims to Kerbala, so that, in a sense,the crossing of the sea was completed. Rushdie rewrote the story of the incidentin “Ayesha” and “The Parting of the Arabian Sea”, purging it of its sectariancharacter.2 Rushdie has carefully distanced his prophetess from the original; andhe has named her Ayesha, after the wife of Muhammed who Sunnis, not Sh’ias,hold dear to their hearts. The prophetess of The Satanic Verses leads herfollowers to the edge of the Arabian sea, not Hawkes Bay, and their pilgrimage isto Mecca, not Kerbala. Ayesha is thus a Muslim—not just a Sh’ia—prophetess.3Nonetheless, in Rushdie’s treatment, the incident demonstrates the continuingpower of religious discourse at a moment in which, according to Rushdie’s earliernovels, the modem age has matured--an age where religion should no longer beable to satisfy all of an individual’s needs or provide the raison d’être for a state.Some critics4 have interpreted these chapters to constitute an affirmation of faith,1 Malise Ruthven, A Satanic Affair Salman Ruhsdie and the rage ofIslam, 45.2 Malise Ruthven, A SatanicAffair Salman Rushdie and the rage ofIslam, 46.Interviewed by Malise Ruthven, Shabbir Akhtar insists on reading sectathnism into Rushdie’sversion of the Hawkes Bay incident, affirming that Rushdie shows “profound insight into thethngers of a false religion” but not into those of Islam in general (A Satanic Affair SalmanRushdie and the rage ofIslam, 96). But it may be that Akhtar has simply not read the novelcarefully enough, as is evident by the several mistakes he makes in recounting the plot of TheSatanic Verses in his own book, Be Careful with Muhammad! The Salman Rushdie Affair:See, in particular, Rudolf Bader’s “The Satanic Verses: An Intercultural Experiment by SalmanRushdie.” Bader tries as many other post-modernist apologists for Rushdie have to prove that48and as such, that they balance the bleak portrait of religion offered in “Mahound”and “Return to Jahilia;” if they were right, the interpretation that Rushdie has spunan anti-Qur an in The Satanic Verses unravels. I wifi argue here that these twochapters do not constitute such an affirmation of faith, and therefore that theycannot be read as retractions for the chapters dealing with the ProphetMuhammad nor for the novel as a whole. By way of a second conclusion on thepolitical significance of “Ayesha” and “The Parting of the Arabian Sea” I wifi arguethat they represent a reformulation of his politics as articulated in MidnightsChildren and Sham on the question of whether religious fundamentalism in theIndian subcontinent springs from the people or is imposed on them.The potential loose thread of Rushdie’s anti-Qurn is the passage inwhich Mirza Saeed, who throughout intended to dissuade the villagers from theirpilgrimage, abandons his secularism at the moment of his death. Ayesha appearsto him, beckoning him to ‘Open Wide!’ as tentacles of light flow from her navel:He was a fortress with clanging gates. -- He was drowning.— Shewas drowning, too. He saw the water fill her mouth, heard it beginto gurgle in her lungs. Then something within him refused that,made a different choice, and at the instant that his heart broke, heopened.His body split apart from his adam’s-apple to his groin, so that shecould reach deep within him, and now she was open, they allwere, and at the moment of their opening the waters parted, andthey walked to Mecca across the bed of the Arabian Sea. 507But Mirza never made much of an ambassador for secularism in the backwardvifiage. Though Ivlirza reads Nietzsche the night before he first sights Ayesha(216), his modernism never ran deep: “the zamindar and his wife were known asone of the most ‘modem’ and ‘go-go’ couples on the scene; they collectedcontemporary art and threw wild parties and invited friends round for fumbles inthe novel is too complex, and too ambiguous, for us to even attempt to tease out its potentialverdicts on religion and modernity.49the dark on sofas while watching soft-porno VCR’s” (227). The narratordescribes him as a ‘godless man, the weak end of a strong line” (237); and Mirza,too, likens his secularism to weakness: “a kind of disease; one of detachment, ofbeing unable to connect ourselves to things, events, feelings. Most people definethemselves by their work, or where they come from, or suchlike; we have livedtoo far inside our heads. It makes actuality damn hard to handle” (483). Mirza’sfailure to connect to things, events, and feelings marks him as a post-modernistrather than a modernist man in Rushdie’s book; Mirza’s words echo Rushdie’sown regarding post-modernism’s inability to describe how the world of theimagination engages the ‘real’ world: “The French, these days, would have usbelieve that this world [of the imagination], which they call ‘the text’, is quiteunconnected to the ‘real’ world, which they call ‘the world’.”6 Mirza and his wifeare not modem but ‘modem’ and ‘go-go;’ after a night of reading Nietzsche Mirzaawakes with a sensation best described as a malaise: “rising before dawn with abad dream souring his mouth, his recurring dream of the end of the world, inwhich the catastrophe was invariably his fault... he was angry with himself forbeing so foolish in his choice of bedside reading matter” (216). In terms ofphilosophy, it makes sense that Mirza turn to pre-modem values out ofdissatisfaction with modernity (which never meant more to him than a sort ofgodless hedonism).7 His opposition to Ayesha is suspect from the start, fed as itis by the “bitter energy of his desire for her” (497); during the pilgrimage Mirzacurses Ayesha at least once a day “but he could never keep up the abusePresumably, Mirza and Mishal had joined the brave new world Hal Valance bragged about toSaladin (270), a world explicitly linked by the text to post-modernism--as I have shown inChapter 2.6 “The Location of Brazil,” Imaginaty Homeland 118. With regards to The Satanic VeesRudolf Bader argues not so much that there is no connection between worlds real and imaginarybut rather that they are connected in such labyrinthine and complicated ways, through such adense layering of textual references, that any attempt to establish a connection between the twowould inevitably end in failure. (“The Satanic Verses: An Intercultural Experiment by SalmanRushdie”)See Charles Taylor The Malaise ofModernity (Concord, Ont: Anansi, 1991), and Sources of theSe the making of the modern identity (Cambridge, Mass: Harvrd University Press, 1989).50because everytime he looked at her he desired her so much that he felt ashamed’(498). When he first sighted Ayesha “he felt a surge of lust so powerful that heinstantly felt ashamed” (219), and when she reaches into him at the moment ofhis death there is a strong suggestion that they are consummating somethingother than a spiritual relationship.Many other details in Rushdie’s story of the prophetess Ayesha make itdifficult for it to be interpreted as an affirmation of faith. As in Mahound’srevelations, the archangel who appears to her is not a messenger from God butrather Gibreel Farishta, a late 20th century Bombay star of theological pictures.And like Mahound’s conversion of Jaliilia, Ayesha’s pilgrimage features bothtimely revelations and ruthless pragmatism. When the fIrst of the pilgrims diesAyesha refuses her a proper burial. The widower defects to Mirza’s camp, andsome of the pilgrims gather around them at night to hear their arguments. ToMirza’s eyes, Ayesha’s reactions to this development are unmistakably human.She casts various glances in his direction, and “whether she was a visionary ornot Ivlirza Saeed would have bet good money that those were the bad-temperedglances of a young girl who was no longer sure of getting her own way” (482).Then she disappears for a day and a half, “she always knew how to whip up anaudience’s feelings”, he concedes (482). Ayesha returns to inform the pilgrimsthat Gibreel not only confirmed the ascent of their fallen pilgrim to heaven, butalso warned them of reprisals for their doubts: “he was seriously thinking ofwithdrawing his offer to part the waters, ‘so that all you’ll get at the Arabian Seais a salt-water bath, and then it’s back to your deserted potato fields on which norain will ever fall again” (482). Understandably, the vifiagers are appalled, anddecide to flirt with Mirza’s secularism no longer. Ayesha’s mood swings, like herrevelations, seem more human than divine. When one of the pilgrims questionsthe confidence of a God which demands the sacrifice of his followers as proof oftheir faith, Ayesha responds by imposing even stricter disciplinary measures,“insisting that all pilgrims say all five prayers, and decreeing that Fridays would51be days of fasting. By the end of the sixth week she had forced the marchers toleave four more bodies where they fell: two old men, one old woman, and onesix-year-old-girl” (483). When, later, Mirza presents an offer to fly twelve of thepilgrims to Mecca along with her--as a compromise--Ayesha hesitates, and askshim for time to think it over. Like Rushdie’s Mahound, Ayesha is notpredisposed against compromise. Think it over, and ask Gibree4 Mirza remindsher (499). Yet Ayesha makes this decision by herself, without consulting thearchangel: “He told me to go and ask my angel, but I know better... How couldI choose between you? It is all of us, or none” (499). Believing herself therepresentative of God, Ayesha is careless of her cruelty. When the pilgrims passby a mine where an accident has claimed fifteen-hundred lives, Ayesha declaresit to be “a judgement upon them for the bad attempts they made,” referring to adifferent group of miners who had attempted to barricade the pilgrims at theoutskirts of the city. But “they weren’t at the bloody barricade,” Mirza protests,“they were working under the goddamned ground.” (493). “They dug their owngraves”, she replies, flatly (493). In the same city she encounters a commotionoutside a mosque, where an ifiegitimate baby has been left in a basket. Whenthe Imam declares the baby to the Devil’s child, Mirza invites Ayesha to addressthe crowd. “Everything will be asked of us”, she tells them; and the crowd,“needing no clearer invitation,” stones the baby to death (497). It seems that—once again--no sanction from Gibreel was required.“So-called Islamic ‘fundamentalism’ does not spring, in Pakistan, from thepeople,” Rushdie wrote in Shame, “[ut is imposed on them from above.”8 Yetwhen he revisits Pakistan in The Satanic Verses, Rushdie has lost his assurancethat “the ramming-down-the-throat point stands.”9 There is no equivalent in thestory of Ayesha to Hyder and his manipulation of elections, the army, and theShame, 251.ibid.52media; there is no Big Brother. The prophetess Ayesha is a young woman whowears “a saffron yellow sari wrapped around her nakedness, after the fashion ofthe poor women of that region” (219). She may know how to whip up anaudience’s feelings, as Mirza puts it, and yet she has no more recourses than thatof a story-teller. Ayesha tells the people that God has commanded them(through Gibreel) to walk to Mecca, and they believe her. If anything, theinstruments of coercion are on the zaniindar’s side. He follows the pilgrims in anair-conditioned Mercedes station wagon, with an icebox full of Cokes, trying topersuade his wife to at least make the treck confortably. And yet he is incapableby way of argument to dissuade even the least credulous of the villagers fromjoining the pilgrimage:Srinivas... we are modem men. We know, for instance, that oldpeople die on long joumeys, that God does not cure cancer, andthat oceans do not part. We have to stop this idiocy... We are notcommunal people, you and I. Hindu-Muslim bhai-bhai! We canopen up a secular front against this mumbo-jumbo. (476)Mirza’s secular front simply does not have the power to capture the people’simagination. No talk of liberty, equality and fraternity will reach them as doesAyesha’s promise: “Everything wifi be required of us, and everything wifi begiven” (233). The change in Rushdie’s Pakistani politics from Shame to “Ayesha”and “The Parting of the Arabian Sea” finds an echo in his non-fiction.“Pakistanis,” Rushdie writes in 1981, “have never been a mullah-dominatedpeople;” they do not desire Islaniization, he insists, it was just a process Zia used“as a means of shoring up his unpopular regime.”° In 1988 it is not Pakistanis butPakistan which “neither wants nor needs a legal system which makes theevidence of women worth less than half that of men;”1 Pakistan as embodied inFaiz Ahmed Faiz—who Rushdie deems Pakistan’s greatest poet— that is. ThoughRushdie still believes in 1988 that “most Muslims” were “disturbed and frightened”by Zia s Islamization programme, he is conspiciously silent on the matter of10 “Naipaul Among the Believers,” Imagina7y Homelands 374.“ “Zia U1-Haq. 17 August 1988,” Imagina7y Homelands; 55.53whether they are or are not a mullah-dorninated people, of whetherfundamentalism does or does not spring from the masses. He still believes as of1990 that Pakistan demonstrates “the impracticability of trying to place religiousbeliefs at the centre of contemporary politics,” l)ut he no longer argues that thesebeliefs are unpopular.’2Elsewhere in The Satanic Verses Rushdie acknowledges that what hewants for India may differ from what its people want. The fIrst break with hisIndian politics as articulated in Midnights Children comes with the admissionthat the people or the crowd have a will at all, and therefore must bear theresponsibility for their actions. “We are all guilty of Assam,” the poet BhupenGandhi declares in reference to a massacre, “Each person of us. Unless and untilwe face it, that the children’s deaths were our fault, we cannot call ourselves acivilized people” (56). In Saleem’s India, Bhupen’s statement would have beenshocking—it is not allowed for by a single one of Midnights Children’s thousandand one stories. Most of what happens in our lives, within the universe ofMidnights Children, takes place in our absence; only the Widow, or the Widow’sHand or such another metonymical being, are to blame for the destruction of thechildren of midnight and of Nehru’s dream of a noble mansion where all them•could have dwelt. That citizens of India be held responsible for events that tookplace in their absence, upon which they could not have been said to have had a•direct bearing, represents a complete reversal of the assignment of politicalresponsibility in Midnight’s Children. To will, as Rusdhie writes elsewhere in TheSatanic Verses (93), is to dissent; if each citizen of India possesses a will both asart individual and as part of a collectivity, than he/they can dissent from theirleaders. In The Satanic Verses the Indian people can be said to have the genuineability to move irrespective of the elite. “In India,” Swatilekha ventures in a latterdiscussion with Bhupen, “the development of a corrupt and closed stateapparatus had ‘excluded the masses of the people from the ethical project’. As a12 “In God We Trust,” Imaginary Homelands, 387.54result, they sought ethical satisfactions in the oldest of the grand narratives, thatis, religious faith” (537). “But,” protests Bhupen Gandhi with an argumentstrongly reminiscent of Rushdie’s own in Midnight Children and Sharne “these[religious] narratives are being manipulated by the theocracy and various politicalelements in an entirely retrogressive way” (537). Swatilekha talks of the historicaldevelopment of the Indian state, making it clear the masses were never part ofthe ethical project (recently under the Mughals and the British and underCongress after independence). Bhupen concedes this point and is left wonderingwhat might have happened if Indira Gandhi had adopted less retrogressivepolicies: perhaps she could have widened the appeal for the masses of herfather’s secular nationalism? Then the ethical projects of the elites and massescould have been made to coincide in the form of a secular nationalism. ButSwatilekha wifi not even grant Bhupen this much, pointing out that such a forcedcoincidence would not amount to more than a pretence of state neutrality: “Battlelines are being drawn up in India today... Secular versus rational, the light versusthe dark. Better you choose which side you are on” (537). Bhupen concedeswhat Rushdie as Saleem would not: first, that the masses had little to do with theethics of independence, and second, that they have had a lot to do with—andthus responsibility to bear in--communal violence since independence.The change in Rushdie’s Indian politics from Midnights Children to TheSatanic Verses is echoed in his non-fiction. In 1984 he described the Indianrevolution as “a genuine mass movement.”3 Tn 1990 he is ready to concede that“it can be argued forcefully that the idea of secularism in India has never beenmuch more of a slogan.”4 The ethical project of the revolution was never morethan a slogan to the people at large; the Indian revolution was thus not agenuine mass movement. Communal violence Rushdie had blamed almost‘ “Outside the Whale,” Imaginaiy Homelands, 99.14 “In God We Trust,” lmagina7y Homelands, 385.55entirely on Indira Gandhi on the occasion of her death;’5 in 1987 he blames italso, albeit tardily, on “the emergence of a collective Hindu consciousness thattranscends caste, and that believes Hinduism to be under threat from otherIndian minorities.”6 Rushdie is unlikely to ever stop exaggerating the extent towhich Indira is responsible (vis-à-vis other variables such as the rise of themiddle class, for example) for the emergence of a collective Hinduconsciousness,’7but it is significant that he has both accepted the elitism implicitin the enterprise of a secular nationalism for India and that he is willing to assignresponsibility to those who carry out--not just provoke—communalist riots. Itmakes for a stronger Indian history, as well as for a stronger moral philosophy, inhis politics.‘ “The Assassination of Indira Gandhi, Imaginary Homelands; 41-6.16 “The Riddle of Midnight: India, August 1987,” Imaginary Homelands; 31.17 As evident in both “In God We Tn.zst” (1990) and in the introduction to ImaginaryHomelands; penned in 1991.56ConclusionMy first and most important conclusion is that it is a mistake to interpretSalman Rushdie as anything but a writer of modernist fiction. “I spent mystudent days,’ Rushdie writes of his time at Cambridge, “under the spell ofBunuel, Godard, Ray, Wajda, Welles, Bergman, Kurosawa, Jancso, Antonioni,Dylan, Lennon, Jagger, Laing, Marcuse, and, inevitably, the two-headed fellowknown to Grass readers as Marxengels.”1 “[M]y sense of God ceased to exist longago,” he recalls elsewhere, “and as a result I was drawn towards the greatcreative possibilities offered by surrealism, modernism and their successors, thosephilosophies and aesthetics born of the realization that, as Karl Marx said, ‘all thatis solid melts into air.”2 Rushdie is not suspicious of the enterprise of modernityas many of his post-colonial and post-modernist admirers and critics are. To himthe Enlightenment is the defining moment the debate between skeptics andbelievers, both in the East and in the West, a debate which dates from thebeginning of recorded history. Rushdie has a rich knowledge of the history ofIslam, informed by histOrians such as Maxime Rodinson and Albert Hourani, andis confident in his knowledge that there have been times in which ChristianEurope trailed the Arab world as far as tolerance, the arts, and scientific inquiryare concerned. That the Enlightenment originated in Europe does not, toRushdie, hopelessly compromise it. In his fiction and non-fiction on the Indiansubcontinent, Rushdie consistently advocates the ideals of the Enlightenment, andthose of the modernity which it made possible. India, to Rushdie, should nomore reject English language and culture than it should Urdu and the Muslimtradition. He resents the characterization of Muslims in India as Mughals: “[flor ifMuslims were ‘Mughals’, then they were foreign invaders, and Indian Muslim“Gunter Grass,” Imaginary Homelands, 276.z “Is Nothing Sacred?,” Imaginary Homelands; 417.57culture was both imperialist and inauthentic.”3 He defends the use of English inindia, and the presence of Western philosophy, among the same lines—as Sufyanputs it in The Satanic Verses, ‘let us not pretend that Western culture is notpresent; after these centuries, how could it not be part of our heritage?”4 “I wasborn an Indian, and not only an Indian, but a Bombayite,” Rushdie writes,stressing that he was deeply influenced by his childhood in that “mostcosmopolitan, most hybrid, most hotchpotch of Indian cities.”5 The West is not,he writes, absent from Bombay; “I was already a mongrel self, history’s bastard,before London aggravated the condition.”6 History’s bastard, Rushdie insists inbelieving in the enterprise of modernity, in the continual search for the new, andin the’ necessity of privileging knowledge and discourse. In the case of India hedoes not so much argue for an Indian secularism, but for a Western secularismwhich is not, to him, alien to the Bombay and the India he was born ‘into--no lessIndian, that is, than his family’s belief in Islam. Rushdie’s Indian politics dochange--most significantly he no longer insists on the idea that Indianindependence was a genuine mass movement and that the secular ethical projectof the elites was ever more than a slogan to the masses. But he insists on theimportance of a secular framework for India nonetheless, as he continues to dofor Pakistan. It is only with The Satanic Verses that Rushdie articulates amodernity of the East. Provocatively he suggests that given the current post-modern ethic of the West one must now travel East to fInd strong defenders ofmodernity.The debate on the Rushdie affair may prove him right. In the West,within the realm of political theory, the Rushdie affair forced a debate on culturalmodernity. “Myth,” Rushdie cites Roland Barthes, “is statistically on the right.”7Introduction, Imaginaiy Homelands; 2.The Satanic Verses; 246.“In Good Faith,” Imaginary Homelands; 404.6 “In Good Faith,” Imaginary Homelands 404.“In God We Trust,” ImaginaryHomeland.s,’391.58‘The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions inany culture,” he affirms, “because it seeks to turn other ideas--Uncertainty,Progress, Change--into crimes.”8 “To respect the sacred,” he warns, “is to beparalyzed by it.”9 The left must seek to de-mystify, even if that entails not givingpeople what they ask for—certainties, absolutes.”° Following Rushdie’srationale, those on the left would be expected to support his efforts to de-mystifyIslam, while those on the right would be expected not to. This is not what hashappened. Liberal opinion was unanimous in its support of free speech in theGay News case of 1977, Wheatcroft notes, but twelve years later, with regards tothe Rushdie affair, the liberal ranks were broken.” Wheatcroft attempts toexplain why this is the case by suggesting that political correctness—thecrystallization of orthodoxies of the left--is to blame for the heterogeneity ofcontemporary liberal opinion. A better explanation, I suggest, is that during thetime that elapsed between the two affairs many liberals have been acquired whatHabermas has diagnosed as cultural neo-conservatism. Some of the moreinteresting left-leaning political philosophers today, such as Charles Taylor andComel West, conclude that modernity cannot stabilize itself without recourse toreligion.’2 “There is something uniquely powerful about religious language andsymbols,” Taylor writes in reference to Rushdie’s use of Islam in The SatanicVerses, “which makes even those who reject them need them in order to exploretheir own universe.”3 By writing The Satanic Verses, then, Rushdie prompted adebate which made apparent the rift between liberals who believe modernity canderive its normative orientations from within itself, and those who insist it cannot.To William Pfaff, the powerful modern Western tradition of skepticism has8 “Is Nothing Sacred?,” ImaginaTy Homelands; 416.“Is Nothing Sacred?,” ImaginaTy Homelands, 416.‘° “In God We Trust,” Imagina7y Homelands, 391.‘ “The Friends of Salman Rushdie,” The Atlantic 38.12 See Comel West’s The Ethical Dimensions ofMa,xist Thought (New York: Monthly ReviewPress, 1991), in addition to Taylor’s Sources of the Se the making of themodem identity.‘ The Rushdie Controversy,” Public Culture (1989 v2 [1]), 121.59its own central value, ‘which is to examine and if necessary attack all existingand established values;” Rushdie’s mistake, to him, “was to apply this modemEuropean standard of discourse to a religion which still believes in itself.”14Within literary theory, post-colonial theorists have questioned the appropriatenessof applying modem assumptions about the purpose of literature and inquiry tonon-Western works of literature.’5 The main benefit of this questioning has beenthe expansion of the canon to include works which would not have beenappreciated otherwise. The Rushdie affair raises the issue of the writer’sresponsibility to his community and culture: should Rushdie be criticized forapplying the standards of modernity to India, Pakistan, and Islam at its birth?Yes, Parekh answers, arguing that “[als a Muslim as well as a scholar of Islam,Rushdie owed it to his people to counter the ‘myths’ and ‘lies’ Christians hadspread about them over the centuries, or at least to refrain from lending them hisauthority.”16 “The Satanic Verses” Timothy Brennan complains, “shows howstrangely detached and insensitive the logic of cosmopolitan ‘universality’ canbe... ‘Discipline’, ‘organisation’, ‘people’, — these are words that thecosmopolitan sensibility refuses to take seriously.”7 Like the Imams of the East,some Western literary theorists have taken it upon themselves to determine whatwriters should and should not be allowed to write about their own cultures andcommunities.The Western reaction to the publication of The SatanicVerses seems to warrant Rushdie’s suggestion that one dog Saladin Chamcha’ssteps, and journey to the intellectual circles of the East, to understand modernity.“The only privilege literature deserves—and this privilege it requires in order toCited in “The Friends of Salman Rushdie,” The Atlantic 43.‘ See Homi Bhabha’s Nation and Narration (London: Routledge, 1990) and Bill Ashcroft [et allThe Empire Writes Back: Theoiy and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures (London: Routledge,1989).16 “The Rushdie Affair: Research Agenda for Political Philosophy,” 699.‘ Brennan, Timothy Salman Rusbdie and the Third World: Myths of the Nation (London:Macmillan, 1989), 165, 166.60exist,’ Rushdie writes, “is the privilege of being the arena of discourse, the placewhere the struggle of languages can be acted out;”8 it is a privilege that manyWestern intellectuals would revoke. Timothy Brennan is willing to entertain thesuggestion that freedom of expression represents “literary colonialism;”9 toKatherine Mackinnon it represents an instrument of the patriarchy;20 and toGayatri Spivak it represents “racism.”2’ To Breckenridge, freedom of expression“disguises deep parochialisms of value:”Our post-Enlightenment assumption is that all intelligent criticismmust follow the individualized act of reading. Some groups in theIslamic world are saying that criticism--socia]ly politically andcollectively constructed--can precede the individual act o1 reading.In this deconstructionist world, is this a barbaric view?22Despite the resistance among culturally conservative groups both in the East andWest to Rushdie’s call for a secular Islam culture, it has not gone unheeded.Perhaps the single most important evidence for this was the recent publication ofa collection of essays by Arab and Muslim writers in defense of free speech, ForRushdie.23 For Rushdie is everything that its mostly Western counterpart, TheRushdie i.eiters24 is not. The contributors to The Rushdie Letters by and largeacquiesce in the assumption that Rushdie has been misunderstood, and makebroad arguments in favour of freedom of speech. It is significant they do notrefer to the text of The Satanic Verses itself. Rather pathetically, Rushdie is left inhis thanks to single out one writer (Kazuo Ishiguro) out of about fifty forreferring to the text of the novel at all.25 Most of the Arab and Muslim writerswho contribute to For Rusbdie in contrast, make the harder arguments forfreedom of speech which the text of The Satanic Verses requires. The book18 Is Nothing Sacred?”, 1magznay Homelands, 427.‘ Salman Rushdie and the Third World: Myths of the Nation, 144-5.20 Only Words (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993).‘ Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty “Reading The Satanic Verses;” Public Cultu (1989 v2 [11), 95.Carol A. Breckenridge, “On Fictionalizing the Real”Public Culture (1989 v2 [1]), iv.23Abdallah, Anouar (ed), For Rushdie: essays by Arab andMuslim writers in defense offree speech (New York: George Braziller, 1993).24 Mact)onogh, Steve ed The Rushdie Letters.25 Ishiguro’s letter, in turn, does no more than to praise The Satanic Verses as an immigrantnarrative.61represents precisely the sort of forum for debate that Rushdie envisionedpossible. if all copies of The Satanic Verses were to burnt or to disappear, and ifthe novel were to be remembered for nothing other than inspiring this collectionof essays by Arab and Muslim writers in defense of free speech, The SatanicVerses would already represent a significant step in the ushering in of a modernMuslim culture.62BibliographyAbdallah, Anouar (ed) For Rushdie: essays by Arab andMuslim writers in defense offree speechNew York: George Brazifier, 1993Althtar, Shabbir Be Careful with Muhammad! 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