British Literati and the Satanic Verses (in 1989)

Literati and the Call of the Wild

by Gwydion M. Williams

In Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, a dog that has had an easy life as the pet of a rich family is thrust unexpectedly into the harshness of Alaska. Ancestral instincts are awakened – the dog learns how to fight and how to survive, finally teaming up with a pack of wolves.

The Rushdie affair began as an incident in a conflict between two extreme forms of Islam. Supporters of the conservative version Sunni Islam favoured by Saudi Arabia were getting a lot of mileage out of protests against The Satanic Verses. They were calling for the book to be banned. Meanwhile the radical version of Shi’ite Islam dominant in Iran had suffered a setback after accepting that it could not crush secular-nationalist Iraq in the Gulf War. By calling for Rushdie to be killed, Khomeini scored a brief triumph. And since both sides are playing the game of ‘more-Islamic-than-thou’, neither can back down.

Rushdie is a worthless fool. He takes his understanding of the world from characters like Harold Pinter, who don’t understand it at all, and have evolved the view that not understanding anything is the highest form of wisdom. This is the tail-end of the scepticism of people like Voltaire – having rejected conventional social values, they are left with nothing at

But Islam has never had a Voltaire.  Muslims have not had their world-view pounded end shaken by two centuries of secular scepticism. Westerners have treated Islam as a sort of funny peculiarity that some foreigners engaged in. In the more tolerant climate of the past 40 years, they learned to treat such peculiarities with politeness. People stopped using the term ‘Mohammedan’, because Muslims disliked it. The small number of books that subjected the Quran to critical scrutiny were allowed to go out of print.

Many Muslims were willing to be equally polite. There was a perfectly sound basis for Muslims expressing a distaste for Rushdie’s work and then ignoring him. It is recorded that Mohammed forgave various people who been grossly rude to him, who had even assaulted him or plotted to kill him. But the Muslim extremists were convinced that the West was weak and decadent, and would crack under a little pressure. Moreover, their own hard-line understanding of Islamic law would not allow them to be tolerant

Remarkably, most of the light-weight literati rose to the challenge. Like the dog in The Call of the Wild, they have recovered a few of their old fighting instincts. Now if someone would only shoot Pinter, a real revival of serious secularism might occur.

[Nothing important occurred.  Shia Islam as led by Iran sensibly decided that the fight should be in Islamic territory.  It has been the very different Sunni Islamic Extremism that has engaged in actual terrorism like 911.  Done this in addition to being labelled ‘terrorist’ for fighting irregular wars on their own territories.  And in all cases the inspiration is the extremist Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam that has been spread round the world by money from Saudi Arabia.]

This was an item in Notes on the News for March 1990.  It appeared in Issue 16 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs.