Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sir Salman

Bravo to the Brits for knighting Salman Rushdie. Predictably, the pustulent zealots who terrorize the Muslim world are rioting again, calling for killings and slaughter and maimings. They're good at that, their only stock in trade. We ... and by we I mean rational lovers of freedom ... we need to remind these swaggering bigots that we have a history too. We fought religious bigotry in our world for centuries, and we beat it back. We will not be dragged back into the dungeon in which these monsters live and where they drool and rub their hands in glee as they torture their victims.

Salman Rushdie is without a doubt one of the greatest English authors of the period, perhaps in history. When I was at Cal, I taught his Midnight's Children, an epic saga set in Bombay during the birth of India and the horrid Partition visited upon Indians not by the British but by bigoted Islamists. Graduate students often end up being rather sequestered in what they study. My tiny, fraught-with-squabbling department was predominantly concerned with South Asian studies, and the few us involved in Southeast Asia had little choice but to teach South Asian material. I viewed it as an opportunity to get out of my sequestered life for a bit, and I chose to teach the literature of Partition because I had never read it before ... if I could not stay ahead of a bunch of freshmen, then I didn't deserve to be teaching them. I remember that reading of Midnight's Children as one of the intellectual oases of my graduate career.

Two little quotes, out of context, that illustrate both his style and his prescience:

Is it possible to be jealous of written words? To resent nocturnal scribblings as though they were the very flesh and blood of a sexual rival?

And this paragraph that ends the book:

Yes, they will trample me underfoot, the numbers marching one two three, four hundred million five hundred six, reducing me to specks of voiceless dust, just as, in all good time, they will trample my son who is not my son, and his son who will not be his, and his who will not be his, until the thousand and first generation, until a thousand and one midnights have bestowed their terrible gifts and a thousand and one children have died, because it is their privilege and the curse of midnight's children to be both masters and victims of their times, to forsake privacy and be sucked into the annihilating whirlpool of the multitudes, and to be unable to live or die in peace.

Salman Rushdie is my hero. Shame on his professional Muslim haters. They have nothing to offer but the bile of their frothing nightmares.

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