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Wednesday Jun 7, 2023, Zul-qaadah 18, 1444 Hijri

Rushdie: Old Book with New Cover (a critical analysis)

06 July, 2007

By Amjad Malik

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The law of blasphemy finds its roots in the Ten commandments, If we see Exodus, Chapter 20 Verse 7, The Holy Bible, (Revised  Standard Version, Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd, London 1952)  namely that: …"you shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain” This, like other Christian doctrines, became enshrined into the law. In the past the new connection between the Church and the State was an important one. Religious dissent and political subversion were closely linked: unity in religion meant strength in the State. Thus, to reproach Christianity was to speak in subversion of the law. This link was borne out in the blasphemy law.

Islam has given the message in the clear terms too as well as Christianity.  " No, doubt those people who torture God and His prophet (PBUH), there is a curse on them, not only in this world but in the next world as well, and God has ordered the worst punishment for them" (Sura ul Ehzab (AL Quran ).

Issues of ridiculing Muslim faith is not rare, its old story emerging with new cover. After the downfall of Moghuls, British Empire emerged and in 1860 Governor General Hind approved the enforcement of Indian penal Code. Before that Islamic laws were enforced in the whole of the country. Indian Penal Code was prepared by a commission headed by Lord Macalley. English laws and administrative provisions were kept ahead whilst considering this code. Blasphemy Act was still part of British common laws but it was not included in Indian Penal Code. But one section was added in the code to set punishment for insulting, spreading hatred against British government. In 1898 section 124A was slightly changed but punishment for the offence remained the same. Same year including 124A one more section 153A was added to curb the racial violence in the colony. S.153A was to punish people if they try to stir racial hatred. S.153A- read  it "whoever with the deliberate and malicious intention, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations stir up the racial hatred amongst the classes of the subjects of her Majesty, shall be punished  with imprisonment….for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both". One main purpose for this section explained at the time was to keep peace between the groups and classes of the subjects.

Several cases of Blasphemy against prophet were registered under the same section during that period. Out of all, the most famous case was registered against a publisher "Raj Pal". Raj Pal published a book "Rangeela Rasool". Case was registered against him under section 153 of Indian Penal Code as a result of several protest and complaints by the local and national Muslim organisations. Session court Lahore found him guilty and sentenced him and Raj Pal appealed against the decision of Session Court in the Lahore High court (AIR 1927 LAHORE 250).  Appeal was heard by Judge Daleep Singh in The Lahore High court who gave leave to appeal on the grounds that on the basis of criticism against the religious leaders, no matter how immoral it is, is not covered by S.153 of the Indian Penal Code. Therefore, Raj Pal could not be sentenced as law did not cover blasphemous criticism against religion. High Court decision was widely criticised and protests were made against it by Muslims of India. All these protests and agitation resulted in Raj pal's death in 1929. A Muslim Ghzi Ilm Din killed Raj Pal on 6th September 1929. Ilm Din was sentenced to death on 29th May 1929 by Lahore session court. Appeal was lodged which was conducted by Mohammed Ali Jinnah to challenge the decision on the basis that it was not an intentional murder and death sentence can not be given. Appeal was heard by Justice Broadway and Justice John Stone and on 17th July 1929 appeal was dismissed. Further appeal to Privy council was refused on 5th November 1929 and at last on 31st October 1929 Ilm Din was sentenced to death. That was the turning point towards demands of the Orthodox groups of Muslims for strict laws to protect religion and severe punishment for blasphemy acts which gave birth to the future blasphemy law in Pakistan.  

British  government reacted quickly over the racial incidents in India and especially over the misinterpretation and explanation of law by Judge Daleep Singh and added a section 295A under the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1927 and added it to Indian Penal Code. Since then 295-A apart from minor changes by Pakistan Constitution of 1956 remains the same.  S.295-A reads "whoever with the deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens …., by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations insults the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished  with imprisonment….for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both" The same law was amended by Pakistani regime in 1986 where more offences were introduced and punishment was increased to death and life sentence.

In 1991, Abdul Choudhury sought summonses against Salman Rushdie and his publishers, Viking Penguin, alleging that the publishing "The Satanic Verses" they had committed a blasphemous libel against Islam. The magistrate refused to issue the summonses, on the grounds that the offence of blasphemy was restricted to the Christian religion so was the view of higher courts.  The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)  is the Muslim role model. All the aspects of his way of life make up the Muslim identity. In "The Satanic Verses" the Prophet is seen to make up revelations, which are little more than convenient excuses, which enable him to lead his sexually frivolous lifestyle. In one scene, the Prophet was rumoured to have had an argument with one of his wives which was unacceptable to Muslims world. The outbreak is consistent as they expressed dissent at the time of broadcasting the film ‘Passion of the Christ’. It is understandable that many Muslims felt that Salman Rushdie had taken outrageous liberties with their faith. When the Muslim community tried to invoke the blasphemy law to protect their faith and found that it protected Christianity only, they felt powerless victims of religious discrimination.

Whilst granting Knighthood to Rushdie for literary service British Committee forgot to appraise his book fully as well. For example little glimpse of his book ‘Satanic Verses’ shows how Rushdie fooled the West and in return awarded for his ridicule.  The writing may be protected by West on the name of freedom but is not literary master piece on any moral standards. For example:

The word 'Fuck' has been used total 60 times in the book at following pages: 27, 54, 80, 87, 100, 101, 109, 149, 158, 159(2 times), 163(2 times), 178(3 times), 179, 180(2 times), 207, 245, 260, 261, 262, 265, 268(6 times), 269(2 times), 270(4 times), 271, 278, 285, 306, 313, 351, 380, 410, 412, 421, 429, 430, 435, 441(6 times), 448, 479, 526.  

The word 'Bastard' has been used total 49 times on the following pages: 1, 8, 19, 51, 56, 59, 68(2 times), 73, 80(2 times), 86, 95, 105, 116(2 times), 122, 137(3 times), 142, 164, 169, 174, 198, 256, 259, 266, 268, 280(2 times), 281, 284, 285, 316, 326, 359, 367, 376, 418, 425, 430, 436, 448, 467, 511, 520, 537, 539.

The word 'Cunt' has been used total 6 times on the following pages: 163, 389(2 times), 441(3 times).

The word 'Haramzada' (bastard in urdu) has been used total 2 times on the following pages: 27, 207.

The word 'Mother Fucking' has been used total 3 times on the following pages: 80, 85, 122.

The word 'Sister Fucking' has been used total 1 times on the following pages:80.

The word 'Chootia' has been used total 1 times on the following pages: 80.

The word 'Maggie the Bitch' has been used total 1 times on the following pages:269.

The word 'Damn all Indians' has been used total 1 times on the following pages:137.

The word to describe UK as 'Coffin of an Island ' has been used total 1 times on the following pages:146.

The word 'Mother Fucking Americans' has been used total 1 times on the following pages:80. 

The word 'Sister Fucking British' has been used total 1 times on the following pages:80.

The word 'Angrez Bastards' has been used total 1 times on the following pages:59.

The word 'White Bastards' has been used total 1 times on the following pages:284.

The word 'Shiv Sena Bastards' has been used total 1 times on the following pages:537.

'Nigger eat white man's shit' has been used total 1 times on the following pages:461.

'White woman never mind fat Jewish, non-deferential white women – were for fucking and throwing' has been used total 1 times on the following pages:261.

Remarks about Hindu Gods: On Page 24 “After six movies playing the elephant headed god he was permitted to remove the thick, pendulous, grey mask and put on, instead a long hairy tail, I order to play Hanuman the monkey king in a sequence of adventure movies that owed more to a certain cheap television series emanating from Hong Kong than it did to the Ramayana. This series proved so popular that monkey-tail became de rigueur for the city's young bucks at the kind of parties frequented by convent girls known as 'firecrackers' because of their readiness to go off with a bang.” Further on page 25, “ ‘Even before he replaced false head with fake tail he had become irresistibly attractive to women. The seduction of his fame had grown so great that several of these young ladies asked him if he would keep the Ganesh-mask on while they made love but he refused out of the dignity of the God’.  

Remarks about Queen on Page 169, “… he found himself dreaming of the queen, of making tender love to the Monarch. She was the body of Britain, the avatar of the State, and he had chosen her, joined with her; she was his Beloved, the moon of his delight”.

There are far more verses which are inflammatory which can not be pen down due to various obvious reasons, but to any standards this does not seem a service to literature, I could not find any sarcasm or irony or satire in this fiction for which British writers are popular all over the world rather found filthy fire and looking at this synopsis this book is a fine example of stirring hatred against the whole of humanity. 

Now The Prophet  (PBUH)  further said, " A believer does not taunt, curse, abuse or talk indecently.” Al-Tirmidhi Hadith 1740.  When rulers are ignorant of sensitivities and no forum to express anger or to bring some one to justice or no law to curb such hatred then there is little left to accommodate such grouses. Britain ignored Muslim sensitivities in UK and billions around the world whilst granting Knighthood to ‘Satanic Verses’ fame writer Salman Rushdie for services to literature. The awarded writer’s contribution is disputed too as it has not only hurt Muslim sentiments but have attacked African community and his one sentence got the book banned in South Africa, It ridiculed Hindu belief and used foul language against then PM Margret Thatcher and the Queen and his contribution is not only conflicting but has caused hurt to scores of human souls around the world. The writer has one fame which is that his book got a lot of publicity for hatred against Muslims and vice versa. As compared Harry Potter fame J K Rowling and Mr. Beans fame Rowen Atkins could have been far more better candidate for such honour.

British Government must have gauged the possible reaction as a result of such announcement and the assessment seems faulty over this knighthood. Many organizations are urging the Prime Minister to fill the legal gap so that any frenzy writer may not exploit this weakness himself or on behalf of hidden forces to widen the gulf between those communities who in general wish to remain in peace and may not stir religious sentiments and defile each others sacred belief as current law does not address those common grouses of each community. Few option have been highlighted all around which preach common sense and are as following a) withdrawing and or suspending the grant of Knighthood to Mr. Rushdie: b) Consider amending blasphemy laws and or give effect to Race and Religion Hatred Act 2006 (relevant clauses) thus granting protection to all beliefs including Muslims from such outrageous ridicule: and c) Increase efforts to hold a dialogue between OIC & EU, US, China, India and representative of major faiths for better understanding amongst over 6 billion souls and inter faith harmony and secure ‘memorandum of understanding’ to avoid public protest over either its ‘Raj Pal’ or ‘Danish Cartoons’ or Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’ Or ‘Passion of Christ’ affair and or ‘denial of holocaust’ as lack of such understanding will continue manufacturing those writers at will who will cause harm to public harmony. Those factories must be stopped here.

The decision is simple, West must not crucify 1.5 billion Muslims over one man’s frantic freedom of expression which has no limits. Unbridled fire sometimes burn one’s own house and the argument  makes it clear that his freedom is restricted to where Muslims rights guaranteed by international law triggers. The rights come with responsibilities. The rulers must always be able to gauge the pulse of their people and I must say people does not wish for any confrontation on either side and seek peace all around. There is still time to secure those efforts for interfaith harmony amongst ancient civilization in the light of old practices or teachings before it causes irreparable gulf.

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