Bernard-Henri Lévy has a definite coiffure, a definite do—very fixed under the studio lights, probably with an aerosol spray. Parfait. He sits back in his chair at a slight angle, being an angular man, and says <<le affaire de Rushdie>>; or he says something like that anyway, something in French—however that works. “The Rushdie affair” is old hat now, played out—clapped out; but for about fifteen years, from the first offence in 1988 to post-9/11, it was a big deal; especially for public intellectuals, as they are called (very cringe). “SPECIAL FEATURE: The West versus the mullahs (p. 24-26)”. Its significance was both revived and eclipsed by 9/11—revived, because it was a Muslim attack; and eclipsed, because it was Sunnis not Shias who were responsible—not the “mad mullahs”.
Bloodlines: Rushdie’s father was caught out because he fiddled with his birth certificate to get into the Indian civil service back in British times; he also changed his name to “Rushdie”, Indianised Arabic for “Averroes”—the great Muslim philosopher. The move was pretentious, about the same as if I changed my name to “Tom Plato”—that will do nicely, Mr. Plato. We gain an impression as to what the Rushdie family is like—heredity, in the blood: untrustworthy and narcissistic.
Rushdie ended up with a fatwa on his head because he produced a novel about an incident in Muhammad’s life in which Muhammad seemed to include a few pagan gods in the canon—then he reversed his decision and claimed that far from being under his usual angelic inspiration, the angel Gabriel, he had been misled by Satan. In Rushdie’s version, it turns out that the verses were inspired by Gabriel all along.
For Rushdie, being an Oxbridge product and firmly embedded in Britain’s elite culture-class, it was all a literary exercise; he never called his main character Muhammad, though he was obviously recognisable as such. Rushdie was a modern man in a secular age—nobody believes that stuff, though those old stories have a certain analytical interest for scholars; and they also have a certain potential for artists—something to play around with, explore the possibilities of.
As it happens, “the mad mullahs” believed it and issued a fatwa—in this case a death warrant—against Rushdie; generous financial rewards were offered for a successful assassin. Rushdie’s reaction was in keeping with his bloodline: at one point he claimed, weakly, to have reverted to Islam and repented in the hope it would all go away (it came to stay). There are some men who would have bought a shotgun, a vicious dog, and moved to the country and called an assassin’s bluff (remember that at the time Britain’s Muslim population was tiny, whereas today a similar scandal would probably mean street riots—not a few men burning books at a sparsely attended protest, as was then). Alternatively, Rushdie could have gone to America—gone to Montana—and bought a wide-ranging gun collection and become a “man in the high castle”; after all, back then there were even fewer Muslims in America than Britain.
What happened instead was that Rushdie hid behind the British state—a state he had previously, in liberal intellectual mode, run down for “racism” (he also published a book supportive of Central American Communist guerrillas). “You vile racist white man…um could I plz hab SAS and beefy ex-Special Branch men called ‘Terry’ to pwotecc me from my co-ethnics, plz? It’s acksually your responsibility as liberals—the British right to free speech is at risk…”. This is a common song, often among Semites: one moment they condemn your vile “white supremacy” and “racism”—the next they want to use the West’s Aryan techno-military might to drop lung-collapsing ordinance on the Palestinians. In the process, the West is inveigled into tedious international tribal disputes. What should have happened to Rushdie? He should have been popped on a plane back to the subcontinent, where he could account for himself like a man.