It’s been 30 years since the word “fatwa” entered into Western consciousness. Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses and a dying Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa (religious edict) calling for his death.
Three decades later, what have we learned? Rushdie’s life was made a living hell and a murderous terror group gained enough traction and support that it almost took over an entire country or two in the Middle East.
If you listen to the BBC, it seems the response of the West to the fatwa “radicalized” an entire generation of Muslims.
What really happened in 1989?
After the fatwa was issued, massive protests erupted in Muslim countries and communities worldwide. In case you are wondering, the protests were not in favor of free speech. Without reading the book – which arguably doesn’t come near to the Islamic criterion of blasphemy — the protests were against Rushie and in support of the death warrant against him. Numerous killings, attempted killings and bombing of bookstores around the world followed.
In the UK, where the book was originally published, protests of up to 10,000 Muslims at a time in the streets took place culminating in public burnings of the book, evoking “images of medieval (not to mention Nazi) intolerance,” wrote journalist Robert Winder of the surreal scene.
Certainly, it wasn’t the first time the Muslim community had encountered the concept of blasphemy, yet here, with one simple fatwa, the West learned that communities they had welcomed into their midst and their countries were far from integrating one of the core values of their adopted homeland: freedom of expression and the right not to be killed for exercising it.
Fast forward to 2019
Yet, 30 years later, in our society that celebrates victimhood and dismisses the responsibility that comes with being a human being imbued with moral agency, the BBC marked this milestone with an article titled ‘Salman Rushdie radicalized my generation.’
Here’s the logic, according to one of the preeminent news outlets of the Western World:
- White Brits were outraged by the fatwa
- College-aged white Brits expected their Muslim friends (who were just like them – partying at universities, not interested in religion) to react the same way
- Instead, their Muslim friends felt insulted by their white friends, claiming the whites blamed them as Muslims for the fatwa of the ayatollah
- The whites demanded their Muslim friends choose sides (free speech or the ayatollah)
- This pushed the Muslims to side with the ayatollah and enter into the swirling vortex of becoming radicalized
The BBC article centers around the case of Alyas Karmani, now a famous imam, and shows how the events following the fatwa radicalized him. It then extrapolates for his entire generation.
Karmani describes himself before the fatwa as a carefree student who happily ran away from his traditional Pakistani family to the life of a white, liberal college student. “That was my crowd,” he said.
An important “fixture on the student scene,” Karmani enjoyed music, dancing and clubbing. “I had a wonderful time and then something really inconvenient happened in 1989,” he relates [my emphasis].
Karmani says he personally felt the brunt of the fatwa. “I thought these friends understood and accepted me but now they were pointing fingers. The conversations went like this: ‘What’s wrong with you people? Why are you doing this? Why have you put a death threat on Salman Rushdie? What side are you on? Are you with us or against us?’ It was really as stark as that,” he said.
This was apparently enough to push him away from the life of a carefree college student and into to the mosques of his childhood, only this time he explored his faith in a “radical direction.”
“It all started with the publication of The Satanic Verses and how people pushed me away. That’s why I always say I am one of Rushdie’s children. I was radicalized by white liberals.”
To Mr. Karmani, let me say this:
You chose to become radicalized and you chose who would radicalize you. White liberals didn’t radicalize you. As a human being, who was over the age of 18, you had at that time — as you have today — moral agency: the ability to discern right and wrong and make correct moral decisions on your own. Plenty of others have used that agency under much greater stress to make the correct moral decisions.
Karmani, who remains today a devout Muslim albeit less radical (he says he now champions “the middle way”), could easily have sided with his white friends and said something like this:
“Hey, why are you lumping me with those crazies out there protesting? I believe in freedom of expression just like you do. In fact, while I recognize it may be hard for you to convince these guys that such freedoms are the morally-correct way to organize a society, since they are my ‘people,’ I’m going to work from the inside to change their minds.”
(This is not to the mention the fact that it’s generally not the way of liberals to lump ethnic or religious groups together and make generalizations about them.)
And to the BBC, this is what I would say about this item and its one-sided reporting:
Promoting this type of victimhood mentality that absolves the behavior of not only the individuals mentioned in this particular piece but entire communities is immoral. It is a narrative that breaks down the fabric of a society committed to freedoms that those in other parts of the world only dream of and destroys the values that led to their establishment in the first place.