I completely disagree with those who have called for violence against Salman Rushdie for being knighted by the queen of England this weekend. As a few people around the world have noticed, the man can write and has something important to say.
But those who are criticizing Rushdie’s knighthood are right to see this as just another installment in Western insensitivity towards Muslim sentiments, and outright Islamophobia. At this time, when Britain is participating fully in the brutal Iraq war and the US “war on terror,” the decision is either mindbogglingly incompetent or intentionally provocative.
The fracas between defenders of the knighthood and Islamists is actually distracting us from the larger issue: the knighting and Rushdie’s acceptance of it. This is a complete farce, and confirms Rushdie’s rightward shift from the anti-imperialism of the 1980s, accelerated after 9/11.
As Mohammad Reza Bahonar, first deputy speaker of Iran’s parliament put it: “The British monarch lives under this illusion that Britain is still a 19th century superpower and that bestowing titles is something still deemed important.”
But why is Rushdie going along with this? His best work is about speaking truth to power, about undermining British symbols of authority and false sense of superiority, about revealing how colonialism has produced the Chamcha-ness and sycophancy of the postcolonial period.
It was sad to see Rushdie, in the context of the 1989 fatwa, turning to Britain and the US for material and ideological support. It is sadder now that he’s become Sir Salman. In an essay in 1983, Rushdie told us that the “rough beasts” were finally entering the center, to transform it utterly. But perhaps, like the pigs in Animal Farm, the rough beasts have been completely corrupted by their masters.