Rosemary Ganley The Peterborough Examiner August 25, 2022
“A poem cannot stop a bullet; a novel cannot defuse a bomb. But we are not helpless. We can sing the truth, and name the liars.” Salman Rushdie in a talk to PEN International in 2022.
For some years I have had a desire to visit the town of Chautauqua, N.Y. just south of Buffalo, for some part of its nine-week summer series of events. Featured are notable speakers, opportunities to play sports, presentations by cultural groups, religious services of all denominations, classes, events and camaraderie.
Founded by earnest Methodists in 1874 as a means to “uplift and educate the American public in great ideas,” it has morphed into the non-profit Chautauqua Institution, a community of artists, thinkers and faith leaders with a goal of exploring “the best in humanity.”
On the shores of Lake Chautauqua, about four hours drive from here, it had its heyday in the 1920's. In the hundred years since, it has continued to flourish, with an annual influx of 100,000 people over the summer weeks. All in a town of 4000.
It never worked out for me to get there, although four American presidents have made it.
So it was with shock and sorrow I learned that the great British-American writer, Salman Rushdie, had been assaulted while seated in a chair on the stage of a Chautauqua Amphitheatre recently. He was ready to speak to a large audience about his work. He is 75 years old, a world-renowned writer. Despite sustaining serious knife wounds, Rushdie survived the attack and is recovering in hospital, while never losing his sardonic wit.
The attacker was a 24 year-old Muslim man from New Jersey. It may be he was responding to the “fatwa,” a condemnation of Salman Rushdie for writing a book 30 years ago entitled “The Satanic Verses.”
In 1988, he published this novel in what is called a “magic realism” style. All hell broke loose in the Arab world. The cleric in charge of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini (without reading the book) forbade Muslims from reading it and issued a "fatwa," asserting the book insulted the Prophet Mohammad and Islam. He sentenced the author to death.
Rushdie went undercover for 20 years, living in London and New York, making occasional appearances, and saying that one must live, even with a death threat hanging over one’s head.
Societies such as America should be very careful of politicians and systems that are theocratic, such as Iran. America today shows worrying signs of this trend, with the Supreme Court packed with righteous conservative Christians. And state legislatures are legislating morality in sexual matters.
It is no surprise that Salman Rushdie has little regard for organized religion of any kind. It reminds me of remarks I heard from fellows on the street in Jamaica, ”Oh, the bigger the cross, the bigger the crook.” The warlike Vladimir Putin claims membership in the Russian Orthodox Church, and his attack on Ukraine is blessed by its patriarch, Kirill.
Rushdie, born a Hindu, saw the dreadful effects of religious fanaticism 75 years ago when his country was partitioned between Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan, with a heavy loss of life.
So what can I do for Mr. Rushdie now? Well, buy his book for one thing. I made my way to that utterly unique Peterborough shop “By the Books” on Water Street. It is open only four hours a day, but the rewards are great. A place of “thoughtfully-curated used books,” it is run by former global studies teacher Tucker Barton, and is a jumble of great books. I found 3 copies of "The Satanic Verses" at $7.00 each.
Reading it is another challenge. Rushdie’s main character is Gibreel, and his name for the Prophet is Mahound. For Muslims, over a 23-year period (610-632) the angel Gabriel dictated to the Prophet the words of Allah. This is the holy book, the Qu’ran.
State and religion are best left separate.
"Gleanings" is Rosemary Ganley's new book. You can purchase directly from the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or from >Amazon<