Happy Rushdie Day!

Twenty years ago today, the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against British Indian novelist Salman Rushdie. Rushdie’s offence had been to write a book, The Satanic Verses, which contained an unflattering depiction of the Islamic prophet Mohammed.

The novel’s title derives from a story, incorporated as a subplot, dating to the earliest years of Islam. The claim is that Mohammed was given a revelation that the people of Mecca could worship three of their pagan goddesses provided they recognised the supremacy of Allah. These verses were later rescinded and replaced by new verses confirming a belief in one god alone, while the originals were described as the work of the devil – hence, the “Satanic Verses.”

The book contained a number of other allusions to Islam and Muslim history which some readers found offensive. Complaints began to mount, with angry callers bombarding publishers and retailers with complaints, and bombings of bookshops taking place in several countries.

Then came the fatwa:

In the name of God the Almighty. We belong to God and to Him we shall return. I would like to inform all intrepid Muslims in the world that the author of the book Satanic Verses, which has been compiled, printed, and published in opposition to Islam, the Prophet, and the Qur’an, and those publishers who were aware of its contents, are sentenced to death. I call on all zealous Muslims to execute them quickly, where they find them, so that no one will dare to insult the Islamic sanctity. Whoever is killed on this path will be regarded as a martyr, God-willing. In addition, if anyone has access to the author of the book but does not possess the power to execute him, he should point him out to the people so that he may be punished for his actions. May God’s blessing be on you all. Rullah Musavi al-Khomeini.

While Rushdie himself managed to avoid death, violence resulting from opposition to the book resulted in several murders and assaults. Most notorious of these was the Sivas massacre in which 40 people were killed in an arson attack on a hotel due to the presence of a translator of the Satanic Verses.

The word “over-reaction” springs to mind.

To celebrate this anniversary, here’s a few other works of fiction which managed to get peoples’ pants in a tangle.

The Profit

The Profit is, as IMDB puts it, the story of “a cult leader’s rise to power and his subsequent descent into isolation and paranoia. More specifically, it is a satire on the life of Lafayette Ron Hubbard, sci-fi author, drug fiend, occultist and founder of the Church of Scientology. Better known to one and all as the Commodore, or simply LRH.

The film satirises a number of instances from Hubbard’s life, including a notorious incident early in the development of Dianetics. In it, a woman was presented by Hubbard as the world’s first “Clear” – a person who has freed themselves from the damaging effects of engrams and is endowed with a variety of abilities including improved mathematical skills, immunity to a range of diseases – and an infallible memory. The latter became something of a problem when it turned out she could not remember when asked the colour of Hubbard’s tie.

The film depicts a number of other instances from the development of Scientology, including the creation of the Sea Org, the “elite” group within Scientology. As a consequence, the cult went to work trying to disrupt filming and smear the film before it had been released:

Filmed in eight weeks last summer amid the backdrop of Fort De Soto Park and the bustle of Ybor City, the production was the target of constant harassment from Scientologists, Alexander said.

At one point, he said, members of the Foundation for Religious Tolerance of Florida handed out fliers denouncing the film’s backers at the film site and followed crew members home to press them for information about the content of the film.

Mary DeMoss of Clearwater, a Scientologist and founder of the Foundation for Religious Tolerance of Florida, calls the movie a “hate propaganda film.” She denies anyone from her organization followed anyone home and says the fliers were intended to “let the people know who was behind this.”

Eventually, the film was barred from release worldwide as the result of a court order in April 2002 claiming that it could influence the jury in the Lisa McPherson case. In November of that year, as the result of a great deal of legal wrangling involving the producers, the cult, and a number of Scientology critics, the film’s release was put on indefinite hold.

In March 2008, the film was leaked onto the internet and may now be downloaded and enjoyed in its entirety. Preferably while scoffing psych drugs out of a bowl shaped like the head of Freud.

Verismilitude

Harry Nicolaides is an Australian Greek author who spent several years living in Thailand. His 2005 novel Verisimilitude, describing life in Thailand, led to his being sentenced to three years imprisonment for the offence of “lese majeste” – insulting the monarchy.

The offending passage reads as follows:

From King Rama to the Crown Prince, the nobility was renowned for their romantic entanglements and intrigues. The Crown Prince had many wives major and minor with a coterie of concubines for entertainment. One of his recent wives was exiled with her entire family, including a son they conceived together, for an undisclosed indiscretion. He subsequently remarried with another woman and fathered another child. It was rumoured that if the prince fell in love with one of his minor wives and she betrayed him, she and her family would disappear with their name, familial lineage and all vestiges of their existence expunged forever.

The book can be downloaded in its entirety via wikileaks.

Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin

Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin is a children’s book released in 1983 in English (1981 in Danish). Like many children’s books, it features a little girl and her parents. Perhaps unlike many children’s books, those parents happen to have matching genitals.

Moral conservatives, while puportedly opposed to homosexuality, do seem to have an overwhelming fixation with it. And so, when the Daily Fail made it known that a school in London stocked the book in its library, the atmosphere for a good old-fashioned moral panic was set.

It could only have been worse if Jenny, Eric and Martin were in fact asylum-seeking Muslims with the psychic ability to lower house prices.

For a children’s book it did, however, manage to have a significant impact on the adult world. In particular, it contributed to the passing of Section 28 for its apparent attempts to push the “gay agenda” (silly me, I thought it was about helping kids with unusual family structures).

Baronness Knight, in a 1999 debate on section 28, referenced the book:

I was keen to get rid of the books but I know they still exist because they were produced to me by parents. I was shown what the children were being taught and told why the parents objected so much.

Another book, which I should have thought everyone would remember, was called Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin. It depicted, on its cover, a little girl of about six years old sitting up in bed with her naked father on one side and his naked lover on the other. I shall quote the exact words used in the book because that, more than anything else, shows the age for which it was intended. It stated:

“Jenny is a little girl. Martin is Jenny’s dad and Eric is Martin’s lover. They all live happily together”.

The book went on to state that Eric, the father, drew Jenny a series of cartoons of two men who were saying:

“I love you Fred”
“I love you too, Bill. Why don’t we move in together?”
“That’s a good idea”.

[…]

I do not know what could cause more grave harm than to try to promote, as does the book Jenny lives with Eric and Martin, marriage as being outdated; that we should not have a mummy and daddy and can just as well have a daddy and a homosexual lover.

How atrocious. I can practically feel society crumbling as we speak.

This one, unfortunately, you’ll have to pay for.

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