Shaming Literature – ‘Sir’ Salman Rushdie

The current controversy on Rushdie’s knighthood has several dimensions. Amid the knee-jerk reactions alluding to the grand-conspiracy-against-Islam, it brings out various layers and levels of literature’s role and position in societies and now in the globalized world.

I was once a fan of Rushdie and avidly devoured his books with great admiration. From Grimus to The Moor’s Last Sigh, I marveled at his playfulness with the english language and its idiom which undoubtedly he has enriched. The collection of essays titled Imaginary Homelands was a combination of disparate but original writings. Somewhere during this process came the ridiculous Satanic Verses which other than its blasphemous content and brazen disrespect for a vast majority of Muslims was a bad piece of writing!

The decline of Rushdie as a writer, finally, was confirmed by the trashy “Ground Beneath Her Feet“. Thereafter, one read strange, ignorant pieces of his non-fiction in the Western mainstream media that needed his stature to find a rationale for the imperial projects in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Shalimar the Clown, his recent novel was even worse as it proved to be bereft of subtlety and re-invoked all the crappy, soul-destroying images and cliches of our times. In a non-serious piece, published in the Friday Times (Pakistan) in December 2005, I wrote:

“Salman Rushdie’s new novel, Shalimar the Clown, is enough to add to one’s misery. I finished browsing it; what else can you do with such stuff posing as quality fiction? As if the name of the central character Shalimar was not enough to offend a native reader such as I, the heroine India Ophuls – changing her name to Kashmira – was the ultimate illustration of cheap exoticism and a hackneyed dive into pass magical realism. Alas, Rushdie has started believing in his own mantra and the twisting of historical narrative. It simply does not work now. He is more of a bard for the ascendancy of the global tide against Islamism and perhaps he should stick to that. Better if he were to provide some intellectual depth to Fox News, or even better, if he started writing scripts for his young wifes tele-plays. Shalimar successfully completes the trilogy of Rushdies worst novels, the other two being The Ground Beneath Her Feet and Fury . Aijaz Ahmad, a US-based academic, argued a long time ago that Rushdie and Naipul were avatars of oriental consciousness. Small wonder that they are reviewed, exalted and globally hyped.

Much to my delight, a friend – an aspiring critic – sent me the review by Theo Tait of the London Review of Books: Noting what Rushdies style produces in the novel, Tait writes that it .. . is a cross between a piece of magic realism which displays all the worst vices of the style, and the contemporary international thriller. It is passionate, well-informed and sometimes interesting; but also hackneyed, simplistic and often very, very silly…””

Today, I read this brilliant article published in the Guardian written by a noted academic, Priyamvada Gopal that essentially is a lament of all that Rushdie and his new writings stand for:

“Sir Salman, on the other hand, is partly the creation of the fatwa that played its role in strengthening the self-fulfilling “clash of civilisations” that both Bush and Osama bin Laden find so handy. Driven underground and into despair by zealotry, Rushdie finally emerged blinking into New York sunshine shortly before the towers came tumbling down. Those formidable literary powers would now be deployed not against, but in the service of, an American regime that had declared its own fundamentalist monopoly on the meanings of “freedom” and “liberation”. The Sir Salman recognised for his services to literature is certainly no neocon but is iconic of a more pernicious trend: liberal literati who have assented to the notion that humane values, tolerance and freedom are fundamentally western ideas that have to be defended as such.

Vociferously supporting the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq on “humane” grounds, condemning criticism of the war on terror as “petulant anti-Americanism” and above all, aligning tyranny and violence solely with Islam, Rushdie has abdicated his own understanding of the novelist’s task as “giving the lie to official facts”. Now he recalls his own creation Baal, the talented poet who becomes a giggling hack coralled into attacking his ruler’s enemies. Denuded of texture and complexity, it is no accident that this fiction since the early 90s has disappeared into a critical wasteland. The mutation of this relevant and stentorian writer into a pallid chorister is a tragic allegory of our benighted times, of the kind he once narrated so vividly.”

In any case, Ali Eteraz is right when he states that what’s there is a colonial siege of the minds in this whole issue.

And, please also see a sensible editorial by the Pakistani newspaper DAWN here.

This dubious honour is yet another endeavour to reward the constructed clash of civilizations. The fact that Rushdie has accepted it, further confirms his degeneration as another script writer of this “theory”. Meanwhile, the protests in Iran and Pakistan only reinforce this vicious cycle of neo-orientalism .

Shameful indeed.

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