Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Dubious Anniversary

a sad beagle puppy sitting down

Among the many things forgotten about the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini on Valentine’s Day 1989 is that it did not stop at naming Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses. The author was condemned to death “along with all the editors and publishers aware of its contents”.

... He had also declared war against those not of the faith — if mere awareness of the contents of the Verses was a crime, then arguing that one was not of the same religion and blasphemy or apostasy did not apply was no longer a defense.

... His recognition that awareness itself of the contents of a controversial work was a crime was both an acknowledgement that knowledge is dangerous, and stands as an indictment of readers along with writers.

... In the 23 years since the fatwa on The Satanic Verses was first pronounced, much has been written about the responsibility of writers – most of it a veiled justification of censorship – or about Rushdie’s plight. But the Ayatollah’s fatwa cut out the possibility of engaged criticism by the faithful – disallowing them an expression of dissent or offense ...

... what he indicted 23 years ago was not just the act of writing, but the crime of reading; the Ayatollah’s stated aim was to assassinate readers along with writers.

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