I searched and searched everywhere on Google News for a grand international Muslim protest over the awarding of a knighthood to British author Salman Rushdie.
All I found was Pakistani MPs talking about diplomatic crises and some predictable ruptures in Iran. Woops, I almost forgot to mention protests by one of Malaysia’s opposition parties.
Not a peep, it seems, out of anyone else. Irshad Manji asks this question in today’s Australian:
In a battle between flaming fundamentalists and mute moderates, who do you think is going to win?
Given the mute response to Rushdie’s knighthood across most of the Muslim world (including among Muslims living in Australia), it seems the fundies aren’t having much fun.
That, however, didn’t stop The Oz’s sub-editors from giving Manji’s article the title of "Islam the problem". As if Islamic theology incites Pakistani MPs to make bold statements to divert their electorate’s attention away from their failure to address more pressing issues.
Manji, of course, said nothing of the sort. What she blamed wasn’t Islam but rather "hypocrisy under the banner of Islam". I doubt many Muslims would disagree with her.
Of course, Rushdie’s works haven’t just upset Muslims. His 1995 novel The Moor’s Last Sigh was effectively banned by the Indian government, and Rushdie received death threats from Hindu extremists.
Last June, I was in Malaysia on an exchange program sponsored by the Australia-Malaysia Institute. Our delegation was surprised to learn of certain books being banned, "deemed to be able to disrupt peace and harmony". Among them were works of prominent authorities who write on Muslim societies and theology, such as Karen Armstrong and John Esposito.
Strangely enough, Karen Armstrong is in Malaysia on a lecture tour and recently spoke on "The Role of Religion in the 21st Century".
On my final day in KL, I went to the Kinokuniya bookshop in the Petronas Towers. There, on the front counter, were a range of banned books being openly sold! No police or religious authorities were in sight.
Perhaps one day, the hysterical minority of Muslims who love wasting their time and energy on protesting against writers will realise that banning books and threatening authors achieves little more than to make these authors damned rich.
First published in the Crikey daily alert for Thursday 21 June 2007.
© Irfan Yusuf 2007