The ink of the scholars was weighed against the blood
of the martyrs and overweighed it.
- A saying of the Prophet Mohammed (al-Khatib, Tarikh)
Shall I hear the lament of the nightingale, submissively lending my ear?
Am I the Rose to suffer its cry in silence year after year?
The fire of verse gives me courage and bids me no more to be faint.
With dust in my mouth, I am abject to God I make my complaint.
Sometimes You favour our rivals then sometimes with us You are free,
I am sorry to say it so boldly. You are no [more] fickle than we.
- Complaint to God, Mohammed Iqbal
For the West, irrespective of the artistic merits of the book, Rushdie’s ‘righ to write’ touched upon one of the foundations of Western civilization, the right of free expression, of freedom of speech and thought. It was not a fanciful or abstract right, a right whose merits could not be measured. The unprecendented success, influence and continuing dominance of Western civilization is, in part, built upon Western constitutions protecting and promoting the fundamental rights of their citizens.
….writer Ziauddin Sardar responded to the death sentence by commenting that, “Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa not only declared a death sentence for Rushdie, it made me redundant as an intellectual. Implicit in the fatwa is the belief that Muslim thinkers are too feeble to defend their own beliefs ”.
…Rushdie argues that “language and the imagination cannot be imprisoned, or art will die, and with it, a little of what makes us human.” But not everyone’s ‘language’, nor everyone’s ‘imagination’ can be equally expressed. As Rushdie knows all too well, power is not distributed fairly and equally in society. And if the language and imagination of people who are privileged enough to operate in the dominant culture of our times (such as Rushdie) is misused and abused, especially against the subaltern and marginalized, then although it might not result in their precious language, their precious imagination, their precious art being imprisoned or left to die, it does place at serious risk the language, the imagination, and the art of the subaltern, of the marginalized, being imprisoned and being left to die a slow death, and with it, a little of what makes ‘them’ and ‘us’ human will also die. Salman Rushdie, once a spokesperson for the oppressed, seems to have forgotten this.