|Protests Against Rushdie in Jaipur during Literary Festival|
|Organizers Call Off Rushdie's Video Conference|
|The Book Itself|
After all these years, is it really worth fabricated intelligence about mafia hit men? The Satanic Verses is an undeniably provocative book. Rushdie names his main character a derogatory word for Muhammad that dates from the Crusades, gives prostitutes the names of Muhammad's wives, implies Muhammad believed in three pre-Islamic Meccan goddesses, and challenges the veracity of Muhammad's revelation, positing that Muhammad's scribe changed verses of the Quran without Muhammad noticing, "So there I was, actually writing the Book, or rewriting, anyway, polluting the word of God with my own profane language. But, good heavens, if my poor words could not be distinguished from the Revelation by God's own Messenger, then what did that mean?" (380). One can't throw together that sort of blasphemous lineup and not have some inkling about inciting some serious reactions. To this day The Satanic Verses remains Viking Penguin's best selling book of all time, and Rushdie earned $2 million in the first year of publication.
|Rushdie at Previous Jaipur Literary Festival|
But what's the true impact of public censorship of controversial writers in India? Anjay Roy says, "the government's move presupposes the Muslim community's disposition towards violence. What is more dangerous, it could be interpreted as an attitude of cowering before the slightest threat." Too many years of studying Hindu extremism in India leads me to believe the "Muslim community's disposition towards violence" is only as threatening as the disposition, and sometimes direct state sponsorship, of Hindu nationalism towards violence in India.
|Painting by M.F. Hussain|
Provocation is generally not the end goal of artistic expression, although sometimes it's a necessary corollary. But violence and threatened violence against art? The recent death of M.F. Hussain in exile, driven out of India due to protest over his representations of Hindu deities, is yet another example of artistic censorship. I doubt that those who protested against M.F. Hussain had any understanding of his creative process, just as I sincerely doubt that any of the protesters who convened on the Jaipur Literary Festival had ever read The Satanic Verses (a complicated book that left me scratching my head at points). Provocation is part of artistic statement, and protest is part of a useful artistic dialogue in society. But violence? These are just words on a page, colors on a canvas. It's only the hatred and fear of the viewer that gives them meaning and power.