Article from the Wall Street Journal: June 23, 2007 by Sadanand Dhume
Another Friday in Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi — and as if on cue, the hoarse, bearded and pyromaniacal pour out of mosques into the streets armed with Union Jacks and effigies of Queen Elizabeth II, Tony Blair and the newly knighted Sir Salman Rushdie.
Having protested Danish cartoons and popish detours into Byzantine history to the point of exhaustion, the proverbial Muslim street is once again seething. Pakistan’s minister of religious affairs said Mr. Rushdie’s award justified suicide bombings, while a group of traders in Islamabad banded together to place a $140,000 bounty on his head. Fathi Sorour, the speaker of Egypt’s parliament, declared that, “Honoring someone who has offended the Muslim religion is a bigger error than the publication of caricatures attacking Prophet Muhammad.” Malaysian protesters besieged the British high commission (embassy) in Kuala Lumpur chanting, “Destroy Britain” and “Crush Salman Rushdie.” With the irony perhaps lost in translation, Iran, whose president thinks nothing of threatening to wipe Israel off the map, condemned the award and called it a clear sign of (that mysterious new ailment) “Islamophobia.”
For many of us, however, her majesty’s conferral is a welcome example of something that has grown exceedingly rare: British backbone. After years of kowtowing to every fundamentalist demand imaginable — from accommodating the burqa in schools and colleges to re-orienting prison toilets to face away from Mecca — the British seem to be saying enough is enough. Nobody expects Mr. Rushdie to be awarded the Nishan-e-Pakistan, the Collar of the Nile or Iran’s Islamic Republic Medal, but in Britain, as elsewhere in the civilized world, great novelists are honored for their work. A pinched view of the human condition or poorly imagined characters may harm your prospects. Blasphemy does not.
In the larger struggle against Islamism — the ideology that demands that every aspect of human life be ordered by the seventh-century Arabian precepts enshrined in Shariah law — the Rushdie affair carries totemic significance. In 1989 the late Ayatollah Khomeini declared a price on Mr. Rushdie’s head for the crime of apostasy, after reading about his mockery of the prophet Mohammed in “The Satanic Verses.” At the time, few could have predicted that this was merely the first act of a drama that’s still unfolding.
Eighteen years after the ayatollah’s fatwa, since lifted, but thanks to freelance fanaticism, never quite extinguished, the Bombay-born Mr. Rushdie has managed to lead a full life. He has turned out eight novels and essay collections, married twice (most recently the model and actress Padma Lakshmi), mentored a generation of young Indians writing in English, and spoken out against obscurantism and religious bigotry of every stripe. He has also witnessed — mirrored in his own predicament — the consequences of a Europe too paralyzed by deathwish multiculturalism and moral relativism to recognize the danger it faces. It has become a continent where an Islamist stabs a film director in broad daylight in Amsterdam, where bombs go off in Madrid commuter trains and London buses, where writers, directors and cartoonists suddenly find themselves bound by sensitivities imported not merely from alien lands but from another age altogether.
No Western country has done more to accommodate Islamists than Britain, and none better shows the folly of this course. Successive governments feted organizations such as the Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, and welcomed as refugees a stable of jihadist clerics, including the Syrian-born Omar Bakri Muhammad and the hook-handed Abu Hamza al-Masri. Rather than moderate Muslim passions, this climate of permissiveness gave us Richard Reid the shoe bomber, Daniel Pearl’s murderer, Omar Saeed Sheikh, the quartet behind the 2005 London bombings and the plotters who ensured that we must now worry about carrying moisturizing lotion and baby formula each time we board an airplane. A recent poll by Policy Exchange, a London think tank, shows that 28% of British Muslims would rather live under Shariah than under British law.
But at last it looks like the pendulum has begun to swing the other way. Mr. Rushdie’s elevation signals an intention to draw a line between respecting Islam and allowing a small minority of Islamists to impose their hairtrigger hysteria on secular Muslims and non-Muslims. It highlights two of the core values of Western civilization conspicuously absent in most of the Muslim world: freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry. It squarely rejects the notion that the fossilized norms of Mecca and Mashhad hold sway over Manchester and Middlesex, and beyond them, over Malmo and Minneapolis. Above all, it honors a brave man who has come to symbolize our turbulent times. A little old-fashioned British spine has never been more welcome.
Mr. Dhume is a fellow at the Asia Society in Washington, D.C. “My Friend the Fanatic,” his book about the rise of radical Islam in Indonesia, will be published next year.