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Nice to be honored, nicer to be fatwa-ed into literary wealth
Published on June 20, 2007 By PranayGupte In Politics
My good friend Anwer Sher in Dubai makes a trenchant point that, as literature goes, Sir Salman Rushdie's work, "The Satanic verses," is unlikely to rank terribly high in the pantheon of enduring books. There are readers who buy books to read them, and there are buyers who acquire books by the yard so they look good on their shelves. To put it another way, Sir Salman's books are often talked about more than they are understood. As Mr. Sher puts it, anyone reading his books would scarcely take offense at Sir Salman's prose and perspectives on Islam. Stronger stuff about Islam has been written by others who dodged fatwas; surely these writers must be languishing in dungeons for debtors, while Sir Salman blithely skates through the salons of the West.

Perhaps it's my journalistic skepticism, but let me put forth a -- not-so-original -- thought here: writers covet publicity. The fatwa has been good for Sir Salman's literary career, and certainly for his career as a fixture at A-List parties in London and New York. It's nice to be feted by the rich and powerful, and it's particularly nice when your hosts see you as a crusader for free speech and wear buttons that proclaim, "I am Rushdie." I don't mean to launch an ad hominem attack on Sir Salman here, but I'm dubious about his supporters' claims that the Iranian ayatollahs decided out of the blue to issue a fatwa against him. Maybe there's a P.R. book to be written, titled, "Seeking Fatwa." Pursuit of animus can produce excellent dividens; it can do wonderful things to make one's books fly off bookstore shelves.

One more point: knighthoods are often given out in Britain as candy for pals of those in power. Peerages and other major honors, including knighthoods, flow out of lists drawn up by the prime minister's coterie, not from royalty. It's doubtful that the reading habits of the Queen of England extend to Sir Salman's work. In fact, when V. S. Naipaul was knighted and went to Buckingham Palace for his investiture, Her Majesty said to him, "You're in books, or something like that, are you?" She was not being funny, and Sir V. S. did not think so either. (By the way, were the ayatollahs snoozing when he came out with his broadsides against Islam? But then, Sir V.S. has done fine at the cash register without fatwas being issued against him, although, being cantankerous and crotchety, he's less sought after for soirees than the congenitally cordial Sir Salman.)

Sir Salman hangs out wth Tony Blair's tony crowd. Now that Blair is about to leave 10 Downing Street, what better parting gift to bestow on his pal Mr. Rushdie than to ensure he becomes Sir Salman?

So what next -- a fatwa on Tony Blair? The Queen, perhaps? Note to publishers: Quick, publish their memoirs. Have book, go fatwa, make moolah (no pun intended).

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