It’s an odd thing to pop into ones head as the last of sleep drains away, but this morning I woke with a strange idea, religion.
As with all strange ideas born from slumber, this one threatened to wash away before my true wakefulness had returned and so I tried to capture some of it before it wriggled off into the shallows. It still would have gotten away if my wife had not entered the bedroom with the morning mugs of tea.
We drink tea, exchange pleasantries (did you sleep well stuff) and read the morning news in digital formats. We share some of the most interesting articles which are ‘interesting’ because they remind us that the world is in a shit storm and it’s making absolutely no progress in its journey through it.
This morning my wife led on the conversation breaker which was The Satanic Verses some thirty years on. Thirty years?
Last night saw Channel 4 air a documentary about Rushdie’s bombshell of a book which I am sure that few people have actually read, but many people have felt its influence. No, not the Bible, Koran, Communist Manifesto, or Fifty Shades, but The Satanic Verses. This a novel about the adventures, in magic realism, of Gabreel and Saladin, whose coincidental meeting leads them into a whole world-changing, multi-layered narative that points to, and pokes fun at, the untouchable faith that religions engender.
Published on September 23 1989, the novel immediately courted controversy with Saudi influence attempting to get the thing banned from sale in Britain. Around the world, and at the behest of a growing number of influencial clerics, the book was burnt in the grand tradition of tyranical thinkers across the centuries.
“A powerful tribe of clerics has taken over Islam. These are the contemporary Thought Police,” Rushdie explained later. His explanations were not to be heeded as one of these clerics pronounced a death sentence upon the writer’s head.
EXECUTE RUSHDIE, ORDERS THE AYATOLLAH.
The Ayatollah in question was Khomeini, keeper of Islam in Iran and not a man noted for his sense of humour.
So, what followed was: protests in the streets of Bradford, an attack on Collets, the left-wing bookshop, and the firbombing of Dillons for stocking the Rushdie novel. There were explosions in High Wycombe and London’s King’s Road. There was a bomb in the Liberty department store which housed a Penguin Bookshop (Penguin was the publisher of The Satanic Verses) and at the York Penguin bookshop. Unexploded devices were also discovered at the Nottingham, Guildford and Peterborough branches of the store. All of this for a novel that would have normally appealed to a rather elite and intellectual audience. Rushdie went into hiding for the decade that followed.
With a mug of tea at hand, my wife talked me through the programme and I wasn’t surprised to hear that the opinions it divined are still largely in-situ. East is East and West is West and all that.
Our conversation recovered from a head-shaking disbelief as to the growing chasm that separates communities with me telling her that my first thoughts of the morning were about some individual who dared to think that some other being was controlling his life and destiny, laying down rules to follow, and dictating what he should read, eat, and dream about the Virgin Mary.
If that man was to speak about it to a person of the psychiatric persuasion, drugs would immediately follow.