I’m not an unqualified Christopher Hitchens fan, but I found myself nodding along with his column in the current Vanity Fair, pegged to the 20-year anniversary of the ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses.” His nut sentence is this:
I thought then, and I think now, that this was not just a warning of what was to come. It was the warning. The civil war in the Muslim world, between those who believed in jihad and Shari’a and those who did not, was coming to our streets and cities.
It’s an interesting piece, and stirs a lot of memories; I haven’t given Rushdie much thought since he emerged from hiding a while back. I haven’t read him, and so my mixed salad of known-facts about the guy is mostly from Page Six — his apparently bottomless thirst for hot babes, plastic surgery on his droopy lids and, of course, what I remember from 1989. Pat Buchanan was one of the sneering conservatives who said, essentially, big deal, calling him a “trendy leftist” who would, “if the ayatollah has his way,” hear “the swish of a scimitar” before departing for eternity. The rest of the column was padded out with finger-wagging at a writer who dared to criticize a religion. Hitchens recalls that was a common reaction on the right, while on the left was mainly fear, until Susan Sontag wrangled PEN to his defense — and it took some wrangling. Arthur Miller is named by Hitchens as one of those who preferred to remain silent until shamed into speaking up.
I recall damp, tedious, writer-ly sort of protests, public readings of the book and one of those “I am Spartacus” displays for the cameras in New York City. I remember Lance Mannion, then my friend in Fort Wayne, said Bush the Elder should proclaim that any move on Rushdie would lead to us bombing Qom. (Lance, I confess: I was taken aback.) Mostly I remember being bewildered by any religion that could lead to those angry, screeching protests we saw around the globe at the time. Well, I guess we learned, didn’t we?
The most depressing thing about Hitchens’ column is how effective the fatwa was. Rushdie lives, to be sure, but others connected to the book were killed by Muslim lunatics, and even today, the mere threat of similar violence can loosen the sphincters of every editor and executive producer in earshot. I was writing my Big Long Essay About Newspapers at the time of the Danish cartoon blow-up. My ex-editor in chief was quoted by her editorial-page editor explaining her refusal to print the cartoons or let the ed-page editor link to them on his blog: “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” Oh, snap! Somewhere Ben Bradlee is jealous.
Well, anyway — a good read.
Sorry for the late arrival today. It was a sleep-deficit catchup morning, which means I’m already behind. While we’re on the subject of the media, however: I had to force myself to read this blog entry about a certain blonde huckster with a very large Adam’s apple and her battle with a quote-news-unquote department, but I’m glad I did, even though it’s a Department of the Obvious sort of thing. (The headline is “grow a backbone” instead of “grow a pair” because it’s from Conde Nast and some pottymouth blogger.)
Now, off to shovel snow. Lance Mannion, stop by to help! We’ll discuss Rushdie!