Reflection on The Satanic Verses

Reflect on the excerpts from The Satanic Verses  from your reading packet in relation to the context provided in the other readings and the wiki. Respond on the blog to one or more of following questions: how does your knowledge of the historical context alter your interpretation of the text? How does the text speak back to its context? How radically does it critique the dominant ideas of its time? In what ways does it contain or distract from radical critique? How does reading this text in the present shade your interpretation differently that if you had read it at its publication? How does the text reflect the contingencies and problems of historical reconstruction? Your answers should total not less than 200 words and should be posted by the end of class (1:30 pm, 6/25)

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12 thoughts on “Reflection on The Satanic Verses

  1. The controversy that surrounds the Satanic Verses is interesting to consider. The dominant idea at the time was a strong belief in Islam. Leaders of Islam found aspects of the work to be blasphemous. I do not think that the work strongly critiques Islam in any particular way. Rushdie issued a statement saying that the novel was not meant to be antireligious or critical of Islam. While inspiration may have been drawn from major Islamic figures and stories, I think the story would have been a lot different if the goal of Rushdie was to critique Islam. I think the Islamic leaders just did not like the way Islamic figures were portrayed even though they only served as inspiration. Their fatwa seems a little extreme but in a conservative Islamic context freedom of speech is not right, especially when it comes to issues of religion. An interesting thing to look at might be Rushdie’s personal beliefs and thoughts on Islam. I think this work and the controversy about it shows some of the issues that arise with historical reconstruction. I can understand why some people might not like works that draw from historical inspiration but make changes. But at the same time, writers of these types of work never claim their work to be history. I think openmindness and understanding of the author’s intentions are important to keep in mind.

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  2. The Satanic Verses being read in a modern day setting, as opposed to the 1980’s when the novel was published, would clearly display the differentiation between international perception on the Muslim religion as well as reactions to Muslim radicalism. The modern day reading of The Satanic Verses, with the current warring state of affairs in the middle east being a hot topic, would cause for the reading of the novel to be perceived more so as an exemplary example of writing in a new-age perspective of the Muslim religion, although most individuals in the middle east would still perceive the work as a critique and blasphemous piece of literature. While the time that the Satanic Verses was published the Middle East was just finally settling after the Islamic Revolution and tensions were still relatively high throughout the Middle East. The Satanic Verses just added kindling to the fire and is one of the major reasons that a majority of the responses to the novel were negative reactions arguing that the novel was blasphemous as opposed to its actual goal of providing a modern look at how the Muslim religion should be perceived and acted upon.

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  3. The Satanic Verses history is a bloody one. Islam and its people were so offended by the blasphemy in this book that they went so far as to arrest and/or fine people who owned or read it, and even sent a warrant (with a large cash reward) out for the author’s death. Knowing all of this before I read some of the excerpts made me feel it was a bit extreme to go that far to try and censure these “sacrilegious” stories. The author himself even sent out a statement trying to clear the controversy by saying it is not anti-religious, but that did little to nothing.
    I do not know of Islam’s history and religious views so I was unable to clearly grasp the passages. Then I tried to think of something I am passionate about and what would happen if someone spoofed it through a fantasy, or feeling it was being disrespected or “disfigured,” and came to the conclusion that their objection to it was valid but death threats and bombings were not. It may even be the time period we are in where now where people see things and are more open minded to different things and that’s why I don’t see it to be as big of a deal as they made it to be. Although the countries where it was banned are not as liberal to people expressing different opinions and Syed Shahabudins’ statement “You may hold whatever private opinions you like but you do not enjoy an absolute right to express them in public,” shows that during this time and place The Satanic Verses must have heavily critiqued or offended the dominant Islamic ideas. I feel authors should be very clear about what their intent in their work is and for readers to be able to neutrally analyze ideas, and this probably much easier thing to do in the present.

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  4. The most interesting thing about the controversy surrounding The Satanic Verses is that very few of the people against it had actually read it. Rushdie writes, “Depict the birth and growth of a religion something like Islam, in a magical city of sand named Jahilia (that is ‘ignorance,’ the name given by Arabs to the period before Islam).” Here Rushdie is trying to explain that without Islam or God there is only ignorance. This is ironic because ignorance is exactly what the radical Muslims are showing. Rushdie tries to explain that the goal of his book was not to slander the Islamic religion, but to show readers how the absence of God could destroy a life. I also find it ironic that the meaning that Rushdie attempted to give became distorted. It is ironic because it parallels how religious texts are often taken out of context. The radicals took The Satanic Verses at its face value and only looked at it literally. They did not even consider that Rushdie was writing a work of fiction, and when reading fiction it is more important to look at the figurative rather then the literal. All they could see was the offensive distortion of there Islamic faith instead of the message that Rushdie was attempting to give.

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  5. After reading the excerpts from “The Satanic Verses”, I thought that the people have taken the book too far and too seriously. Even though Rushdie had a purpose/meaning behind his writing, it still does not have any affect on anyone if they choose not to. The Islam people at the time seem to be so closed minded that they did things out of anger instead of knowing what they were doing or why they were doing it. The people ended up searching for Rushdie because the reward was out, but taking a human life away because they present an idea that is different that your beliefs is quite ridiculous. I do not know the extremity of this ‘offensive’ material, but the people of Islam were furious and fueled with hatred. As an outsider looking in, it makes it easier to critique the humanity of these people because I am not affected. On the other hand if I were to live in that time and be Islamic then it could be a different story. I think that living in the modern day, and in America, we are a lot more open to everything in life which makes it easier to see others perspective. Nonetheless I do not think it is humane to take ones life away because of their perspective.

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  6. If I had been reading The Satanic Verses during its publication, I would probably be reading it in some sort of underground bunker/pillow fort because obtaining the book would have required some extremely dangerous effort. If I had read it during its publication, I’d probably get caught up in the whole “anti-Islamic propaganda,” trying to figure out and look for evidence that suggests that The Satanic Versus is against Islam and not just an interesting book regarding spirituality. I would have read the book with an agenda. I would have interpreted it in such a way to link its prose to something about Islam, as if Rushdie wrote the book with that in mind. I would also, as mentioned above, would be a lot more afraid reading it if I did so during its publication. It was taboo. It conjured a lot of death threats. It was a dangerous, or soon-to-be dangerous rare piece of text, and now, I can search it on google and find a pdf of the book within seconds. Over the years, I believe The Satanic Versus has grown from criticism of Islam to a story which was criticized of criticizing Islam. It is less about how does the book offend Muslims, but rather how were Muslims so offended by the book?

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  7. With the knowledge of the historical background of Islam and the Muslim religion, it informs interpretation of the text rather than it altering the interpretation. I feel that if one read the book without historical background, it would just be another novel that has taken inspiration from history. The history of Islam and its religion informs us on why the book was so controversial. The Satanic Verses compares Islamic iconography in a way that offended many Muslims because it seemed the book attacked the core of its faith. They saw the book as insults towards the Koran and the prophet himself and the title of the book may have suggested the verses in the Koran were written by the devil. If this book was read during the time of its publication, I could see how people were afraid to read the book because there are elements that touch on a strong religious faith. In a statement of self-defense, Rushdie explained that the book’s intention was to portray the character’s struggle with finding identity between faith and doubt of faith. In present day, the book is not as controversial because with the open mindedness in society, we can see how the book illustrates figuratively the ideas that the author intended and that it doesn’t insult or attack Islam but rather pulls inspiration from the faith.

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  8. The Satanic Verses is a very interesting controversial book. Just by reading the title of the book I thought the book might’ve been written with the intention of being blasphemous. However by reading the context I learned that Rushdie had no such intention. After reading the packet I also learn that book was a huge issue with Islam. Referring Muhammad prophet Mohamed, which means false prophet is definitely insulating to Muslim leaders and its belief.
    If I had read the book at the time of its publication, I feel like I would have a hard time at trying to read the underlying messages of this book. Usually when a book is first released, its face valve is what comes out first and I would have had a hard time trying to find the messages that were critiquing Islam. Everything taught was be portrayed much differently and tarnished its reputation. However I probably would have attempted to give it a read to try understand it. But in some cases some believed the book to be so bad that there was no need to read it. For example, Shahabudin, in defense of censorship, said, “I do not have to wade through a filthy drain to know what filth is”.

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  9. The controversy surrounding the Satanic Verses is largely if not entirely dependent on Islamic history and religion. Many Muslims who were so deeply offended by the book felt in such a way because the book was interpreted as attacking their religion, faith, and traditions. It seems as if those who were most offended by the book did not see Salman Rushdie’s intentions in the novel’s meaning as he intended them to be seen. During the time of its publication, it was fairly rapidly banned and it would have been a feat to even have gotten ahold of the book. This inspired fear in those who even were curious about reading the book to see its real meaning, and it therefore was not read in the way it was meant to be. Salman Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses as a work of fiction, and it was not widely interpreted in that way and henceforth caused an uprising of controversy.

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  10. The Satanic Verses, using the Islamic heritage as a backdrop and prototype for the theme of conflict, offends the Islamic religion. Although differences between fictional characters contained within the Satanic Verses and actual figures in Islam are carefully expressed, the book was judged to be blasphemous and insulting to Islam. The novel brings to light and challenges the credibility of religious texts and the definite possibility that we would not be able to discern fact from fiction anyway. Historical reconstruction especially regarding religion is absurd because of the fact that there is no way to confirm these claims. Literature has always been a way to transmit ideas and wonderment and in the early times were a way to explain the unknown through a subjective viewpoint which lacks critical imperial study. Its only merit is ones own belief and therefore opinion. The power of a single religion against the world is small and reading the Satanic Verses in such a free-spirited and increasingly secular environment would cause only small frustrations in the grand scheme of things. This is apparent in Britain’s defense of the text and Iran’s reproach to the fatwa. Being close minded limits yourself to what you already know while open mindedness allows u the armory of the universe. Knowing things also means constantly re-evaluating past experience and knowledge such that it is kept accurate and efficient in a constantly changing world.

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  11. The Satanic Verses is indeed a very controversial book no matter what the time period. Being released in the 1980’s or if it was released today, the book would still create controversy. However the extent to which the book was critiqued and received would be a lot different now. Reconstructing religious history is a very controversial thing to do. Religion has strong followers that are passionate in their beliefs. Changing the strong beliefs of these followers would ensue strong backlash. I do understand why people were so upset at the fact the book seemed to be reconstructing religious history, however I believe that the death threats that the author received and the penalties for possessing the book were too extreme. The author had no intention of offending the Islamic religion. In my opinion, I believe that some people might create death threats if it were released today, however I feel that the government or institutions won’t get involved like how they did. I feel that society is a lot more open to controversial ideas today so the book wouldn’t have been received so negatively. The book would be interpreted much differently in that fact that many might look at the literary purpose of his writings now rather than the literal meaning.

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  12. “Civilization is nothing but voluntary acceptance of restraints.” This was spoken by Syed Shahabuddin, a Muslim member of the Indian Parliament. That statement really stood out to me in the readings. The controversy, terror, and censorship within the international Muslim community caused by The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie demonstrates Shahabuddin’s claim. When Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini made the fatwa again Rushdie, he gained international support from the Muslim community. Many people were willing to kill a man over a fiction because of the strict dogma of religion. In this instance it was Islam, but this dogmatic zealot-ism often applies to other religions and ideologies as well. It reminded me of the Marxist belief that “religion is the opium of the world.”
    While reading the supplementary materials for this blog post, I couldn’t help but think of Christian protests over similar media, although they’re usually slight such as the movies Dogma or Da Vinci Code. As with the case with the protests and threats over The Satanic Verses, those doing the protesting and making the threats have not read or seen the material they are protesting. They are protesting because they are offended, rather ignorantly so, rather than protesting because they have comprehension of the material, have analyzed it and find it highly problematic.

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