Not being a great fan of patronage and peerage, I’m not usually enthused by the Honours Lists. They are a way to recognise valuable individuals, particularly the local charity workers who may otherwise be unknown. However, it also means the usual list of old polticians, civil servants, military officers and employees of the Royal family getting a gong simply for having done a job.
This year’s Queen’s birthday list saw the knighthood of Salman Rushdie. It would be unremarkable for an esteemed author (not just a Booker, but the ‘Booker of Bookers’) to be honoured, except of course that there is more to his history.
When The Satanic Verses came out, he was accused of blasphemy (how a non-Muslim can be accused of blasphemy seems odd, surely any member of a religion that denies Allah’s place as the indivisible god of all creation is also a blasphemer). Famously, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini condemned him to death in a fatwah.
Of course, this sort of thing undermines the idea that Islam is a religion of peace, or that it is robust enough to withstand criticism. Like the Danish cartoons affair of 2005/6, a deliberately provoked overreaction led to violence.
Today the Pakistani parliament did their best to calm tensions – by condemning the knighthood in a debate which included a government minister suggesting that it could justify suicide attacks. The Muslim Council of Britain called it an insult.
The real insult is actually the idea that people of a faith can dictate to everybody else what to read, what to say, or what to think.
While I have no problem with Muslims as people, and regard all religions as equally valid, I think that one’s beliefs are ones own affair, and should not be imposed on other people simply because they stem from a religion. That includes institutional control like a theocratic government and most definitely includes the threat of violence (or the justification of violence).