Something's 'Gone Wrong Inside The Muslim World'

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Following last week's deadly assault on the U.S. Consulate in Libya over an anti-Islam movie, parallels have been drawn to a novel published in 1988. Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses angered Muslims around the world, and prompted Iran's leader to call for the author's death. Rushdie talks to Steve Inskeep about some of the reasons behind the recent violence.


This past week's violence over a portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad brings back memories of a notorious case from the late 1980s. That's when Salman Rushdie published his novel "The Satanic Verses."


That book was about emigrants to England, but it including a dream featuring a character like the Prophet Muhammad. The book prompted Iran's leader to offer millions of dollars for the author's death.

INSKEEP: We talked with Salman Rushdie about the memoir he's written about his years in hiding, and we'll hear most of that interview tomorrow. Let's get a taste today. We asked Rushdie about the violence of more recent years.

What do you think, when you hear about violence in the Muslim world because people perceive that their religion has been insulted?

SALMAN RUSHDIE: Yeah. Well, what I would say, in a general sense, is that I feel that something has gone wrong inside the Muslim world because I can remember - within my living memory - when some of these now-beleaguered, embattled cities like Beirut, Tehran, Damascus, Baghdad; when these were cosmopolitan, outward-looking, cultured cities which were interested in the rest of the world, and were much more like open societies.

And the fact that in the last half-century, these cultures seem to have slid backwards into medievalism and repression, is one of the - I think it's one of the great self-inflicted wounds. And out of that comes the rise of this new, much harsher Islam; come all these phenomena that you're talking about: the thin-skinnedness, the paranoia, the ease with which violence is engaged in, the readiness to believe that it's OK to kill people if you declare yourself offended by something. This is the mindset of the fanatic, the mindset of the tyrant. And it's a real shame that it seems to have spread so widely across the Muslim world.

INSKEEP: You're saying that it says more about the perpetrators of violence, than it does about whatever was written that offended them.

RUSHDIE: Yes, of course. Of course it does. I mean, I think if we wish to live in any kind of a moral universe, we must hold the perpetrators of violence responsible for the violence they perpetrate. It's very simple. The criminal is responsible for the crime. I mean, it's quite clear that this YouTube film is a disgraceful, shoddy little thing. And it's - I think - perfectly proper to condemn it, and the people who made it. But to murder people who had nothing to do with it because you deem yourself insulted and therefore, other people's blood can randomly be spilled, that's clearly a deeply uncivilized attitude.

INSKEEP: That's the author Salman Rushdie. We're going to talk with him more about his new memoir, of his life in hiding. That's coming up tomorrow.

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