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Salman Rushdie: “Muslims will eventually rebel against the fanaticism that devours their world”

13 August 2022 Interviews   68571  

In this interview conducted by our collaborator Martine Gozlan in February 2006, for the weekly Marianne, at the time of the release of his eighth novel “Shalimar The Clown”, the author of “The Satanic Verses” speaks of hope, creation and resistance. Vertiginous.

Interview By Martine Gozlan

 – While fanaticism proliferates, you describe in your latest novel, “Shalimar The Clown”, the lost paradise of Kashmir, now devoured by violence. Can Islamism win, there and everywhere?

– Salman Rushdie: Kashmir is a symbol. In India, its inhabitants were famous for their pacifism. My grandfather, who was born there, was the most tolerant man I have ever known and the novel is dedicated to him. But this fabulous place has become one of the most violent places on earth. The so-called leaders of contemporary Islam have succeeded in destroying a pure, open, colourful Islam, where people of all origins coexisted. But it is by tirelessly evoking these dissolved worlds that we can fight fanaticism. For someone who grew up in the Muslim world, it is very important to understand that there was another Islam. You have to revive first the nostalgia, then the vitality. I am an atheist but this memory lives in me. For the first time in my life, I cried while writing some pages of this book because I was writing about the death of a world. I am sure that the picture of this destruction will eventually lead to a revolt by Muslims. It has already happened, by the way. In Algeria. The revolt can only come from within Islam. The Soviet Union was thought to be indestructible, yet it has fallen into dust!

– Is it possible to create a real free-thought movement among intellectuals in Islam? One thinks of Irshad Manji, a Canadian of Pakistani origin, or Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Dutch MP of Somali origin threatened with death as you were. Can the unsubmissive unite their energy?

– Salman Rushdie: The lobby is not my problem. My function remains that of a writer. Let the writers write! If the chapter of persecution is closed for me, it is not closed for hundreds of other artists in the Islamic world.  When all this happened to me, I kept saying that I was not an isolated case. The world did not hear me. Today, the public is aware that new Rushdie cases are cropping up everywhere. Talking about it, helping those who are being hunted down, is a fight against fanaticism. The fictional characters that writers put on stage can help to dismantle the scenarios of real madness. With Shalimar, I try to get to the bottom of a fanatic character. It’s very complicated, a suicide bomber. In Kashmir, the people who join their ranks are weak. Why do they switch? Who is pulling the strings of their fate? My hero is the mixed product of a personal story and the graft of an external manipulation. To show all this is to act. With Islamism, we are not in the universe of good and evil, but in a cosmogony of total ambiguity. My only lobbying is to touch people deep inside. We all need to think that beauty will return. And it will.

– Where can you move freely, feel the beauty of the world again?

– Salman Rushdie: I went back to India three times, which was very important. I returned to the normal life of a writer. I came out of my own tragedy not with sadness but with elation.

– Where do you see places of hope, capitals that could become those of insubordination in Islam?

– Salman Rushdie: Only in the diaspora, not in the Islamic world. Wherever Islam is not confused with the state. In the US, the Muslim community is very modern. They read my books, they invite me to debate. Of course, I met Irshad Manji and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I always thought that the reform of Islam would start with women. Islam has a problem with modernity, and modernity comes through women.