Twenty-five years ago today, Ayatollah Khomeini brought his edict down on Salman Rushdie. Iran’s revolutionary leader objected to the author’s magical-realist novel The Satanic Verses because of its insults to the Muslim prophet Muhammad and responded by calling for the execution of Rushdie and “all those involved in the publication who were aware of its contents.”
That Rushdie was born in India, lived in Britain, and had no significant connections to Iran made this an unprecedented act of aggression, one that resounded widely at the time and has subsequently had an enduring impact. Indeed, one could argue that the era of “creeping sharia” or “stealth jihad” or “lawful Islamism” began on February 14, 1989, with the issuance of that short edict.
If Rushdie, 66, is alive and well (if not exactly flourishing; his writings deteriorated after The Satanic Verses), many others lost their lives in the disturbances revolving around his book. Worse, the long-term impact of the edict has been to constrain the ability of Westerners freely to discuss Islam and topics related to it, what has come to be known as the Rushdie Rules. Long observation of this topic (including a book written in 1989), leads me to conclude that two processes are underway:
First, that the right of Westerners to discuss, criticize, and even ridicule Islam and Muslims has eroded over the years.
Second, that free speech is a minor part of the problem; at stake is something much deeper – indeed, a defining question of our time: will Westerners maintain their own historic civilization in the face of assault by Islamists, or will they cede to Islamic culture and law and submit to a form of second-class citizenship?
Most analyses of the Rushdie Rules focus exclusively on the growth of Islamism. But two other factors are even more important: Multiculturalism as practiced undercuts the will to sustain Western civilization against Islamist depredations while the Left’s making common political cause with Islamists gives the latter an entrée. In other words, the core of the problem lies not in Islam but in the West.