I wanted to copy to Corner readers the passage in Auberon Waugh’s biography about the British Consulate in Rawalpindi (or some such place) being burned down by a mob of howling–sorry, ululating–Muslims offended by something he wrote. However, I got lost in the book, which will not let you stop reading from any point you start at. Sample, writing of his colleagues at the London scandal-sheet Private Eye:
“Whether the word of [Richard] Ingrams and [William] Rushton will survive to feed the imagination of future generations remains to be seen. My own small gift–for making the comment, at any given time, which people least wish to hear–is more ephemeral than any of theirs. Perhaps we should all cultivate our immortal souls.”
That wasn’t a bad gift to have. I wrote a letter (this was in pre-email days) to Waugh once about something he’d written, and got a surprisingly long, friendly, and very funny letter back.
Oh, here’s the Muslim incident. The year is 1971.
“I was asked round by William Rees-Mogg, editor of The Times, whom I had met at the christening of a shared godson, and invited to contribute a weekly Saturday column for the handsome sum of 50 pounds a week. This subsidized my work for the Eye, current affairs for The Times and lush places for the [London Evening] Standard, but providence was soon to take a hand. The features editor at The Times with whom I dealt was a pleasant fellow named James Bishop, who did not mind at all when I printed a violent attack on Sir Alec Douglas-Home, the Foreign Secretary under [Prime Minister Ted] Heath… Nor did he particularly mind when in the same piece I repeated an old army joke about the curious trousers worn by men in certain parts of the near East, although others’ reaction to this second joke was unexpected. In a rehearsal for the Salman Rushdie affair, furious letters were received from half the embassies of Islam, demonstrations were held in Printing House Square [home of The Times] and the British Council Library in Rawalpindi was burned to the ground.
“I was naturally proud to have caused such devastation…”
Sorry, it wasn’t the Consulate, it was the BC library. Waugh was fired as a result of the offending column. Nowadays, of course, he would have to go into hiding for the rest of his life. Things weren’t so bad in 1971. Why did they get so much worse? Because we kept cringing and yielding to these lunatics–by doing things like firing newspaper columnists for harmless jokes…