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The Satanic Verses November 7, 2011

Posted by Fiona in Big things, Bwargh, Edinburgh, Law, Sheer bloody-mindedness, University.
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I’ve just gone onto Wikipedia, and found out the plot of Salman Rusdie’s The Satanic Verses.  It was interesting.

Of course, I’ve heard of the book before – who hasn’t?  It’s practically synonymous with Rushdie’s name, with controversy, with all kinds of things – for the last few months, there’s been an exhibition about banned books at the National Library of Scotland, and I’ve gone round at least three times since August.  The Satanic Verses was all over it, that and Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

The last time I went round the exhibition, I went with my mother.

“Do you know what it’s about?”  She didn’t.  She remembered the controversy, the protests, the fatwah, but she had no idea what the book was about, and neither did I.  The exhibition wasn’t particularly enlightening on that front, although if I hadn’t known the plot of Lady Chatterley before I went in, I certainly did when I came out.

On Saturday, I went to Leeds, to see DV8’s new performance, ‘Can We Talk About This?’  I had no idea what I was going in to see – I didn’t look it up in advance – but it was one of the most thought-provoking pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen.  It’s based around interviews with all kinds of people, and has the basic premise of comment on how British attachment to multiculturalism means that it is failing to protect people who need to be protected.  It focuses on radical Islam.  There’s discussion of forced marriage, vigilantes, the murder or intimidation of writers and artists and film-makers accused of committing blasphemy, allegations of racism against people suggesting integration, or one law for everyone to abide by, or that Sharia might not be the right legal system for Britain.

I don’t know where I sit about this: it was more partisan than I was expecting.  I think I need to read more about it.

And yes, there was a bit about Salman Rushdie, and The Satanic Verses, and how dreadfully controversial it was and how some people took it as a religious insult.  And yet, until today, I had no idea what the plot of it was.

Other things I have found out in the last month: the workings of an international arrest warrant, what Idi Amin did, the geographic whereabouts of the Central African Republic and Nicaragua, who was in charge in South Africa when they implemented Apartheid, and that there is no actual treaty giving explicit state immunity to national Foreign Ministers.

What do you know?  The more about the world I find out, the more ignorant I am of it.  The more I feel like I’m swayed by anyone I meet telling me what the facts are and saying hey, well, you could look at it like this.  The greater the divide I feel there is between what I think about something, and what I happen to be arguing for this week.  (On the question of “Are human rights universal?”, in the last few weeks I have successfully argued both ways, in two different seminars, and in both I’ve succeeded in swaying several other members of the class.  It’s difficult not to feel manipulative, sometimes, even if it is in the safe confines of a seminar room.)

Having said which, I still don’t think I’ll bother reading any Rushdie any time soon.

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