Have you noticed how many of those people who’ve recently been writing about Salman Rushdie and expressing varying degrees of horror at the Ayatollah’s muderous fatwa, just have to throw in a little aside about Rushdie’s alleged arrogance, lack of self-awareness, or simply not being a very nice person? The slippery Pankaj Mishra in the Graun even berated Rushdie (in the context of the fatwa) for “peevish righteousness” against “those who criticised or disagreed with him.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/sep/18/joseph-anton-salman-rushdie-review).
Now, I don’t know Mr Rushdie and so if writers in the Graun and elsewhere are saying he’s not a nice man, etc, then who am I to disagree? What I can tell you, however, is that he’s certainly a more forgiving person towards at least one of those who betrayed him in 1989, than I would be.
Let’s be clear about this: what was at stake then and in the years that followed was a fundamental question of freedom of expression. It was, to put it simply, a battle between the forces of enlightenment (actually, The Enlightenment) and the forces of barbarism. There was no middle ground. Rushdie’s enemies included not just the cynical, fascist, rulers of Iran and some Muslim people foolish enough to allow themselves to be influnced by them, but also plenty of non-Muslims including some Western “liberals.”
The list of writers, commentators and so-called “intellectuals” in the West who scabbed on Rushdie (and I’m omitting those who merely equivocated) is a despicable role of shame: John Berger, Germaine Greer, Roald Dahl, Jimmy Carter and (probably nastiest of all) John le Carré, who accused Rushdie of (you guessed it) “arrogance” and “self-canonisation.” The treachery of la Carré led to a long-running feud between him and Rushdie (the latter vigorously supported by Christopher Hitchens).
As far as I’m concerned the likes of le Carré are simply beneath contempt and branded, forever, with infamy. In fact, I’d go so far as to agree with David Aaronovitch that:
It is a conceit of the British that, had fascism come to this country or we been invaded, then our reaction would have been very different from that of, say, the French. In those non-Muslims who attacked Rushdie, who blamed him for stirring things up, who argued that the book should not be published in paperback, who said that he had brought the danger on himself and publicly resented the costs of his protection, you see the same arguments and psychology that would have justified collaboration with totalitarianism.
Well, it seems old Salman isn’t quite as peevish and self-important as has been made out: according to today’s Times, Rushdie (speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival), expressed his regret for the quarrel with le Carré. “I wish we hadn’t done it,” he said. “I think of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as one of the great novels of postwar Britian.”
He added that la Carré had also expressed regret: “He’s a proud man, David Cornwell [la Carré's real name -JD], but he said, ‘If I was wrong, I was wrong for the right reasons.'”
That would not be good enough for me. But then, I’m obviously more “peevish” than Rushdie.
NB: Before they made up: the Rushdie-le Carré exchanges, http://www.rjgeib.com/thoughts/burning/le-carre-vs-rushdie.html
H/t (for the Aaronovitch quote): prof Norm, http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog/2012/09/blaming-salman.html