Salman Rushdie was physically attacked a few days ago, and everyone must be informed of this, considering that the Western press has been unanimous in hailing the “courage” of this “talented” novelist for “standing up” to “Islamic extremism” for decades (a reference to Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa against the British-Indian writer).
Our aim in the present article is not so much to defend or condemn the attack, which is as irrelevant as Salman Rushdie the individual himself, but to see why Salman Rushdie the symbol unveils the West’s unyielding deceit.
Neo-Orientalism and Indigenous Privilege
Rushdie is just one average writer among so many.
In the genre he’s known for, i.e., magical realism (portraying the world as it is but infusing fantastic elements which become natural parts of it), there are far more talented writers, especially in Latin America (think of Gabriel García Márquez among many others).
For example, Belgian writer Robert Poulet (died 1989) is barely mentioned nowadays because he collaborated with national-socialist Germany. But he was a founding father of the genre, penning such novels as early as in the 1920s.
But surely, Westerners, who are allegedly such objective lovers of art and beauty, will forget Poulet’s flirtations with fascism and appreciate his literary works for their own value, right?
The quite simple truth is that Rushdie’s rabid Islamophobia doesn’t disqualify him in Western eyes, unlike, say, far-right extremism.
But with Rushdie, there’s even more: Like V.S. Naipaul, who was the only Hindu nationalist fiction author of note, Rushdie is a sort of “neo-Orientalist.”
Orientalists, “old White men,” are no more the flavor of the day in our postmodern and post-racial West.
But in the times of neoliberalism, the Orientalist has been replaced by the neo-Orientalist, and instead of White privilege, we can talk of indigenous privilege: Rushdie, “because he’s brown and of Islamic background,” can carry on the old Orientalist clichés about Muslims (“they’re backward, fanatics, etc.”). He can do this precisely because he’s a dark ex-Muslim. He’s given a free pass to express these intellectually lazy and hateful platitudes, where it would be seen as politically incorrect for Whites to do so.
Another famous case is, of course, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has no academic credentials at all, but is authorized to pen whole books about Islam because she’s “a Somali ex-Muslim.”
There’s even academic literature about Rushdie’s neo-Orientalism.
Take Beyazit H. Akman’s chapter Neo-Orientalism, Neo-Conservatism, and Terror in Salman Rushdie’s Post-9/11 Novel, published in the collective book Middle East Studies After September 11: Neo-Orientalism, American Hegemony And Academia (edited by Tugrul Keskin and released by Brill in 2018).
Akman looks at Shalimar The Clown in detail, and he notes how Rushdie’s first post-9/11 novel just cemented old Orientalist banalities about Islam (“barbaric,” “jihadism,” etc.)
Are These Writers “Courageous” As Well?
We’ve seen that the only reason Salman Rushdie benefits from more Western attention than other, often way more talented writers is because he is a native informant pushing neo-Orientalism.
But considering that the West has no problem with Rushdie attacking the sacred (Islam), surely they’d have no problem if other writers attack another form of “the sacred”?
For instance, the Holocaust, which many consider the very last form of what is sacred in the secular West.
So why was prolific British historian David Irving jailed for “Holocaust denial”?
The British revisionist historian and Nazi apologist David Irving was today sentenced to three years in prison after he admitted denying the Holocaust.
An eight-member jury at a court in Vienna convicted Irving, 68, a few hours after it began its deliberations on the first day of his trial.
Robert Faurisson, a French historian, too was persecuted for these reasons in France, which prides itself on its free speech protections.
The New York Times reported in 2018, in its obituary about Faurisson:
Mr. Faurisson was regarded as a father figure by contemporary French exponents of Holocaust denial, the extremist fringe in a country with a long tradition of anti-Semitism. (…)
Mr. Faurisson distinguished himself by making a rare breakthrough into the country’s mainstream media, publishing a notorious opinion article in France’s most respected newspaper, Le Monde, in 1978. (…)
Titled “The Problem of the Gas Chambers, or the Rumor of Auschwitz,” the article was an immediate embarrassment for the newspaper, but it launched the public career of Mr. Faurisson, who until then was an obscure professor of French literature at the University of Lyon. (…)
In 1990 he became the first person in France to be convicted under a law that criminalized the denial of crimes against humanity as they were defined in 1946 by the Nuremberg Tribunal. (…)
The most recent judgment against him came in November 2016, when a court fined him 10,000 euros for propounding “negationism” in interviews published on the internet.
Surely, all these individuals are as courageous as Rushdie, if not more, considering that they knew very well that they were going against the law of the land.
Also note, they’re historians, not novelists like Rushdie, so you’d expect a bit more of “academic freedom” granted to them.
But Holocaust denial or affirmation is not even the real issue here (for example, Macron took legal action for being compared to Hitler in some poster). It’s yet again about the West’s unceasing double standards.