Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
What prompted me to bring back a decades old subject was that Pew Research Center picked up an article yesterday for its daily email: Thirty years on, why ‘The Satanic Verses’ remains so controversial.
Michael Servetus (29 September 1509 or 1511 – 27 October 1553) denied Trinity and became a Unitarian, more like a Jew or a Muslim.
He was a Spanish theologian, physician, cartographer, and Renaissance humanist. He was the first European to correctly describe the function of pulmonary circulation, as discussed in Christianismi Restitutio (1553). He was a polymath versed in many sciences: mathematics, astronomy and meteorology, geography, human anatomy, medicine and pharmacology, as well as jurisprudence, translation, poetry and the scholarly study of the Bible in its original languages. He is renowned in the history of several of these fields, particularly medicine. He participated in the Protestant Reformation, and became a Unitarian and did not believe in Trinity. After being condemned by Catholic authorities in France, he fled to Calvinist Geneva where he was burnt at the stake for heresy by order of the city’s governing council under influence of John Calvin.
This should never happen again. This means freedom of speech, freedom to blaspheme, but not to hate monger and divide the society.
Should this mean a complete freedom to Salman Rushdie to blaspheme against Islam that Michael Servetus could not against Christianity?
Ahmed Salman Rushdie[a] FRSL (born 19 June 1947) is a British Indian novelist and essayist. His second novel, Midnight’s Children (1981), won the Booker Prize in 1981 and was deemed to be “the best novel of all winners” on two separate occasions, marking the 25th and the 40th anniversary of the prize. Much of his fiction is set on the Indian subcontinent. He combines magical realism with historical fiction; his work is concerned with the many connections, disruptions, and migrations between Eastern and Western civilizations.
His fourth novel, The Satanic Verses (1988), was the subject of a major controversy, provoking protests from Muslims in several countries. Death threats were made against him, including a fatwā calling for his assassination issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, on 14 February 1989. The British government put Rushdie under police protection.
In 1983 Rushdie was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the UK’s senior literary organisation. He was appointed Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France in January 1999. In June 2007, Queen Elizabeth II knighted him for his services to literature. In 2008, The Times ranked him thirteenth on its list of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.
While Michael Servetus was taking on the main stream views of the majority with rationality and logic, Salman Rushdie was undermining a poorly adjusted Muslim minority in 1980s in UK, through combining fiction with non-fiction. God best knows his intentions, but it certainly was not an academic debate on the merits or lack there of, about the revelation in general or the Quran, in particular.
Was it hate speech? I will let the readers decide.
European Convention on Human Rights has most recently defined the free speech and its limitations. Article 10 provides the right to freedom of expression, subject to certain restrictions that are “in accordance with law” and “necessary in a democratic society”. This right includes the freedom to hold opinions, and to receive and impart information and ideas, but allows restrictions for:
- interests of national security
- territorial integrity or public safety
- prevention of disorder or crime
- protection of health or morals
- protection of the reputation or the rights of others
- preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence
- maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary
If the publication and distribution of The Satanic Verses: A Novel, impedes the human rights of the Muslims, which it may in some situations, then it becomes hate speech rather than free speech, or at least cannot be allowed under the fifth exception above of the Article 10 of European Convention on Human Rights.
Just like the publication of the fiction of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, has often been condemned for its vulnerability to give rise to anti-semitism.
I am not suggesting any worldly punishment for Salman Rushdie. I am just promoting a debate on free speech and its limitations and the merit of the holy Quran.