Protests against Salman Rushdie's Knighthood

A Satanic Tactic

In the case of Iran and Pakistan, the citizens are being unscrupulously manipulated in order to distract people's attention from both domestic and foreign policy problems, says Peter Philipp in his commentary

Salman Rushdie poses for a picture before the gala presentation of the Montblanc de la Culture Award in New York, 2 May 2007 (photo: AP)
Salman Rushdie, author of "The Satanic Verses", was awarded a knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours on 16 June 2007

​​Only naïve souls could interpret the manifestations of popular anger and public indignation in the streets of Tehran or Islamabad as a true expression of the mood of the populace. It's not about them; they are merely being utilized by the public authorities as a finely orchestrated means to an end.

In order to achieve what are sometimes completely different political goals or to divert attention from their own problems, the otherwise so "security-minded" – if not to say: repressive – regimes allow such demonstrations to take their course: against insulting Mohammed caricatures in Denmark, against alleged desecrations of the Koran somewhere in the world or – as is now the case – against the honor bestowed by the Queen on British writer Salman Rushdie.

Who has read the book?

Which of the demonstrators now gathering in front of the British embassies in Tehran and Islamabad has actually read the book – the "Satanic Verses" – with which Rushdie incurred the wrath of the Islamist extremists? Probably none of them. But that's not the point.

In 1989 the Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini proclaimed a fatwa against Rushdie and Iran put a bounty on his head. Rushdie was forced to go underground for ten years, living under police protection. Only then did Tehran agree, not to lift the fatwa of Khomeini – in the meantime dead – but at least not to take action on it. Rushdie's life began to get back to normal.

Pakistani minister: suicide bombers justified

The new demonstrations taking place against the writer definitely have nothing to do with the "Satanic Verses." He was not granted knighthood for that book, but for his entire life's work. But Iranian as well as Pakistani officials characterize the honor as a renewed insult to the world's one-and-a-half billion Muslims. And the Pakistani minister for religious affairs even went so far as to say that a suicide bomber would be justified in exacting revenge for this unfriendly act on the part of the British royal house.

If that isn't an insult, what is? An insult to all well-meaning people the world over, no matter which religion, skin color or language. This kind of statement is equivalent to a slap in the face of anyone who stands up for understanding and freedom – including and especially between cultures. Even if he is Muslim and believes in the true message of his faith. Namely, peace and understanding.

Misusing religious sentiments for political ends is not exactly something new. But in the case of Iran, one might have hoped that things had changed. And in the case of Pakistan, one really believed it. After all, that country is not an insignificant partner in the "war against terror."

In both cases, the citizens are being unscrupulously manipulated in order to distract people's attention from both domestic and foreign policy problems. And the risk that this tactic might lead to dire consequences is simply taken for granted.

It's all so easy, since everyone knows who is at fault: if people are harmed during the protests, the West is of course to blame. What a Satanic tactic…

Peter Philipp

© Deutsche Welle/ 2007

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor-Gaida

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