I decided to write this essay after an article appeared in the Sunday Times of 22 March 2015 in which an attack on Zainub Priya Dala is described by reporter Matthew Savides.
In about 1989, the year of the fatwa against Rushdie, I wrote the following poem. It went on my website, which I acquired in 2008.
The poem received the following comment in 2012.
Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses was published in 1988. The fatwa was announced in 1989. It is now 2015 – about twenty-five years later. Rushdie’s book has had no effect on the practice of the religion so why continue the vendetta? But people, including school children who are too young to be aware of the furore caused by Satanic Verses, still condemn Rushdie.Â
While Rushdie is/was made to fear for his life, the Monty Python company’s send up of the Christ story in The Life of Bryan and their other parodies of life, have made them celebrities. Being a fan of both Rushdie and Monty Python, I find it necessary to investigate the meaning of the difference in treatment of men who enjoy parodying life. And of course, I am not objective; I don’t know anyone who is. We are all preconditioned by our circumstances to make judgments that reflect our understanding of the world.
So from the start I freely admit that I do not approve of fanaticism. As human beings, we have the ability to reason. It is an ability I prize, and through it, I search for objectivity. Being a fallible human being, I consider it a betrayal of being human to condemn other human beings simply because I do not understand their points of view. Such condemnation is fanatical.Â A fanatic is one who upholds only one point of view—his own.
Fanaticism is always accompanied by violence – in language, as in the comments from my website or physical violence as in the case of the Durban author, Zainub Priya Dala. Violence proceeds from the fanatic’s inability to tolerate difference of opinion. This intolerance emanates from the fanatic’s inability to engage in rational argument. Being ruled by emotion (in the first comment above, the writer calls himself “A man filled with hatred!”), the fanatic’s modus operandi is to attack. His affiliation to his point of view being absolute, he cannot absorb any difference in understanding. He condemns difference out of hand and can only deal with it violently.
The fanatic’s modus operandi is based on fear – the fear of infection, fear of being absorbed into a new way of seeing and thinking. It is an indication that one’s own faith in one’s belief is not absolute; it is anÂ indication of self-doubt. The fear of losing the stability of his conviction does not allow the fanatic to entertain a different point of view. His inordinate fear leads to violence in speech and action. The men who attacked Dala, were afraid of her; afraid that she would change their minds, afraid that she would reveal their prejudice to them. And their fear filled them with a hatred that manifested itself in violence. In apartheid South Africa, black people were feared so they were subjected to tremendous violence. Fear is a very basic instinct. In order to be civilized, one has to conquer one’s fears.
Some may see the men who attacked Dala, as men filled with anger at the betrayal of their faith; I see their actions as fuelled only by fear. If they had real faith, they would have laughed at Dala and Rushdie and not considered them a threat. The fact that they wanted to harm Dala, is a clear indication that they don’t believe their faith is infallible; they actually believe that Dala or Rushdie can do harm to a faith that has been growing and developing for centuries. They do not believe their religion is strong enough to withstand Rushdie’s sense of humour.Â
Fanatics do more harm to their faith than a Dala or Rushdie ever could. I actually feel sorry for them. How awful it must be to have so little faith in the power of their religion. But in fact, the whole situation has nothing to do with religion. It has everything to do with the attackers’ feelings of insecurity. They need affirmation of their faith from others to strengthen their own beliefs.
People confident of their faith feel no threat when others express different attitudes and understandings. While Dala and Rushdie have to fear for their lives, the Monty Python company lives and prospers in England. The Life of Bryan is out on DVD for anyone to purchase. There is no fear that The Life of Bryan is a threat to the church and Christianity. For people in England, it is a send-up of the Christ story and they can laugh with it or tolerate it because they are firm in their beliefs. In fact, The Life of Bryan provides relief from the solemnity of ritual and worship and actually reinforces people’s appreciation of their faith.
In The Life of Bryan, they can encounter in humour whatever doubts they have and working through the film’s absurdities, discover for themselves their own understanding of their faith. They don’t get angry and curse, they laugh instead and begin to think more deeply about their faith; no one takes to heart the lampooning of holy cows.
Salman Rushdie, doing a similar thing with Satanic Verses, infuriates those less secure in their culture. Locked into absolutes, they are not able to understand Rushdie, who has embraced the relativity of truth. Like Giordano Bruno, who believed in the infinity of the universe – as we do in modern times, Rushdie is being persecuted for not being a reductionist, as all fanatics are.
As human beings we create absolute truths to give our existence stability, but our absolute truths are only absolute until a Copernicus or an Einstein comes along. Then we find ourselves in a new understanding of reality. But there are still people in the world too afraid to accept the infinite variety of creation.
Fanatics are afraid of change and their fear makes them violent. Their whole endeavour is to stop change and by stopping change, to stop progress. Their fear allows them to justify anonymous attacks on the unsuspecting. Three men pursuing a woman alone in her car, then smashing her face with a brick and disappearing without a trace, demonstrate their inability to reason.
It is sad to think that in a world in which scientists are able to demonstrate that we live in an expanding universe, there are those who still have only a primitive understanding of human existence. How is it that they have been left behind? With all the means of education at our disposal in the modern world, how is it that there are still those capable of such mindless acts.
It makes one see religion as reactionary.
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