On SAGE Insight: The fatwa and the philosophe: Rushdie, Voltaire, and Islam

From The Journal of Commonwealth Literature

A huge volume of literature has been written about Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses and the fatwa issued in response to it by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Whilst much literary criticism has recommended that we should avoid reading the text and the furore of “the Rushdie affair” along the harmful binary lines of Eastern tyranny and Western freedom, this article addresses this rhetoric of cultural difference directly. In a 1992 speech to the International Conference on Freedom of Expression in Washington DC, Rushdie asserted that blasphemy and heresy, far from being the greatest evils, are the methods by which human thought has made its most vital advances.

 

Abstract

A huge volume of literature has been written about Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses and the fatwa issued in response to it by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Whilst much literary criticism has recommended that we should avoid reading the text and the furore of “the Rushdie affair” along the harmful binary lines of Eastern tyranny and Western freedom, this article addresses this rhetoric of cultural difference directly. Arguing that an unhistorical idea of the Enlightenment is becoming increasingly central to the way that Rushdie and others explain what they perceive as the gulf between “Islam” and “the West”, and analysing Rushdie’s recent tendency to construct himself as “the new Voltaire”, this study crosses centuries and disciplines to shed new light on the ways in which the discursive figure of the Islamic despot is central to the cultural critiques of both authors.

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Article details
The fatwa and the philosophe: Rushdie, Voltaire, and Islam
Adam Perchard
The Journal of Commonwealth Literature
Vol 51, Issue 3, 2016
DOI: 10.1177/0021989415574138

 

     
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