Is Religious Literalism a Modern Phenomenon? – Kenan Malik

Complete video at: http://fora.tv/2008/11/02/From_Fatwa_to_Jihad_The_Rushdie_Affair

Kenan Malik argues that literal interpretation of religious texts is a relatively new phenomenon, though many fundamentalists believe otherwise. Malik says literalists are disconnected from religious traditions and “make a fetish” out of holy texts to gain a “mark of identity.”


This year is the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Salman Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses, which led to one of the most famous free speech controversies of modern times. Deemed offensive to Muslims because of its portrayal of the prophet Mohammed, the book provoked large demonstrations by British Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, some of who publicly burned copies of the book. The book was banned in India, and in February 1989 the Ayatollah of Iran issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s head. As a result, The Satanic Verses became a totem of the battle for free expression across the world.

Today, the controversy continues to illuminate not so much a clash of civilisations as fault lines within the West itself. The response to the fatwa first revealed many anxieties familiar in contemporary debates about identity and ‘social cohesion’. In particular, the spectre of multiculturalism has haunted the book’s wider reception. Many believe that home-grown terrorism is proof that policies designed to quell discontent and minimise social atomisation, have achieved the opposite effects.

The journey from the Ayatollah’s fatwa to self-directed jihad waged by a small sect of British Muslims is complex. What does the Rushdie affair really tell us about the origins of radical Islam? And does the West still have an appetite for intellectual freedom? – Institute of Ideas

Kenan Malik is a writer, lecturer and broadcaster, and Senior Visiting Fellow at the Department of Political, International and Policy Studies at the University of Surrey. His next book, From Fatwa to Jihad, an account of the Rushdie affair and its legacy, will be published in February 2009, on the twentieth anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa.

Kenan is a presenter of Analysis on BBC Radio 4, a panelist on Radio 4’s Moral Maze, and has written and presented a number of radio and TV documentaries, including Disunited Kingdom, Are Muslims Hated? (which was shortlisted for the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression award), Let ’em all in and Britain’s Tribal Tensions.



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