Friday, November 17, 2006

The Faustian Verses

(This was combined with other material and cross-posted at

In 1988, Salman Rushdie wrote a book he entitled The Satanic Verses. The work was historical fiction, analogous to The Da Vinci Code, but without so many Masons.

Because the book suggested the fallibility of the Prophet, it angered many Muslims. The Ayatollah Khomeini put a 72-virgin price on Rushdie's head, resulting in the United States breaking off diplomatic relations with Iran. For the better part of 20 years, Rushdie has known as well as any the fury of the dark side of Islam.

To combat a bout of insomnia, I happened to catch part of a Rushdie talk on C-SPAN just before the elections. Watching him liberally finger his liberal goatee as he liberally peppered his talk with the usual liberal code words, with my insomnia almost cured, I almost missed him making a most interesting point.

Rushdie's point transcends the liberal and conservative labels, calling us back to our common heritage in the value of liberty, reason, and some of these really big and hard to pronounce words.

According to Rushdie, Western liberal intellectuals have become accustomed to believing that those the world over with darker skin are oppressed by the lighter-skinned ones. That almost instinctual belief is so intertwined with what it means to be a good liberal that all an African or South Asian demagogue need do is decry Western imperialism or oppression, and Western liberals will buy it hook, line, and lead-free sinker.

So Muslim extremists, with very illiberal points of view, engage the Western liberal media as willing allies simply by asserting the common enemy of Western dominance.

A parallel development is equally troubling to Rushdie, and that is the growth of multiculturalism. There is a pointed difference, Rushdie says, between rejoicing in the many and varied cultures we find thrown together in an increasingly global, mobile, interconnected world, and refusing to place boundaries of acceptability around behavior. Well, I think that was me, but Rushdie said something like that and I found it quite refreshing, coming from his perspective.

What Rushdie actually said was that multiculturalism gone awry has caused liberals to deny the value of their own culture and beliefs, raising an inherent contradiction. While the values of other cultures must not be judged, our own values must be not only judged, but often repudiated.

These two parallel developments have resulted in the tacit acceptance by liberals of the positions held by Muslim extremists that they would never accept from their own countrymen: women as chattel, Sharia law as a viable alternative to civil law, and the propriety of violence against civilians to advance a political cause (otherwise known as terrorism), as long as the cause is fighting Westerners.

Dr Faust has company, it seems. Often the enemy of my enemy is not my friend, after all.

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