Salman Rushdie just published his memoir about his years under the "fatwa" by Ayatollah Khomeini. It is named
"Joseph Anton: A Memoir"
after the alias he used in those years. He was interviewed by
Q. In the new book you write that the protagonist -- you -- chooses ethics and the universality of freedom over fundamentalist religion and moral relativism. Is this the defining conflict of the epoch?
A. I think so. I really wanted to sum it up not just in a narrow political way but in terms of what it is about literature and the things that I love that I wanted to defend against the things that were attacking them.
Q. You called the "Innocence of Muslims" video the worst thing on YouTube. It certainly isn't art, but it is "speech." Should we draw a line on the protections we extend to speech?
A. I don't think so. The correct response to a piece of nonsense on YouTube is to say it's a piece of nonsense on YouTube. To use that to try to blow up the world just seems, to put it mildly, disproportionate. It's become clear that the video has become a pretext for the unleashing of a more generalized anti-American rage. And the video has been used by political and religious leaders across the Muslim world just to point an angry mob in the direction of America.
Q. Even as the video protests unfolded, "The Book of Mormon," which makes light of religion, opened in the U.S. Nobody burned down theaters over it.
A. It's a brilliantly clever show, and I know a lot of Mormons have seen it and thought it was funny. This is how to be grown-up. We're sometimes told that, on [history's] calendar, Islam is only in the middle ages, so it will mature as the centuries pass. But Mormonism seems to have got there a lot faster.
Q. You were the subject of a rather cartoonishly nasty video by Pakistani guerrillas.
A. When that film was brought to
Q. There are Western countries that limit free speech -- for example, Holocaust-denier laws in
A. Even in free countries there is disagreement about these limits -- I myself am against the anti-Holocaust laws, though I understand why they're there. When a Holocaust-denying "historian" was prosecuted in
A mature society understands that at the heart of democracy is argument. There will always be people going too far. In an open society we have to develop a thick skin and deal with it.
What's happened in
Q. In the book, you describe conservative Islam as looking backward at a vanishing culture and attracting followers marginalized by modern urbanization.
A. Certainly poverty and economic decline have a lot to do with the so-called rage of Islam. You've got all these young men in countries which are economically in bad shape. The idea that they might be able to make a good living and get married and have a family, a decent life, seems very remote to a lot of people in a lot of the world. That makes people angry, and that rage can be channeled, and unscrupulous people are trying to channel it in ways that help them politically. The economics have a lot to do with this.
Q. You write about recapturing your freedom when you visited the U.S. from
A. Maybe it ties into American ideas of individualism. People were more willing to let me make my own decisions; instead of telling me that I had to be inside a particular security bubble or else, I was allowed to make those choices and it felt somehow a little more dignified. It was like being given air to breathe after being in an airless chamber for a long time. I think it's very much the reason why I ended up making a life for myself in
Q. What are the differences between American and British Muslims?
A. I don't see the kind of ghettos that develop in
Q. How is the Internet affecting the so-called clash of cultures?
A. In some ways it's optimistic. For instance, it's very difficult to ban books because they can be found on the Internet. Information is harder to restrict. In restricted societies, the Internet's shown young people a better life, and it's made them want it. You could say the Arab Spring was fired by that kind of communication. If "The Satanic Verses" [fatwa] had happened after
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