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Ethnography, Literature, and Politics: Some Readings and Uses of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses
New Schoolfor Social Research
It is commonly acceptedwithin anthropologythat the discipline emerged as of project of writing a Universal History, yet not all anpart the Enlightenment would that thatinscriptionpresupposesa Westernperspective agree thropologists Such a disagreementdrawsits force, I would suggest, on non-European peoples. froman understanding of the projectas essentiallyrepresentational. However, the but of of consists not recording-and-remaksimply looking-and-recording project ing, and as such its discourses have sought to inscribe on the world a unity in its own image. and protoethnographies have, of course, often pitchedthemEthnographies of sinselves againstthat powerful current,producinga valuable understanding gularworlds, but inevitably only with minor social effect. We know that ethnoevolved as an integralpartof the great colonial graphicmodes of representation expansionof Europe(and especially of England), as partof the desire to underto it. The implicationsof thatfact stand-and manage-the peoples subordinated discussions about ethnogseem to me inadequatelyworked out in contemporary raphy. I do not mean to say that ethnographycan be reduced to the politics of imperialdomination,butthatit is, in variousways, insertedinto (andoccasionally against) imperializingprojects. Yet having said this, it is necessary to add that imperializing power has made itself felt in and throughmany otherkinds of writnot least the kind we call "fiction." ing, In this essay I want to consider a work of fiction, Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses (1988a), for several reasons. First, because it is a textual representationof some of the things anthropologists study:religion, migration,gender and culturalidentity. Second, because it is itself a political act, having political consequencesfar beyond any that ethnographyhas ever had. And third, because it is generatedby the classic encounterbetween Western modernity-in which is situated-and a non-WesternOther, which anthropologiststypanthropology ically seek to understand,to analyze, to translate,to represent. In all the recentconcernwith writingethnographies we have, I think, tended to pay insufficientattentionto the problemof readingand using them, to the motives we bring to bear in our readings, as well as to the seductions of text and
contextwe all experience. In readingsocial texts we inevitablyreproduceaspects of ourselves, althoughthis is not simply a matterof arbitrary preferenceor prejof power, and in networks udice. We are all already-constituted subjects, placed in reproducing ourselves it is also the latterwe reproduce.To do otherwise is to risk confrontingthe powers that give us the sense of who we are, and to embark on the dangeroustask of reconstructingourselves along unfamiliarlines. It is, easier to use our readingsto confirmthose powers. understandably, In what follows I want to distinguishbetween a numberof readingsof the Eubook, and to relate them briefly to a complex political field in contemporary rope. That is, of course, my own strategyfor reading, because I am persuaded thatthis text is generatedby and is a reflectionupon one very specific politicalculturalencounter-and that it is so read and used in postcolonialBritain. I shall thentry to reconstruct some authorialintentions,and place them within the political field, and follow thatwith a political readingof some partsof the novel. This of the modem categoryof "Literature"as it operates will involve a consideration within the text of the novel as well as outside it. It is necessary to stress that I the totalmeaningof TheSatanic Verses(whatever makeno claim to have captured "the Rushdie affair" in all its international to describe still less that may be), the pubramifications. My aim is to intervenein the political debatesurrounding lication of the book by raising some questions about the ambiguousheritageof liberalismas it affects non-Westernimmigrantsin the modem Europeanstate, in Britain.2 particularly A Political Setting Enoch Powell reLast December, the prominent British parliamentarian ferredto his notorious 1968 "rivers of blood" speech in which he had warned immigrantsin Britain:"I am talking," he againstthe presence of non-European now declares, "about violence on a scale which can only be described as civil war. I cannotsee therecan be any otheroutcome" (P. Roberts 1989:29). Twenty years ago Powell had advocated a two-prongedpolicy: a complete stop to any of those furtherimmigrationof nonwhites, and government-assisted repatriation in Britain. The first of these has been officially accepted by both majorparties, the second hasn't yet. But for Powell and otherswho thinklike him the situation the alien presence too large and too entrenched,and is now almost irretrievable, too many of them British-born. A year before the publicationof The Satanic Verses, the formerBelgian InteriorMinister,JosephMichel, said thatin Europe"We runthe risk of becoming like the Romanpeople, invadedby barbarian peoples such as Arabs, Moroccans, far afield and have nothingin comfrom who come and Turks,people Yugoslavs mon with our civilization" (Palmer 1988). Such sentimentsare neithervery rare nor confinedto right-wingparties in WesternEurope. There is generalizedhostility towardimmigrantsof Asian and African origin that finds expression in a varietyof forms rangingfrom racialmurder(see Gordon 1989) to discriminatory legislation (Dummett 1978; Moore and Wallace 1976). But particulardevelopmentsin recentyears have made thathostility especially sharptowardMuslims.3
ETHNOGRAPHY,LITERATURE,AND POLITICS 241
To begin with, the overwhelmingmajorityof non-European immigrantsin continentalcountriesare Muslims, proletariansof ruralorigin importedto meet the needs of postwarindustrial expansion. In Britainthey form a majorityof those who have come from the Indiansubcontinent-that is, thatpartof the immigrant populationthat is seen and referredto as being most alien. The salience of the Muslimpresence in Europeis due not merely to numbers,but to political conditions both foreign and domestic. The emergenceof radicalIslamic movementsin the Middle East-and most notablythe Islamic Republic of Iran-who openly declare the West as their enemy, has fueled long-standingEuropeanantipathies.But the domestic circumstancesare, in my view, more interesting.For increasingly, Muslim immigrants have begun to organize themselves into mosque institutions,and to assertthemselves not as victims but as the heirs of an equal civilization who now live permanentlyin the West. They do not simply ask to be includedin the widerpolitical society, they make detailed demandsof the state to enable them to live out their lives in a culturallydistinctivemanner.They want to burytheirdead in theirown way, to have special times and places set aside for worship, to slaughteranimals accordingto properritualrules, to educate their childrenin their own schoolsor at least in prescribedconditions.4AlthoughMuslim groupsin WesternEurope are far from united (differences of language, sect, and local origin contributeto their organizationaldisunity) their demands increasingly evoke a unified response. What the Europeanmajorityfinds so provocativeis the immigrant'sexpectation that institutionalchanges will be made by the state to accommodate them in theirreligious specificity. The Europeansense thatthese demandsconstitutea kind of perversebehavior is largely a reflection of two things: (1) the ideological structureof moder nation-states,and (2) the alteredsite of the Europeanencounterwith its European Other. The liberal nation-stateconsists of an aggregate of citizens, each with the same legal personality, equal members of and equally entitled to representthe body politic. Religious communitiesbelong, strictlyspeaking, to civil and not to politicalsociety-that is, to the "private" domainwhere differenceis permitted. In Britain,of course, an exceptionis madefor the Churchof Englandwhich, since the 17thcentury,has had a centralinstitutionalandideological position withinthe state. The notion (common certainlyin Britain)that the populationof a moder nation-statemust be committedto "core values," an essential culturethat must be sharedby all if society is to hold together, belongs to a discourse about the limits of political society. It is easier to deploy in discoursesthat exclude particulardifferencesthanin those which plausiblydescribewhat the "core values" of Britishcultureare-especially when Anglicanismis said to be a majorpartof that culture.5 The core values of nonwhiteimmigrantsarenot-so the hegemonic discourse goes-part of Britishculture, and thereforeto live permanently in Britain they must-as political minorities-assimilate into that culture. However, it is not the case thatminoritieshave always had to make this kind of adjustment.When Europeanswent to Asia, Africa, and the Americas, as set-
tiers, administrators, missionaries,they did not need to adoptthe "core-values" of the majority populationsamongwhom they lived. On the contrary,they sought with great success to change them. But that immigrantsfrom those populations shouldnot presumeto act as thoughthey had a rightto somethingthatpower did not accordthem-that is quite anotherstory. And a story in which it is theirpresumptuous behavior that needs explaining and correcting, not the postures adoptedby the English. I don't wantto be takenas saying thatthereis a single deep divide in Britain today that separatesMuslims and non-Muslimsin some simple way. Of course thereare protagonistsamong both who are intenton creatinga single divide, althoughthatdivide is not conceived in the same way by both. It is evident, however, thatfor some years now a new dimensionof politics has been emergingthat is resentedin Europe. Nothing that is publishedthere about Muslim beliefs and practicescan thereforebe without political significance, not even in a work of fiction. As SalmanRushdieinsisted in 1984, in a criticalessay on recentEnglish television serials aboutIndia: do not come intobeingin a socialand worksof art,even worksof entertainment, from be separated in a societycannot and... thewaytheyoperate vacuum; political is thatpolitics I amsaying Foreverytext,a context.... What from history. politics, like sportandpolitics,do mix, areinextricably andliterature, mixed,andthatthat mixture hasconsequences. 1984:130,137;emphasis added] [Rushdie
Unlike Rushdie I do not hold that all literature is essentially political, although it
is truethatany piece of literarywritingcan become politicized. But therecan be no doubtthatTheSatanic Verses is a political book. It is political not merely because it claims to speak of political matters,but because it intervenesin political confrontations alreadyin place, and is consequentlybound to be fought over in structured an asymmetrically political terrain.
Some British Readings of a Postcolonial Novel Salman Rushdie is not only the author of The Satanic Verses, he has also volunteered its authoritative reading. Thus, in his open letter to the Prime Minister of India, published shortly after his book was banned in that country, he wrote: The sectionof the book in question(andlet's rememberthatthe book in questionisn't actually about Islam, but about migration, metamorphosis, divided selves, love, death, Londonand Bombay) deals with a prophet-who is not called Mohammedliving in a highly fantasticalcity made of sand (it dissolves when waterfalls upon it). He is surrounded by fictional followers, one of whom happensto bear my own first name. Moreover, this entire sequence happens in a dream, the fictional dream of a fictionalcharacter,an Indianmovie star, andone who is losing his mind, at that.How historycould one get? [Rushdie 1988b:A27;emphasis added] muchfurtherfrom This gloss is not without its difficulties, but it is quite unequivocal: history (or ethnography) produces a kind of writing whose rhetorical status is quite dis-
ANDPOLITICS243 LITERATURE, ETHNOGRAPHY, tinct from that produced in a novel. Six months later Rushdie supplied another reading. "Nowadays," he wrote, a powerfultribeof clerics has takenover Islam. These are the contemporary Thought Police. They have turnedMuhammadinto a perfectbeing, his life into a perfect life, his revelationinto the unambiguous,clear event it originally was not.6 Powerful taas if he were human, with boos have been erected. One may not discuss Muhammad humanvirtues and weaknesses. One may not discuss the growthof Islam as a historical phenomenon, as an ideology born out of its time. These are the taboos against which TheSatanic Verses has transgressed. ... It is for this breachof taboo thatthe novel is being anathematized,fulminatedagainst, and set alight. [Rushdie 1989a:26; emphasisadded] Why these apparently contradictory readings? Instead of trying to establish the right reading let's ask, "What is it that motivates the shift?" and seek the answer not in speculations about the author's mind but in the wording of the texts in altered contexts. Thus the latter piece concludes as follows: Inside my novel, its charactersseek to become fully humanby facing up to the great facts of love, death, and (with or without God) the life of the soul. Outside it, the forces of inhumanityare on the march. "Battle lines arebeing drawnin Indiatoday," one of my charactersremarks. "Secular versus religious, the light versus the dark. Betteryou choose which side you are on." Now thatthe battlehas spreadto Britain, I only hope it will not be lost by default.It is timefor us to choose. [Rushdie1989a:26; emphasisadded] We can see that the shift is motivated by a sense of the overriding political priority now being faced: an apocalyptic war between Good and Evil has spilt over into Britain because The Satanic Verses has dared to challenge taboos set up by the Forces of Inhumanity.7 This is no time for liberal tolerance. Contrary to what reviewers8 have said about the book, Rushdie's latter reading insists that its message is not doubt but conviction, not argument but war. True, there is a representation of religious doubt, but that is a rhetorical tactic-after all, Rushdie has often told us that he lost his faith in religion a long time ago. Doubt is neither the beginning nor the end of an exploration into new forms of moral and political existence. Indeed I shall argue that for many people the book has largely had the effect of weakening the possibility of a politics of difference in Britain today. Thus Rushdie's friend, the distinguished English feminist writer Fay Weldon, has responded to his second reading with a vigorous attack on the Qur'an, the central sacred text of Islam, in a pamphlet entitled Sacred Cows (1989), which has rapidly acquired a certain fame in its own right. She reads The Satanic Verses as bringing new certainty, a renewed sense of the divine. Not doubt, but an uncompromising insistence on liberal Truth is what she feels Rushdie's work calls for. We must reject the call for radical cultural differences in our British society. Somewhat quaintly she writes: The uni-culturalist policy of the United Statesworked, welding its new peoples, from every race, every nation, every belief, into a whole: let the child do what it wants at
244 CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY home; here in the school the one flag is saluted, the one God worshipped, the one nationacknowledged. [Weldon 1989:32;emphasisadded] This reference to a fictional America is of course a condemnation of that immigrant difference which seems to threaten the assumed stability of "genuine" British culture. The emphasis on schooling as a political function, essential to the transformation of difference into unity, invokes a basic liberal principle. Individuals have the inalienable right to choose, but they must first be authoritatively constituted as subjects who will make the right moral and political choices. She is quite explicit that Islam must be debarred from this great work of subjective and national construction, though not Christianity, for "The Bible, in its entirety, is at least food for thought. The Koran is food for no-thought. It is not a poem on which a society can be safely or sensibly based" (Weldon 1989:6).9 Like so many Britons who have leapt to Rushdie's side, Fay Weldon is aware that Christian rhetoric can be harnessed in the cause of a secular crusade. 0 "Salman Rushdie," she writes, ex-colleague of mine in an advertisingagency, is too humane,too moder, too witty, too intelligent, to lay down rules of conduct" for the human race, let alone issue threatsif they are not obeyed, but as a piece of revelatorywritingTheSatanic Verses readsprettymuch to me like the works of St. John the Divine at the end of our own [sic] Bible, left in, not without argument,by our own churchelders, likewise made prettydoubtfulby the contents. St. Salmanthe Divine. Too far?Probably.But if into the weevily meal and the brackishwaterof our awful, awful society, this good yeast is dropped,and allowed to fizz and fizzle, froth and foam to good purpose, all may yet be well and our brave new God of individualconscience may yet arise. [Weldon 1989:42] Saints are privileged by their direct access to God, and by the certainty of their visions. The saint involved here by Fay Weldon is certainly the author of haunting religious imagery, although the claim that he shares an essential quality with someone described as "humane, moder, witty, and intelligent" must seem a little puzzling to anyone familiar with "The Revelation of Jesus Christ"-for the dominant theme in that apocalyptic prose is God's fearful revenge on those "without His seal upon their forehead." And who are they-one may ask uneasily-who do not bear the Lord's seal upon their forehead in Britain today? Perhaps it is people like Zaheera, a young Muslim teacher who has left her authoritarianfamily in Bradford to make her own life. She has reason to be critical of aspects of Muslim life-and indeed she speaks scathingly of the recent legal restrictions imposed on women in many parts of the Muslim world. "I do not want to see Salman die," she says, thatis immoralandwrong, andanywaynot whatthe majorityMuslimpopulationhere would want. I don't even thinkthe book should be banned. But rightfrom the beginning, I have felt thateveryone was treatingthe Muslimprotestas if it was completely andlibel laws, and crazy. This freedomof expression-why do we have pornography How can that be fair? How a law of blasphemywhich only applies to Christianity? can they say this is a multi-racialcountrywhen thereis one law for Christiansandone
ANDPOLITICS245 ETHNOGRAPHY, LITERATURE, for Muslims?And what hurtsso much is that one of our own, someone I really used to admire, someone who stood up on television and told the White Britishhow racist they were, has let us down so badly. [Alibhai 1989] Significantly, Zaheera employs liberal arguments, grounded in appeals to fairness and equality before the law, against the unfriendly reactions of the British majority-such as those expressed in Fay Weldon's pamphlet. Her sense of "unfairness" doesn't connect with any demand for extending the law of blasphemy; it points to an old and unresolved anxiety about minority vulnerabilities in the modem state. If the freedom of public criticism is in fact restricted by laws that protect the sensibilities only of the rich, the famous, and the majority, what happens to the rest, liberal society's "always Others"? It would be misleading to suggest that all Muslims in Britain hold a negative view of the book. There are some-including some of the most Westernizedwho have supported it unreservedly as a celebration of a more progressive cultural identity. "One of the strengths of The Satanic Verses," observes Yasmin Ali, what gives it its authenticityas a culturalproductof cosmopolitanBritain, is that it reflectswith love and sympathy, and an acute comic eye, the joyful diversity of our subcontinental origins and experiences. The moraland political uniformitythat some
of ourbrothers andsisters as thenorm,is a denialof our todaywouldhaveus accept [Ali 1989:17] experiences. For Yasmin Ali, the book's authenticityis confirmedby the seeming correspondence between its images and the individualreader'sexperience. The possessive for a collectivity, pronounin "our experiences" claims to speak representatively but which collectivity? The beliefs, practices, and attachmentsof the many immigrantMuslims who were hurtby the novel are clearly not included in "our" experiences.But the joyful resonancethatthe book has evoked among its mostly Westernreadersis a pointer to the conditions in which "our experiences" are defined. Zaheera'sexperiencedoesn't qualifybecause it doesn't connormatively form to a secularliberal "literary" readingof the book.12 A Hinduprofessorof political theory in England, BhikhuParekh,relatedto me last summerhow he first read the book with unreservedadmiration.He was delighted with it, he said, for two main reasons: first, because it showed that a fellow Indiancould handle the English language more brilliantlythan most Englishmen, and second, because its treatmentof religion seemed to advertisethe loyalty of a secularMuslim to a nonsectarian,progressiveIndia. But then he rereadthe text with "the help"-as he put it-of two Muslim friends, and found
himself making very different sense of it, which he has now set out in a thoughtful review (1989). The Satanic Verses, in his opinion, is An immensely daring and persistentlyprobingexplorationof the human condition, which only a rootless immigrant can undertake,[butit] lies ill at ease with timid obeisanceto the latestliteraryandpoliticalfashions;profoundseriousnesslapses suddenly and without warning into pointless playfulness. The sacred is interlacedwith flippancy, the holy with the profane. Intensely delicate explorationsof humanrelation-
246 CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY ships and emotions are overshadowedby an almost childlike urge to shock, hurtand offend. [Parekh1989:31] Like Zaheera, Parekh stresses the liberal value of "fairness," as well as "compassion and humanity" in the need to understand Muslim immigrant protest. But when he speaks, as others have done, of "the first generation of Muslims who turned to religion to give some meaning and hope to their empty lives" (Parekh 1989:31), one is made uncomfortably aware that in a moder state such understanding and tolerance is often based on the medicalization of its "problem" subjects, that is to say on the categorization of religiously based identity as a condition of individual or collective pathology requiring curative treatment. (Why else would the notion of "empty lives" be applied to immigrants who have brought their non-Christian religion with them? Which authority defines the proper content of "full lives"?) There are of course well-intentioned and sinister versions of this categorization.'3 But in either case the strategy of medicalizing religious opposition, together with the centralized control of compulsory schooling, leads to the following paradox: on the one hand liberal political theory insists on the sanctity of individual experience, on the other it requires the state to construct and cure it. Another, and more angry shift than the one undertaken by Parekh, is signaled in this letter by the Hindu Marxist immigrant Gautam Sen (1989:6): When the crisis over The Satanic Verses first broke, my reflex response, like that of many black radicals and anti-racists,was one of anger. I found myself cursing the in Rushdie's support,thoughI felt very bigots and signing a newspaperadvertisement disturbedat the price paid subsequentlywith lives in India and Pakistan. But the events of the past monthshave drawnme inexorablycloser to the protestersagainst TheSatanic Verses. All sorts of racistsare crawlingout of the woodworkto clarify a more importantpriordivision between white societies and blacks, transcendingany disagreementswithin white society itself. The astonishing flight from elementary logic in the face of satanic, black, masculineforces by the heavyweight feminist intelligensia [includingFay Weldon] has been pointed out by Homi Bhabha ("Down amongthe writers," New Statesmanand Society, 28 July). I was not borna Muslim, but I have to say that we blacks are all Muslims now. I feel a real sense of emotional oneness with the "smelly, dark aliens" who made the utterly assimilated Asian woman novelist BharatiMukherji "feel physically and emotionally harassed" by theirmere arrivalin Canada(Guardian, 19 July). For Gautam Sen the revised rereading was occasioned by developments in the British political context that appeared more threatening to all immigrants, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. What obviously alarmed him most was the combination of paternalist and assimilationist attitudes displayed in all their self-righteous arrogance by the British middle class. A concern with enforced assimilation is also a major concern of Shabbir Akhtar, an articulate young Bradford Muslim, who has written a passionately argued book on the Rushdie affair. Akhtar finds The Satanic Verses inferior as a work of fiction, and the chapters recounting the story of Mahound deliberately insulting to Muslims. The Prophet Muhammad, he points out, represents for be-
ETHNOGRAPHY,LITERATURE,AND POLITICS 247
lievers the paradigmof virtue;an attackon him is thereforeseen by Muslims as an attackon their highest moral and religious ideals. Rushdie has the right, he says, to disbelieve in any of the sacred teachings of Islam, and even to criticize Muslimsfor theirerroneousbeliefs, but not to do so in a provocativemanner.He wantsthe book banned, and supportsthe proteststo that end. He is bitterat what of Westernpublic opinion. Neverthehe, like Zaheera,calls the double standards less, he is not entirelypessimistic. I believethattheRushdie is notintractable. To showthatit is incapable controversy of rational case.It is clearly in the resolution wouldbe effectively fatalto theMuslim of theliberal interests andnon-Muslim to pretend thatIslamic demands constituency Rushdie's to thespirit of Western bookareunacceptably democconcerning foreign of beingmet?[Akhtar assessed,incapable racy. But are these demands, properly 1989a:123] His answerto this rhetoricalquestion is that they can be met if only Britishpoliticiansandcommentators were to recognizetheir "prejudiceandunfairattitudes' (Akhtar1989a:124). What he wants is not an extension of the blasphemylaw as such, but an agreementthat the basic identity of Muslim immigrants-like that of all Britishcitizens-should be legally protectedagainstwanton attacks. While it is perhapstrue that such demandsare not "unacceptablyforeign to the spirit of Western democracy," it is arguablethat the assumptionby which they are propelledis regardedas "outmoded" by bourgeois civil society. Insult to religious identity is, like insult to individual or group honor, a concept that modem law finds hardto deal with. This is not merely because religious belief is as a privatematter,but ratherbecause of its peculiarnotionof "injury.'" regarded Thus the law of libel, to which referencehas so often been made in this matter, revolves aroundthe question of whether "material damage" can be provedwhich is why the legal penalty, if applicable,takes the form of financialcompensationto the injuredparty.Free speech can be restrained when it is shown thatthe plaintiffsuffers materiallyas a consequence. Bourgeois law can't cope with the idea of malicious statementsleading to moral or spiritualinjurybecause it can't locate and quantifythe damage in money terms. All this should be quite understandablein a capitalistsociety. The real problem with the Muslim minority's demands, however, may not be the formal legalistic incompatibilities(Akhtaris surely right in insisting that where there's a political will the legal means can be found). Nor is the problem simply one of prejudiceagainst Muslims (which certainlyexists). The real difficulty consists in the British style of liberal politics, for in Britain, the politics of rule requires its immigrantsubjects to struggle with "the baffling idioms and codes of the white chameleon, which is cunningly Christianyet secular, Conservativeyet liberal, repressiveyet permissive" (Caute 1989:9).14 Postcolonial Literature and the Western Subject's Self-Recognition have insistedthatmost protestingMuslimshaven'tread Manycommentators the book. Clearlymost of them haven't. However, as pasticheTheSatanic Verses
drawson a wide varietyof literarytexts, reproduceswords and phrasesfrom half a dozen languages,and alludesto as manynationalandreligious settings. In what sense preciselycan Westernreaderswho have little familiaritywith these multiple referencesbe said to have read the book? To demandthat the act of "reading" must always conformto an a priorinorm of skills and knowledges is perhapsarbitrary.At anyratemost people who have used it to commendor oppose particular policies in Britainhaven't read it in any conventional literarysense either. But thenthe way this text has fed into very differentkinds of politicalpracticeis itself part of the reading. The Satanic Verses is above all a deliberatelyprovocative rhetorical in an alreadychargedpolitical field;that contexthas inevperformance itably become integralto the text. Since the context is uncontrolled,the attempt to includemore or less of it in the readingis itself partof the political struggle. Oddly enough, the fundamentalist position-according to which the text is self-sufficientfor arrivingat its meaning-is being taken here not by religious fanaticsbut by liberal critics. For example Penelope Lively, the novelist, refers to a recentessay of Rushdie's:"I think, sadly, it pointsup the basic confrontation: who cannot, or here is a novelist tryingto explain his purposeto fundamentalists will not, understand whatfictionis or does" (Hindsand O'Sullivan 1990). In that essay, Rushdie explains the classic literarydoctrine that fiction (unlike fact) is essentiallyself-contained,and that if a novel's meaninghas any externalauthority, it can only be the imaginativeintentionof its author,not the imaginativereceptionof its politically situatedreaders.
Fictionuses facts as a starting-place andthenspiralsaway to exploreits own concerns, which are only tangentiallyhistorical.Not to see this, to treatfictionas if it were fact, is to makea seriousmistakeof categories. The case of TheSatanic Versesmay be one of the biggest categorymistakesin literaryhistory. [Rushdie 1990a:20]
authorsand literarycritics But Rushdie's argumenthere, sharedby innumerable who have commentedon The Affair, is less decisive thanit appears.For once the principleof the total self-sufficiency of the text is breachedby reference to the imaginativeintention of the author, the concept of sharply differentiatedcategories is subverted.That is why, in the real political world, the bourgeoislaw of libel insists on makingthat "category mistake."'5 Quite apartfrom the question of relevant context, the techniqueof literary pastichemakesit possible for a wide rangeof readersto recognize and seize upon partsof an entiretext. Those who have been offended by The Satanic Verses are thusrespondingto the fragmentary natureof the text. But by evoking recognition of characters,actions, events, atmosphere,the text also producesa sense of delightedconfirmation.16 As in this confession by an anglicized woman of Bangladeshi parents:"With each characterI squealedwith recognition, as a face from my pastor presentgazed at me from withinthe pages of the book" (Ali 1989:17). the images Recognitionin itself tends to be a conservativeact, reproducing one possesses in memory. I don't imply by this thatrecognitioncan occur only in a conservativeproject.Of courseit may be evoked as partof a strategyfor inviting the readerto think oneself into a new world. My argumentis that in this book
ETHNOGRAPHY,LITERATURE,AND POLITICS 249
recognitionis used as a device to addressthe middle-class liberal readerand to confirmher/hisestablishedpredispositions. The EnglishjournalistMalise Ruthvenis undoubtedlycorrect in observing that"The ragewith which this . .. novel has been greetedby a numberof Muslim organisations proves thatRushdiehas touchedupon some extremelyraw nerves" (Ruthven 1989:22-23). But can it not, in the same way, be argued that its aggressively enthusiasticreception by Western readers is proof that among them some very different nerves have been touched by this book? That among them images are joyfully recognized because they are already formed in the layered discoursesof a commonly inhabitedhistoricalworld? It is partlyto this phenomenonthat the Urdu Marxistpoet Aijaz Ahmed referredthreeyears ago when he observedthat Witarevalorized thefew writers whohappen to writein English beyondmeasure. in Rushdie's of Salman Children thecharacterization ness,forexample, Midnight's its voice"-as if onehasno voiceif one theNewYork Times as "a Continent finding in English andwhowrites anAfrican, anArab intellectual whois of anyconsequence of a "representative"is that to thelonelysplendour elevated he/sheis immediately world."[Ahmed of a race,a continent, eventhe "third a civilization, 1986:5]
visited upon the head of an Asian, does not speak in English.17 . . . The retribution
Or even, one might add, of those figuresof modernity, "the homeless migrant," "the heroic inhabiterof a godless universe," "the self-fashioningauthor." staI referto these familiarfiguresin orderto suggest thatthe representative tus of which Ahmed speaks is not simply accorded to a foreign writer seeking admission;the writer'stext is constructedfrom the startwithin a field of moder thatextendsbeyondthe activitiesof literaryfiguresto include reading-and-writing the scope of moder politics; the text acquiresits representative authorityby tapping the networkof images and powers made available in that field and not another. Among these, of course, are the self-fashioning narrativesof militantly atheist readers who remembera repressive religious upbringingin Catholic or Low-Churchfamilies.18And the textualizedmemories-the metanarratives-of a post-Enlightenment struggleagainstthe institutionalandmoralhegemonyof the in Europeandthe very recentacquisitionthereof secularliberties.19 Church Thus, my argumentis not that EuropeanreadersapplaudThe Satanic Verses because hatredof Islam, but because it bringsinto play they are all filled with an irrational metanarratives of Western modernity that conflict with Islamic textualities by which Muslim immigrantsin Britain try to define themselves. For opposed to Western stories of progress there stands the Qur'an, confounding the Western reader'sexpectationsof progressive narrative-an expectation that has become (fromCarlyleto Weldon) the indisputablemeasureof an alien text's sense. Aspects of the Bourgeois Rhetoric of "Literature" "Dr. Aadam Aziz," writes Rushdie (1989a:26) in one of his many explanations, thepatriarch in my novelMidnight's loseshis faithandis leftwith"a hole Children, insidehim,a vacancy in a vitalinner chamber." I, too, possessthesameGod-shaped
250 CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY hole.Unable to accept theunarguable absolutes of religion, I havetriedto fill upthe holewithliterature. Rushdie's narrative interlacing of characters from novel and autobiography shouldalertus to the fictionalways the self is so often constructedin a literatureFor the politically engaged readerthis delibproducingand -consumingworld.20 eratemerginginvites the reconstitutionof authorialintention. Clearly the word "literature" in Rushdie's confession doesn't denote just any writing that addresses the world. Rushdie doesn't mean that he turned to books on political economy, philosophy, or theology, but that he read and wrote "fiction," "literarycriticism," and "poetry" for spiritualsustenance. And not just any "fiction," of course-not the innumerable paperbackssold by the million in supermarkets, airports,and railway stationsby authorsthat "cultivated" readershave never heard of. When Rushdie says "literature"he means a very specific body of writing. His statement, and others like it, obviously belong to moder bourgeois culture-not because unbelief is either moder or bourgeois butbecauseof somethingelse: the assumptionthatthe discoursecalled Literature can fill the role previouslyperformedby religious textuality.2'The idea that Literatureis the quintessentialspace for producingthe "highest" normsof moder society has become quite familiar to us,22although the genealogy of that idea, which includes higher biblical criticism and Lutheranfundamentalism,is less thanit shouldbe.23Forthatgenealogy reveals a profoundshift widely appreciated froma hermeneutic methodthatwas essentiallyparasiticon a pregivensacredtext to one thatproduced Literature out of an infinite variety of publishedtexts. The of Literature as a moder emergence category of edifying writing has made it for a new discourse to simulate the normativefunctionof religious texts possible in an increasinglysecularsociety. kind of The remarkable value given to self-fashioningthrougha particular individualizedreading and writing is entirely recognizable to Western middleclass readersof "literary' novels but not to most Muslimsin Britainor the Indian subcontinent.And since The Satanic Verses as a whole reproducesthat postChristian approachto textuality, its seductivenessis likely to work on the former andnot the latter. Thus it is not mere personal prejudiceagainst Islam that leads Rushdie to it as psychosis (Gibreel'sexperiences),24 superstition(the events in Titrepresent is more interestinglyat What of and Mahound).25 lipoor), chicanery (the story as the lework here is the familiarpost-Enlightenment conception of Literature for is a reason There source of presenting Alleluia gitimate good spirituality. Cone's mystical experience on the snow-toppedHimalayaswith sympathy(see pages 108-109). Her overpoweringsense of the sublime comes upon her at first in the form of a temporaryhallucinationof communion with God. The Truth in her accountto the schoolchildren. emergeswhen herexperienceis narrativized, that makes AlleIt is thus the possibility of transmuting religion into Literature luia's narrativeabout her mountainexperience an acceptableform of substitute
ETHNOGRAPHY,LITERATURE,AND POLITICS 251
religiosity for the author-as well as a recognizableone for many Western and Westernizedreaders. The strongly sympatheticcharacterization of Sufyan-"ex-schoolteacher, in of the classical texts cultures" self-taught many (p. 243)-belongs to the same authorialreason. For when we read that "secularist Sufyan swallowed the multiple culturesof the subcontinent"(p. 246), thathe could "quote effortlesslyfrom from the militaryaccountsof JuliusCaesaras Rig-Vedaas well as Quran-Sharif, well as the Revelationsof St. John the Divine" (p. 245), it is the devotion of this life to Literature thatwe are asked to admire.Not life itself, but The GreatBooks of Civilization(by Tagore, Shakespeare,Lucretius,Virgil, Ovid, and many others) have fashionedthe gentle, unworldlySufyan, and taughthim the wisdom of life's sorrows.26 So, too, spoken language (his believing wife's bittercomplaints abouthis religious laxity) teaches him the evil that issues from actualritualpractice (his one-timepilgrimageto Mecca): "whereasfor most Muslims a journeyto Mecca was the greatblessing, in his case it had turnedout to be the beginningof a curse" (p. 290). The practice of religion is transmutedinto malign utterance, the truthof language standsagainstthe antilife of ritual. The bourgeoisdoctrinethat Literature is the truthof life is repeatedin a recent lectureby Rushdie (1990b:18): Literature is theoneplacein anysocietywhere,within thesecrecy of ourownheads, thatthatprivileged arena is preserved is notthatwriters wantthe absolute ensuring freedom to sayanddowhatever andwriters theyplease.Itis thatwe, allof us, readers andcitizens andgenerals andgodmen, needthatlittle,unimportant-looking room.27 This doctrinehas gained such an ideological ascendancythat the anthropological concept of culture is now beginning to be thought of once again in the mode of Literature.To take a very recent example, James Clifford writes: no longer identities continuous cultures andtraditions. Twentieth-century presuppose individuals andgroups localperformances from(re)collected Everywhere improvise
pasts, drawingon foreign media, symbols and languages. [Clifford 1988:14]28 we can hear voices talking about everythingin every possible way. The reason for
But everydaylife is not so easily invented, abandoned,reinhabitedas this notion of culture, modeled on the postmodernidea of an imaginativework of art, suggests. Nor does everyone in the moder world have an equal power to invent, or to resist the impositionof someone else's invention. To say this is not merely to remindourselves of the enormous injustices of class, race, and gender that still exist. It is also to note that althoughthe strictly privatizedrole of religion in the moder Westernstate makes it easy for English believers and nonbelieversto assimilate it to the category of Literature,most Muslim immigrantsin Britainfind it difficultto assimilatetheir practicalreligious traditionsto this category. The bourgeois doctrine that Literatureis, more than merely life itself, the truth of life, has had a close connectionwith imperialculture.One may recall very here the recommendation of LordMacaulay, architectof Britisheducationin India, on the benefitsof propagating
252 CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY thatliterature before thelightof whichimpious andcruelsuperstitions arefasttaking
flighton the banksof the Ganges. . . . And, whereverBritishliterature spreads,may
it be attended andBritish virtue freedom! [citedin Baldick1983:197] by British
How successful this project was historicallyis not the point here; what needs to be underlinedis the fact that British literaturewas always an integralpartof the Britishmission in India. Is it also an integralpartof SalmanRushdie's mission? The Politics of a Partial Text I indicatedearlierwhen I quotedfrom Rushdie's commentson his novel that the rhetoricalstatusof the sections dealing with Islam was not entirelyclear. Is it "historicalexploration"or not? I want now to addressmyself brieflyto authorial how form and content in The intention, to see whetherthis helps us understand Satanic Verses articulatewith the political terrainin postcolonial Britain. I must stressthatit is not Rushdie'soriginalmotive in writingthe novel thatinterestsme here, but the authorialmotive as constructedin the literarytext and its political context. If the book is, after all, about the growth of Islam as a historicalphenomenon, one might wonderwhetherthis object is best pursuedvia the fictionaldream of a fictionalcharacter,an Indianmovie star, and one who is losing his mind, at that. On the otherhandif the book's primaryaim is to lampoonthe sacredbeliefs in Britain,then the literarydevices employed andpracticesof Muslimimmigrants in The Satanic Verses are entirely apt. Since these beliefs and practicesare part of their contemporary social existence, their subversionrequiresa text that is a And as the weapon. weapon is to be wielded in the presence of a post-Christian audience-indeed with the seductionof thataudienceas a primaryaim-it draws astutelyon the long traditionof Christiananti-Muslimpolemics, centralto which is the Christianfascination with sex in the Prophet's life. As Norman Daniel (1960:102) noted: "it seemed very obvious to mediaevalChristiansthatMuhammad's behaviourwith women alone made it quite impossible thathe should have been a prophet." have suggestedthatthe sexual episodes in the novel's Severalcommentators accountof the Prophetserve to humanizehim. This may indeed be so. But the constitutingthathumanityare themselves the productof a particular assumptions history. Thus in the Christiantradition,to sexualize a figure was to cut him off tradition fromdivine Truth,to pronouncehim merelyhuman;in the post-Christian of modernity,to "humanize" a figureis to insist on his sexual desire, to disclose in it, by a discursive strippingof its successive disguises, his essential human Truth.29 Like any imperializingorthodoxy,this humanistdoctrinedemandsof us a universalway of "being human"-which is really a singularway of articulating desire, discourse, and gesture in the body's economy. of Muhammadis (Althoughin this sense the hagiographicalrepresentation Khomeini-"the "humanized"in Rushdie's novel, the very real contemporary Imam"-is heavily mythicized. These two diametrically opposed rhetorical come togetherin the same polemical aim, however.) transformations
ANDPOLITICS253 ETHNOGRAPHY, LITERATURE, But the elements in Rushdie's armory are not solely Christian. They come also from that moder tendency which regards the establishment of rules as selfevidently restrictive of liberty. Thus: Amid the palm-treesof the oasis Gibreel appearedto the Prophetand found himself spoutingrules, rules, rules, until the faithful could scarcely bear the prospectof any morerevelation. .. rules aboutevery damnthing, if a man fartslet him turnhis face to the wind, a rule aboutwhich hand to use for the purposeof cleaning one's behind. It was as if no aspect of humanexistence was to be left unregulated, free. The relevation-the recitation-told the faithful how much to eat, how deeply they should sleep, and which sexual position had received divine sanction, so that they learned thatsodomy and the missionaryposition were approvedof by the archangel,whereas the forbiddenpostures included all those in which the female was on top. Gibreel the further listed the permittedandforbiddensubjectsof conversation,andearmarked they might partsof the body which could not be scratchedno matterhow unbearably itch. He vetoed the consumption of prawns, those bizarre other-wordlycreatures which no member of the faithful had ever seen, and requiredanimals to be killed slowly, by bleeding, so thatby experiencingtheir deathsto the full they might arrive at an understanding of the meaningof theirlives, for it is only at the momentof death that living creaturesunderstand that life has been real, and not a sort of dream. And Gibreelthe archangelspecifiedthe mannerin which a man shouldbe buried,and how his propertyshould be divided. [pp. 363-364; emphasisadded] This passage is certainly amusing Biff! Smack! Wallop! stuff, but it is poor hismost Western readers will be ill tory, and poorer ethnography-something unaided. to equipped identify Most Islamic rules are contained not in the Qur'an ("the recitation"), which Muslims believe to have been revealed by God via Gabriel, but in collections called Hadith which contain the exemplary sayings and doings of Muhammad and his companions. Since Muslims do not consider ahadith to be divinely revealed, Gabriel has nothing to do with them. Of all the rules given in the passage I have quoted, only the rules relating to inheritance are to be found in the Qur'an. For Muslims, ahadith record the founding principles of a virtuous life; conversely, every principle of virtuous Muslim practice has a hadith authorizing it. Over the centuries there have been many attempts at putting together authoritative collections and classifying ahadith, and there are many important differences in the ahadith accepted by the various sects as authentic. Thus, no Suni collection contains a hadith prohibiting the consumption of prawns, a prohibition followed only by Shi'is. Nor does any Sunni canonical work contain the rules about sexual intercourse that are cited in The Satanic Verses. The question that any informed reader may want to ask is why the rules of Hadith are presented as having been revealed by Gabriel, and further, why sectarian rules are presented as though they were accepted by all Muslims. The answer may well be "Because the dreams of demented Indian actors aren't scholarly treatises, they are satire." When we call a piece of writing satire we are, of course, claiming a respectable status for it. A satire is supposed to deal with prevailing vices, but the "vices" must be recognized as such by those against whom it is directed. The satirist need not be a believer, but he must have a firm understanding of the moral
structure of the people he is satirizing. Otherwisethe writing degeneratesinto a sneer. Simply to representanotherpeople's beliefs and customs as vices isn't in itself satire-which is not to say that it is thereforewithouteffect. Indeedderoghave been, throughoutEurope's 19th century, an integral atory representations of part imperialpropaganda,and an essentialjustificationof its "civilizing mission." But unlike accomplishedsatire, which is a mode of moral engagement,30 such expressionsof contemptfor the beliefs and practicesof Natives (Macaulay's "cruel superstitions")dependfor their force on superiormaterialpower. The item that is surely the most startlingin Gibreel's dream about Islamic rules is the repulsiveexplanationoffered for the way Muslims slaughteranimals for food to makethe meathalal (kosher).Thatthe explanationis containedneither in the Qur'annor in any canonical hadithis of no concern to would-be satire of course-though one might feel that as an inventedexplanationit's surely somewhatfeeble in suggesting thatthe Prophet'sreligious practicewas directedat deliveringsheep andpoultryfrom philosophicalerror.More important,however, is the fact that most British readers will immediately associate this item with the notoriousmedia campaigna few years ago against what was describedas "that cruel and barbarous"Islamic practice. The pressureof public opinion resultedin a governmentcommission which recommendedthat ritualslaughterbe rendered illegal, but fortunatelyfor the Muslims the Jewish religious authoritiesprevailed upon the governmentnot to follow this recommendation.This seems to confirm the suspicionthatthe sneer is directedparticularly at Muslim immigrantsin Brita small and vulnerable ain, communitywhich is alreadyin some difpolitically In a crusadetherecan be no scholfor traditions. its attachment to religious ficulty that the determination light shall triumphagainstdarkness.31 arly scruples,only Now of course Rushdie is underno obligation to engage seriously with beliefs and practices that he rejects, but in choosing to laugh at them he situates himselfvery clearlyon the groundof quiteanothertraditionwhich is alreadypowerfully in place-that of the liberal ruling class in a postcolonial Western state. The readerof The Satanic Verses should not allow herself to be misled by the accusationsof Britishracism it contains:such accusationsare entirelyconsonant More signifiBritain.32 with a liberaldistress at racist prejudicein contemporary cant, I think, is this: in deridingthe very idea of rules of conduct ("rules about
every damn thing. ... It was as if no aspect of existence was to be left unregu-
lated, free") Rushdie invokes the assumptionsof liberal individualismthat have reachedtheirapogee in Thatcher'sBritain. Yet neitherin politics nor in morality is it an uncontestedtruthto say thatbeing unregulatedis being really free.33 Political Traces on a Postcolonial Life From what has been said so far, I do not want to give the impressionthat I thinkThe Satanic Verses is to be read entirely-or even mainly-in termsof the author'sconscious intentions.The text of this novel is not in controlof itself. The tensions and contradictionsit reveals are far more interestingthan anythingthat takes place on the surfaceof the narrative.And they allow us to make a political
ETHNOGRAPHY,LITERATURE,AND POLITICS 255
readingof fragmentsof the novel, as opposed to its politics, which was the topic of my previoussection. Let me illustratebriefly. In the course of a hymn to the glories of Shakespeare,Rushdie's Chamcha makesa strikingremark:"Pamela, of course, made incessantefforts to betrayher race and her class" (p. 398). Yet what is apparentto any careful readeris that Pamelabetraysnot "her race and her class" but her Indianhusband-by going slumming among immigrantsinstead of helping to complete and confirm his transformation into the authenticEnglishman.Indeed, Pamelais awareof Chamcha's desperatedesire for the very thing she rejects (p. 180). But why is her attitudeto her class representedas betrayal?Anyone educated, as Rushdie'sChamchais, at an Englishpublic school mustknow thatupper middle-class parents would not regard as betrayal a daughter'sradicalpolitics (mere "youthful idealism" is how they would view it) but her marriage to an Indian. It is inconceivable that Rushdie's Chamcha should be innocent of this knowledge. Indeed he does know it but can't admit it to himself, so it must be suppressedand displaced. Chamcharesents Pamela's unwillingness to confirm him as a real English gentlemen, and knows that this unwillingness is relateddirectlyto her rebellious politics. He cringes as she repeatedlysubvertshis attemptsat being English, and despises her for her left-wing politics. However, this doesn't quite explain his resortto the bitternotion of "treachery," an accusationnever leveled at Zeeny, the radicalIndianwho mocks him for aping English attitudes.Nor why he feels it is "her race and her class" that are betrayed,not himself. Coming from Rushdie's Chamcha,this accusationis entirely apt, but only because it covers a comand ideas of genetic puritythat plex play between desires for self-transformation is not fully dissected in the novel. To be an "authentic" English gentlemen is to live out a racist ideology-to engage in discourses of "generative essence," a discourse in which "Indians" have a differentplace. As concept and practice that ideology acquiredits most elaborate himself into developmentin BritishIndia.In his desireto metamorphose thatkind of Englishman,Rushdie's Chamchastruggleswith an impossible ideological dilemma:to become English he must reject his essential Indianness;marriageto an Englishwomanwill surelybringthe fulfillmentof his desire nearer;yet Pamelamarrieshim because he is Indianand therebyadulterates her desired Englishness (heradulterywith Chamcha'sIndianfriendJoshi is merely a playing out of her marriage as racialadultery),and seeks to reproducea half-Englishchild. It is thus Pamela's sexual history, not her politics, that constitutesreal betrayalof Chamcha precisely because it is a betrayalof an essential (i.e., raciallypure) Englishness. Yet in the final analysis, her betrayalis simply the motivatedfigureof his own impossible attemptsto become that differentspecies, an English gentleman. There is a double displacementat work here: for Chamchais at once the object of betrayaland the ultimatebetrayer-the self-hatingcolonial.34 The final resolution, you may recall, is that Chamchareturnsto India, his essentialplace, and to Zeeny, his essential kind:
256 CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY Childhood was over, andthe view fromthis windowwas no morethanan old and sentimental echo. To thedevilwithit! Letthebulldozers come.If theold refused to Vakil's voicesaidathisshouldie, thenewcouldnotbeborn."Come along,"Zeenat der.It seemedthatin spiteof all his wrong-doing, weakness, guilt-in spiteof his another chance.Therewas no accounting forone's good humanity-hewas getting fortune,thatwas plain. Thereit simplywas, takinghis elbow in its hand. "My "I'm coming,"he answered place,"Zeenyoffered."Let'sgetthehelloutof here." her,andturned added]35 awayfromtheview. [p. 547;emphasis But this optimisticresolutionis only possible after his father's death brings him a comfortableinheritancein India-an inheritanceacquired, ironically, in accordancewith rules from the Divine Recitation.36 And also after his English of his self-betrayal,has been burnedto death, an unnamed wife, the incarnation corpsewith her half-Indianchild unborn,whose deathis recountedin the form of a casualpolice report(pp. 464-465).
If the old refused to die, the new could not be born. As an empirical gener-
alizationthis is of course prettysilly. But as a justificationfor destroyingthe old in the continuouspursuitof novelty, it is the classic moralityof consumercapitalism. Rushdie's Chamchadestroys his own past-his mother,37 his father, his of his his alter wife, friends, ego Gibreel, recognizableparts London, even his
affection for England38-and then forgives himselffor that destruction. In such a
moralitythere is no reason to suppose there can ever be an end to the cycle of destruction,self-forgiveness, and reconstitutionof the subject. Where there are no obligations to the past every destructionis only a new beginning, and new beginningsare all one can ever have. Chamcha'ssolution to the problem of conflicting identities, a returnto his real place, is scarcely open to many immigrants,althoughthe idea of deporting colored immigrantsto their country of origin is one that right-wing opinion in Britain,includingEnoch Powell, has always favored. It is the social, economic, and culturalconsequencesof British rule in India, not the mythicizedorigins of Islam in 7th-centuryArabia, that constitute the source of political problemsfor Britain. Indeed the book's arIndianand Pakistaniimmigrantsin contemporary ticulationof time is self-consciously mythical-an admiringreviewer identified it as "cyclically Hindu and dualisticallyMuslim"39-while its centraldilemma andresolutionare deeply rooted in historicallyspecific class situations. It may be arguedthat Chamcha'sreturnto India is not the only solution to the immigrant'sdifficulties. After all, there is Mishal, daughterof the Bangladeshi caf6-ownerSufyan, who stays on to struggle for a nonracistEngland. But Mishal, bornandbredin Englandis alreadyin a crucialsense "English"-in her mannerof speaking, her attitudeto her mother, her sexual behavior, her dress, and in her radical politics-even though it must be understoodthat in a racist society she will not be seen as "English" by the English. (Her petit bourgeois Englishnessis of course to be distinguishedfrom the gentleman'sEnglishnessto which Chamchaaspires.) Nevertheless, it is Mishal who lives while her immigrantparents-again symptomatically-are burnedto death. The stirringspeech allegedlymadein courtby SylvesterRoberts,alias Dr. UhuruSimba, readsoddly:
AND POLITICS 257 ETHNOGRAPHY, LITERATURE,
we are here to change things. . . . We have been made again:but I say that we shall
alsobe the ones to remake this society,to shapeit fromthe bottom to the top. We shallbe thehewers of thedeadwoodandthegardeners of thenew.It is ourturn now. [p. 414] In the light of an almost systematic destructionof immigrantdifference in the book (apartfrom skin color and a taste for curry) this passage assumes a selfmockingquality. The remarkablething about The Satanic Verses, considering what's been said aboutit, is that it isn't aboutthe predicament of most immigrantsat all. Nor is it, as some reviewers have claimed, a profoundstatementof the immigrantas universalrepresentative of our epoch. Indeed, apartfrom the Sufyan family, the out-of-workradical Joshi, and Chamcha himself, there are virtually no immigrantsin the book. True, there is the Cone family, middle-classJewish refugees from Poland:old Otto, the father, commits suicide after his comical attemptsat assimilation;his widow Alicia becomes religious, and emigrates to California where she settles down with a nice man; and the two daughters, Alleluia and Elena, each meets with an unpleasantlyviolent death. End of the Cone family of immigrants.Is there a patternhere? Most Muslim immigrants in Britainareproletarians, large numbersof whom have settled in communitiesin the mill towns of northernEngland. They neither retireto where they came from, nor do they appearto wish to assimilateentirely to "the core values" of British culture. The book's stories do not connect with the political-economicand culturalexperiences of this population.What they do powerfullyconnect with are the highly ambivalentemotions generatedby an anglicized Indian'sgaze at the rulingclass of imperialBritain. Rushdie's Chamcha has been excluded from entry into that class not merely because of racism, but because (he graduallydiscovers) good old England, the gentleman's England, is no longer in place. Respondingto Valence's loud-mouthedpraise for Thatcher's class revolution, Chamchacomes to this unhappyconclusion: "It hadn't been Chamcha'sway; not his, nor that of the England he had idolized and come to conquer" (p. 270). Yet only a colonialized bourgeois could have worshiped a gentleman'sEnglandthat never was. The decent Englandthat Rushdie's Chamcha had idolized and wanted to inhabitwas also the countrywhose ruling class conducteda continuous war against its organized working classes, against the Irishpeasantry,and againstthe diverse populationsabsorbedinto its vast empire. Yet significantly,his awakeningbegins not with a recognitionthat his yearning for the gentleman's England was based on illusion, but with a nostalgia for the Englandno longer here to receive him. Most Muslim immigrants,having very differentclass origins and religious traditionsfrom those of the author,propelled by quite other aspirationsto migrate, and living now in straitenedconditionsthesehadnot andcould not have entertained the author'sillusions aboutEngland. Some British Uses of a Postcolonial Novel I have said something in this article about the readingsbut almost nothing aboutthe uses of SalmanRushdie's The Satanic Verses in the context of British politics. I shall now deal with this theme briefly.
In a sense the most startlinguse of this book has been, of course, its public burningin Bradford.This was done deliberatelyby the Muslims in that city to attractmedia attention-and that it got with a vengeance. Commentators of various political persuasiondenounced this act with horror,comparingit with the notoriousNazi book-burnings of the '30s. Thatreactionshould interestus as anthropologists,I suggest. When charactersin a novel are burnedto death (or vilified), we are remindedthat it is, after all, "only a story." And yet a literalist responsedoesn't seem equally convincing to us when we are told that the book burnedis, after all, "only paperand ink." The liberal expressions of outrageat this symbolic act-no less than the anger of South Asian Muslims at the publication of the book-deserve to be explored more fully than they have been, so thatwe can understand the sacredgeographyof modernsecularculturebetterthan we now do. My point is thatit is one thingfor liberalopinionto rejectthe call for banning a publication,quite anotherto react with horrorat the symbolic act of burningit. Therewas, indeed, no liberaloutrageat the public burningof copies of immigration laws by dissenting Membersof Parliamentsome years ago. More relevant, perhaps,is the case of Rabbi MordecaiKaplanwho redefinedclassical Judaism in accordancewith modernideas not as a religious faith but as a civilization that includedlanguageand custom: "When RabbiKaplanpublisheda prayerbook in 1945 embodyingthese ideas, it was publicly burnedbefore an assembly of the Union of OrthodoxRabbis of the United States and Canada" (Goldman 1989). Therewas no secularoutrageat this symbolic book-burning. Perhapsthe crucial difference in the case of the Bradfordevent (apartfrom the fact thatit was perpetrated by Muslims who must expect a generallyunfavorable press in the West) is that it was the burningof a novel by a famous literary author.It was "Literature"that was being burned,not just any printedcommuthe sacred role And it was burnedby people who did not understand nication.40 in modernbourgeoisculture. performed by Literature Whatevera full symbolic analysis of the book-burningmay come to look like,41it needs to be stressedthat the two expressions of outrageare not equally balanced, in that Muslim immigrants(like all South Asian immigrants)do not possess anythinglike the resourcesof power and violence availableto the British state. True, this double outrage has also become entangled with the issue of Khomeini'sshockingdeaththreatagainsta Britishcitizen. But it is also truethat BritishMuslims have publicly dissociatedthemselves from the Iranian prominent and that they are trying to restrainthe intemperatedeclarations pronouncement, SalmanRushdie's tragicpredicament-his havof some of theircoreligionists.42 to be the British police againstthe possibility of murder-is cering guardedby is this fact: the steady stream over the years of of the So too tainly part story. murders of black Britishcitizens by white racistshas never provokeda denunciation, by governmentor liberal opinion, of the white British population.Nor do black Britishcitizens who are constantlythreatened by white racists alordinary Their cannot reneed. obtain the security evidently ways police protectionthey ceive the same practicaland ideological attentionthat liberal bourgeois society
ETHNOGRAPHY,LITERATURE,AND POLITICS 259
It is quite understandable, famous author.43 therefore, gives to an internationally thatwhen ordinaryBritishcitizens are threatened with deathby white racists, and murdered,there should be no liberal outcry that the foundationsof Westerncivilization are being attacked-but merely liberal expressions of dismay at the violent intoleranceof their lower classes.44 It is as a consequenceof the inequalityin power between immigrantsand the governingclasses that the book is being used as a stick with which to beat the in a varietyof political arenas-in education, local government,and immigrants constituencies.The hithertoconfused notion of multiculturalism is parliamentary now vigorously attackedin the name of core culturalvalues right across the political spectrum. For LabouriteSean Frenchthe Bradfordbook-burningand the Muslim fury at Rushdiehave broughtabout a change of heartregardingthe virtues of multiculturalism: There hasbeenlittletimein Britain forthemelting-pot attitudes to immigrants-eson the left. Multi-cultural, hasbeenconsidered alpecially mother-tongue teaching mostself-evidently the richesof a many-cultured good. It wouldproduce society. Wellwe nowhaveit. [French 1989:6] as a French,like many otherson the left and the right,45 regardsmulticulturalism disruptiveprinciple. But so too, surely, is the melting-potpolicy. The unhappy fromthe historyof racerelationsbetweenEnglish-speaking,Christian immigrants Caribbean (who were eager at firstto be assimilated)and the dominantwhite society is evidence enough of that. The clue, it seems to me, lies in the Britishanxiety about who and what is to be disrupted.If anybody is to be radically transformedit must not be the Britishthemselves. Thus Hugo Young, the well-known Britishliberalcolumnist, writes: Muslimleadersnow maketo destroyBritish or escapethe restraints of freedoms, andScottish law. Thelaw protects us all, including them.Theydo notseem English to understand thrust that,noryet hadcomprehension uponthem.Forthat,andthat to suggestto anyonewho does not like it thathe mightfind alone,one is entitled another which meetshisdemands. If notGravesend, country whynotTehran? [Young 1989:3; added] emphasis The intimidatingtone of this piece, delivered in imperialcadences, is typical of much media coverage of the Rushdie affair in Britain. Peaceful attemptsby immigrantleadersto petition for legal action banningthe novel are not merely rein hystericaltermsas a bid "to destroyBritishfreedoms." jected but represented An Asian minority's wish to change the law, and its resort to means that have always been lawful in moderndemocracies(parliamentary petitions, public demthe of onstrations-including shouting angry slogans46-and passionate argument in the media) is virtuallycriminalized. But in fact such statementsare not directedat illegality in any strict sense, especially as it was common knowledge thatno arrestsfor breachof the law had actuallyoccurredat the time. Theirfuncone claim for which they can be allotted no scintilla of sympathyis the claim some
tion is to convey a clear message to immigrants: if you don't like an arrangement which is a partof core British values, don't dare to try and change it-just leave our country. This seems eminently reasonable-essentially democratic, even. But it is worth examining critically what the assumptionamountsto. British "core values" appearto mean the historical values of the British majority. But they can easily be translatedas hegemonic interests, so that the demand that immigrant minoritiesconcede withoutquestion existing "core values" if they are to be acceptedas full membersof the political communitybecomes revealedas a famous bourgeoisruse. If thatprinciplewere ever to be conceded, neitherrace norgender could become legitimatepolitics in modem states. It is a well-knownbut often convenientlysuppressedfact that not only have ways of life in Britainchanged radicallyover the last two centuries, the concept of cultureitselfhas emergedas thepoliticalproductof a profoundhistoricalstruggle. There was a time when the values and aspirationsof the English working classes-as well as the beliefs and practicesof NonconformistChristians-were not includedin the secular, humanistconcept of "culture."47The singularityof Britainwas not definedin termsof an all-encompassingculture. It was only with such recentdevelopmentsas adultmale suffrage, a legalized TradeUnion movement, populareducation,anda reformedsystem of city government,that "British culture"-originally "English culture"-began to acquirethe inclusive sense, and legitimacy, that it now possesses. This continuouswork of historicalcontestation and reconstruction needs to be kept in mind when reading British liberal commentaries aboutthe Rushdieaffair. I wantto stressthatthis point has nothing to do with whetherBritishculture,like all cultures,is "mixed" or "pure"; it has to do with what gets includedand what excluded (how and by whom) in the constructionof a domainwithin which a legitimatepolitics can be practiced-a politics to defend, develop, modify, or redefinegiven traditionsand identities. A Concluding Note I began this essay by addressingthe question of ethnographywhich has reinterest, and I want to returnto cently become the focus of much anthropological it finally. My discussion of Rushdie's novel is motivatedby the assumptionthat the are fiction crucialissue for anthropological practiceis not whetherethnographies can be replaced by or fact-or how far realist forms of culturalrepresentation others. What mattersmore are the kinds of political projectculturalinscriptions for their own are embeddedin. Not experimentsin ethnographicrepresentation be our of intervention should but modalities sake, primaryobject of conpolitical cern. More precisely, a major question for anthropologistsconcerned with the West's Otherin the West is this: How do discursive interventionsby anthropologists articulatethe politics of difference in the spaces defined by the moder state?
ANDPOLITICS261 ETHNOGRAPHY, LITERATURE, In the West there is now an increasing awareness of the ambiguous legacy of the Enlightenment. Two decades ago Arthur Hertzberg assembled a powerful case to argue that the modem roots of anti-Semitism lay in the homogenizing thrust of post-Enlightenment "emancipation." Complete assimilation48 or the to mention other, more terrible, status of despised difference-not alternatives49-is the only option that the modem nation-state has been able to provide for its "minorities." Must our critical ethnographies of Other traditions in modem nation-states follow the options offered by liberal theory? Or can they contribute to the formulation of very different political futures? Notes Partsof this article were delivered at the New York Academy of SciAcknowledgments. ences, the Universityof Connecticut,andthe Universityof Chicago. I have benefitedfrom commentsmadeby all threeaudiences. I am gratefulalso to the following individualswho made helpful suggestions:JamesFaris, U. Kalpagam,Keith Nield, RaynaRapp, and Nur Yalman. To Tanya BakerI owe a special debt for her invaluableadvice and criticism and for her perceptivereadingof SalmanRushdie's novel which she sharedwith me. This article is almost as much hers as mine. 'For a courageousinterventionby two anthropologistsat the height of the Rushdie furor see the interesting"Editors' Comments" in Public Culture, vol. 1, no. 2, Spring 1989. 2Ishall deal with the politics of culturalconflict in Britainin anotheressay. 3Usefulinformationon Muslims in Europe is contained in Gerholmand Lithman(1988) andKepel (1988). 4A valuable discussion of English law as it affects Muslims in Britain, particularlyas it affects theirdemandsregardingeducation, is containedin Poulter(1989). 5ThusEliot, who argued, from a conservativeviewpoint, for the inseparability of religion and culturehad to concede thatthe Churchof Englandincludes "wider varietiesof belief and cult than a foreign observer would believe it possible for one institutionto contain without bursting" (Eliot 1961:73). Its culturalrole was not the consequence of divine grace, but of the constitutionalprivilege given to a religious institutionin the Britishstate. However minor that influence may now be said to be, it is the case that even nonconservatives do not contest the essentially Christiancharacterof "British nationalculture" in any significantmeasure. 6Wouldit be unjustto describethis referenceto a monolithic "Islam" directedby a "powerful tribe" as an opportunistic bid for supportin the West? Rushdie himself might have describedit so beforethe publicationof TheSatanic Verses: "it needs to be said repeatedly in the West thatIslamis no more monolithicallycruel, no morean 'evil empire'thanChristianity, capitalismor communism" (Rushdie 1988c:188). It is incorrectand irresponsible to imply thatthereis a unity of doctrineamong even so-called fundamentalist regimes and movementsin the Muslim world today. It is monumentallyabsurdto suggest thatbelief in Muhammad's uniquenessand in the unambiguityof the Qur'anas revelationis the product of a recentclericalcoup; bothprincipleshave always been cardinalto Islamicpopularfaith and theologicaldiscourse.
262 CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY 7Consistencyis not exactly Rushdie's strong point. "Most of our problems begin," he observedin a prepublication interview, "when people try to define the world in termsof a starkoppositionbetween good and evil" (originallypublishedin the autumn/winter 1988 in Rushdie 1989b:1156). Waterston's SelectionCatalogue, a shorterversion was reprinted Is inconsistencythe privilege of a writerof fiction-or only of a writerof fantasy? 8Forexample Bhabha(1989:35): "The book is written in a spirit of questioning, doubt, and puzzlement which articulatesthe dilemma of the migrant, the emigre, interrogation the minority." 9Thisjudgment, incidentally, has a long lineage in the Christian West. Thus Carlyle (1897:64-65): "I must say, it is as toilsome reading as I ever undertook.A wearisome inconfusedjumble, crude, incondite;endless iterations,long-windedness,entanglement; supportablestupidity, in short! Nothing but a sense of duty could carry any European masses the Koran.We readin it, as we mightin the State-Paper Office, unreadable through of lumber,thatwe may perhapsget glimpses of a remarkable man." There is a characteristic imperialassumptionhere that a cultivatedEuropeanhas no need to learn to read the texts of non-European cultures. '?Afterall, it was only as recently as 1988 that Parliamentlegislated that obligatorycollective worship in schools had to be of "a broadly Christiancharacter"(see Education mustmake ReformAct 1988, ss. 6, 7). Any parentwho objects to Christianindoctrination a specific applicationto have his or her child exempted from that activity (EducationReform Act 1988, s.9 ). 'The imperiousdemandthat all good men and true must now come forwardto join the crusade ("Secular versus religious, the light versus the dark. .... It is time for us to choose") is surelybased on an implicit rule of conduct? '2Thedifficulties of constructinga coherent politics in the modem state on the basis of "experience" alone has long been recognized on the left: see, for example, Williams (1979:168-172). While Williams's primaryconcern here is to rehabilitatethe notion of experiencein the face of Althusserianassaults, he emphasizes its limitationsfor political in modem societies. Nevertheless, he does not supply the necessary disunderstanding tinctionbetween experience and its expression. For since there is often a hiatus between experiencethat can't be adequatelyexpressed and what can be expressed but isn't quite to experience, there's always a dangerin makinghasty equations(as Yasmin Ali adequate does) between "culturalproducts" and "authenticexperiences." '3Thesinisterversions include those used in Soviet political psychiatry. But also in such statementsas the following by the eminent liberaljournalistO'Brien (1989) that in effect measures:"Arab and Muslim society is recommendspecific political and administrative sick and has been sick for a long time." "4In this article, Caute provides a useful account of dissatisfactionswithin the Bradford immigrant communitywith the political recordof the Labourparty. '5Asindeed do SalmanRushdieand his legal advisers. Thus when the English playwright BrianClarkwrotea play alludingto Rushdie'stragicpredicament,he was confrontedwith a veiled threatof legal action: "Mr. Rushdie respondedby leaving a message on my answer-phonesaying he was appalledthat I would thinkthe play which postulatedhis death could in any way be acceptableto him, that he would resist its being performed.As Mr.
ANDPOLITICS263 ETHNOGRAPHY, LITERATURE, Rushdieis nowhereportrayedor even named in the play it was easy to change the title to WhoKilled the Writer?(thoughit would be disingenuousto pretendthe play was not predicated on his position). But I was shocked to be in receipt of a letter from Mr. Rushdie's agent saying that if we intendedproductionwe should send him a formal note so that he could 'establishSalman's legal rights.' The irony of Mr. Rushdie's wishing to suppressa play because it offended him was so obvious that it became clear to me he could not be thinkingwell" (Clark 1990:21). '6The recognitionsarehighly seductive, for throughthemthe readerdelivershis/herassent. Thus Peter Fuller in his review of George Steiner's Real Presences in the Guardian: "I was drawnon throughpage afterpage by the sheerjoy of corroboration."' In such a reading therecan scarcelybe any room for thejoy of discoveringnew things-let alone undergoing the uncomfortable process of questioningone's complacency. 7It now appearsthat SalmanRushdie agrees with TheNew YorkTimes:his life's work is "to create a literarylanguage and literaryforms in which the experience of formerly-colonized, still-disadvantaged peoples might find full expression" (Rushdie 1990a:18). Until Rushdie, the divine creator, fashions and gifts an appropriate English literary language, an entire world of formerlycolonized peoples remainsunableto express fully their manifold experiences. "'Since Freudwe have learnedto ask whethermodem autobiographical narratives preserve a puretruthor presentthe truthof interestedsubjects (see Spence 1982). To what extent are such memories(as opposed to the experiences they recount)the consequenceof direct religiousrepression-and to what extentthe integrativeprincipleof antireligioussubjects? This questiondoes not presupposethat the memoriesmust be false, but that in translating a remembered childhood experience of repressive-parents-using-religious-rules into "religious repression"the adult subjecthas entereda discoursethatalreadyhas high value in liberalsecularculture. '9This metanarrative often takes the historyof post-Revolutionary anticlericalism in France as paradigmatic,therebysuppressingthe much more complicatedrole played by religion in England.The religious struggleof Nonconformistsagainstthe EstablishedChurchwas an extremelyimportant source of social and political rights in thatcountry. an interestinganalysis of this modem phenomenonsee Gutman(1988). 20For
2'In the Islamic traditionthe Qur'an is not regardedas literature-adab-in the critical modem sense of the term. Althoughsome recent specialists of Arabicliterature have tried to approach it as a "literarytext" (see, for example, 'Abdurrahman 1969:13-19), the purpose of the exercise has been to enrich its status as a divine-and thereforemiraculousdiscourse.
22It is nicely reproduced in Foucault's(1984) well-knownpresentation of Baudelaireas the paradigmatic figureof modernity(a literaryman, you will note-not a bureaucrat, not an not an engineer, not even a journalist). entrepreneur, 230nthe emergenceof "literarycriticism" in late 18th-century Germanyvia biblical hermeneutics, see J. Roberts(1979). idea thatthe Prophet'sreligiousexperiencewas due to mentaldisturbance 24The is a theme in more thanone 19th-century discussion of Muhammad.But then rationalistaccountsof Christian religiosity took a similarview. Freud'saccountof religion as a form of neurosis
264 CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY in his essay "Obsessive Actions and Religious Practices" belongs to this 19th-century tradition. rationalist 25Note the author'sidentificationwith the fictionalpoet Baal (" 'Whoresand writers,Mahound.We arethe people you can't forgive.' Mahoundreplied, 'Writersandwhores. I see no differencehere,' "p. 392). The suggestion that the Prophetwas hostile to all poets is there were poets among his followers, notablyHassan bin Thabit. historicallyinaccurate: More curious, however, is the romanticidea presentedhere that writers are necessarily subversiveof all authority.
26"Sunt lacrimae rerum, as the ex-teacher Sufyan would have said .. ." (p. 404). It is a
that he seems always to quote from curiousfeatureof Sufyan's catholic taste in literature WesternGreatBooks (includingVirgil's Aenead) and never from Islamic texts-except, if we are to creditthe narrator's assurance(and why should we?), from the Qur'an. is the privileged stage for every possible rep27Rushdie's pretentiousclaim that literature resentation-in itself incorrectbecause thatclaims too much and too littlefor literatureas literature-is still a claim aboutrepresenting life, not aboutliving it. 28Rushdie's own conceit of literatureas life has recently acquiredan astonishingformulation: "I wantto say to the greatmass of ordinary,decent, fair-minded Muslims, of the sort I have known all my life, and who have providedmuch of the inspirationfor my work: to be rejectedand reviled by, so to speak, one's own characters is a shocking and painful experiencefor any writer" (Rushdie 1990a:53; emphasis added). Thus Muslims in the world are not what his novel is about, they are his novel-characters turningungratefully his own characters? againsttheircreator.Can it be thatthis authordoesn't understand 29Rodinson (1971) contains a "humanist" portraitof the Prophet, with its mixture of similarto the one presentedin Rushdie's noveland weaknesses, remarkably strengths and the role of sex in establishinghis "human" (and thereforemorally flawed) status is comparable. 30Walzer has writtenwell on the ancient theme of internalcriticism(1987), and one wonders why he avoids it later (1989). The questions addressedin the latter(blasphemyand free speech) are dealt with in a predictablemanner-and thereforeare, no doubt, predictably welcomedby most sensible readers.Whatit does not discuss is how thatnovel relates to the idea of internalcriticism. 3In one of her more successful chapters,Douglas (1966) offers a fascinatingexplanation of the dietaryrules in Leviticus which persuadesthe readerthatthey arecoherent;but then her aim, contraryto SalmanRushdie's, is not mockery. 32Besides, accordingto a commentmadeby Rushdieto his Englishinterviewerin London, such thingsare much worse in India:"It isn't a questionof makinga sociological example of London. If you go to India these days, you see things happeningwhich are 10 times worse thanany of the things happeninghere, and thereit's Indiansdoing it to Indians,and often for racial reasons" (1989b:1155). This comment is consistent with my argument aboutthe book's critical site. It must be conceded that from a liberalpoint of view things are indeed always ten times worse in India. 33Taylor points out thatin contrastto liberaltheoriesof negativefreedom-where freedom consistsof the absenceof obstacles-doctrines of positive freedomare concernedwith "a view of freedomwhich involves essentially the exercise of controlover one's life. On this
ANDPOLITICS265 ETHNOGRAPHY, LITERATURE, view one is free only to the extent thatone has effectively determinedoneself andthe shape of one's life. The concept of freedom here is an exercise-concept." Rules of behavior, I would suggest, are typically integralto what Taylor has called "freedom as an exerciseconcept." From the viewpoint of "freedom as an opportunity-concept"(negative freedom) rules define what may not be done and are thereforeno more thanobstacles (Taylor 1979:177). 34The Canadian writerMukherjicom-esclose to makingthis point (1989) but doesn't notice the class character of this sense of betrayal. In this context one cannotusefully speak of a generalized "colonial subject''-or for that matter,of a universalized"immigrant." 35As Spivak(1989) has pointedout, TheSatanic Versesends with a sexual offer to the male heroSaladin.Thereis, in fact, a disturbing incongruitybetweenthe book's overtlyfeminist gestures(what Spivak describes as "his anxiety to write woman into the narrativeof history," p. 82) and its frequentlybrutalor dismissive treatmentof women (which is not the same point as the one signpostedby Spivak's "Here again we have to recorda failure," p. 82). Perhapsone of Rushdie's most startlinginscriptionsof women occurs in the name given to a female characterin Shame (1983), "Virgin Iron-Pants," which, surprisingly, none of his feminist admirershas objected to. Even Spivak, perceptivecritic that she is, observesonly that "In Shame, the women seem powerfulonly as monsters, of one sort or another"(p. 83). It's not his inability to portraywomen as impressively as he does men that I am worriedby (as in Spivak's "Ayesha, the female prophet, lacks the existential depth of 'the businessmanprophet,' " p. 83), but the text's curious ambivalence which links progressiveviews aboutwomen's oppressionwith narrativeviolence towardthem. India and Pakistan,personallaw is administeredin accordancewith religious affilia36In tion. mother'send, oddly enough, isn't at all like his father's-it verges on the comic. A 37His woman who chokes to death on a fishbone while her affluentpartyguests dive under the dining table in fear of a Pakistaniair raid is not likely to provide the male hero with a dignifiedmodel for a seculardeath. What-one is promptedto wonder-are the gendered determinants of dying? who loved Englandin the form of his lost English wife" (p. 425). 38"Chamcha, 1989:9. And yet it is "the Imam" figure(Khomeini)who is accused-no doubt 39Mukherji playfully-of wantingto stop "History" (p. 210). 4That this event has become a key symbol of the entire "Rushdie affair" is evident in the of the burningare used-as for example on the cover of Appigway iconic reproductions nanesi and Maitland(1989), and of Ruthven(1990), not to mention innumerablearticles in newspapersand periodicalscommentingin generalterms on the affair. 41And any adequateanalysis would, I suggest, have to begin with Bachelard(1964). 42Pallister, Morris,andDunn 1989. And the statementby JohnPatten(1989), Home Office Ministerfor race relations:"I am glad to be able to say that the particular concernsraised by The Satanic Verses, have been, for the most part, handledin a responsibleway by the greatmajorityof the Muslims in this country. ... I am grateful,too, thatMuslim leaders have madepublictheirregretfor the behaviourof a very small minoritywho use the peaceful demonstrations as an excuse for violent disorder."
266 CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY 43This observationapplies equally to the condition of the wretchedhostages in Lebanon: innocentpersons held by ruthless men in appallingconditions and under daily threatof murder.How often have we seen paid newspaperadvertisementsin which long lists of of these vicwriterstake a principledstandagainstthe inhumanpredicament distinguished tims? is nicely broughtout in a recentpiece by the liberalcolumnistIan Aitken. Referring 44This to the 1958 Notting Hill Gate Riot, in which a gang of white youths terrorized blacks and were eventuallysentencedto four years each, he writes: "But the event caused particular anguish to liberal-minded,leftish sort of people, and not just because of what had happened. The troublewas thatthe 'riot' and its aftermath broughttwo cherishedliberal attiandthe belief thatunderprivileged young offenders tudes-opposition to racialharassment [in this case white racists]shouldbe treatedwith compassion-into directandembarassing collision." Nowhere in this article does Aitken speak of the terrorof black immigrants huntedby murderous whites in a white society, but only of the embarrassmentfeltby liberals at the conflict between two "attitudes." As for the Rushdie Affair: "what needs to be demonstrated,and quickly, is that our secular Western democracies are not going to yield to militantIslam the very libertiesour ancestorswrenchedso recentlyfrom Christian theocrats"(Aitken 1990). 45Seethe enthusiasticdiscussion of the documenttitled "On Being British" by John Patten, the Tory government'sHome Office minister for race relations, in an article by the politicaleditorof TheSundayTimes (Jones 1989). 4In one famous demonstration recently, an effigy of Nicholas Ridley, the Environment burned was by irate middle-class residentsof an attractiveruralarea publicly Secretary, scheduledby the governmentfor housing development. And of course these protesters
47SeeWilliams 1961. Still an indispensabletext for thinkingaboutthis question, it is, we can now see, markedby a surprisingabsence:it containsno discussion of imperialism. 480f the completely assimilated Jews during the 19th and 20th centuries, Hertzberg (1968:365-366) writes:"a certaindiscomfortwas inherentin theirsituation;it caused pain in the souls of many. This 'new Jew' had been borninto a society which askedhim to keep provingthat he was worthy of belonging to it. Unfortunately,this 'new Jew' was never quite told exactly what he had to prove and before which tribunal." 49Which explainsAkhtar's(1989b) fearfulremark,made at the height of the Rushdiecrisis in Britain:"the next time there are gas chambersin Europe, there is no doubtconcerning who'll be inside them." References Cited 'Aisha 'Abdurrahman, 1969 At-TafsirAl-Bayani Lil-Qur'anAl-Karim, volume I. Cairo:Dar al-Ma'arif. Ahmed, Aijaz 1986 Jameson'sRhetoricof Othernessand the "National Allegory." Social Text 15. Aitken, Ian 1990 Rushdieand the Notting Hill Syndrome.The Guardian,5 February. Akhtar,Shabbir 1989a Be CarefulWith Muhammad!London:Bellew. 1989b Whose Light?Whose Darkness?The Guardian,27 February.
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1990 A SatanicAffair. London:Chattoand Windus. Sen, Gautam 1989 Letter. New Statesmanand Society, 4 August. Spence, Donald 1982 NarrativeTruth and Historical Truth:Meaning and Interpretation in Psychoanalysis. New York:Norton. Spivak, Gyatri 1989 ReadingThe SatanicVerses. Public Culture2(1). Taylor, Charles 1979 What's Wrong with Negative Liberty?In The Idea of Freedom. A. Ryan, ed. Oxford:Oxford UniversityPress. Walzer, Michael 1987 Interpretation and Social Criticism. Cambridge:Harvard UniversityPress. 1989 The Sins of Salman. The New Republic, 10 April. Weldon, Fay 1989 SacredCows. London:Chattoand Windus. Williams, Raymond 1961 Cultureand Society: 1780-1950. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. 1979 Politics and Letters. London:New Left Books. Young, Hugo 1989 Terrorising the Guardians of Liberty. The Guardian,21 February.