It’s not quite the Punjab, but people in Pakistan are just as excitable, if not more so.
In U.S. literary circles there has been a fair bit of hand wringing lately about the decline of the column inches devoted in America’s newspapers devoted to book reviews. It seems the ubiquitous internets (UI) are eating the lunch of old time dead tree reviewers. Many are convinced this may portend the end of civilization as we know it.
Personally, I think the end of civilization, if it comes, is more likely to be triggered by book critics in Pakistan. If they don’t like your book, they don’t just give it a bad review. They encourage people to kill you. Take Salman Rusdie:
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s parliament renewed a call
on Friday for Britain to withdraw a knighthood for author
Salman Rushdie and apologize for hurting Muslim feelings.
Rushdie, whose 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses” outraged
many Muslims around the world, was awarded a knighthood for
services to literature in Queen Elizabeth’s birthday honors
list last week.
Pakistan and Iran have protested against the honor and the
Pakistani parliament condemned it in a resolution on Monday. (ABC News.com)
Still no word on when Pakistan plans to apologize for propping up the Taliban regime pre-9/11; helping North Korea, Iran and God only knows who else with their nuclear programs; and, for all we know, putting up Osama bin Laden in a Peshawar bed & breakfast for the last six years.
Did mean old Queen Elizabeth hurt your feelings, Pakistan?
The National Assembly lower house of parliament passed
another resolution on Friday expressing dismay Britain had not
reversed its decision.
“The British government has not withdrawn the title which
has not only disappointed the entire Pakistani nation but has
also hurt it,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sher Afghan Niazi
told the assembly.
“This august house again calls on the British government
and its Prime Minister Tony Blair to immediately withdraw the
title… and tender an apology to the Muslim world.” (ABC News)
Okay, I do see your point. And that does seem like a polite and reasonable request for … excuse me, what’s that you say, Pakistan Religious Affairs Minister Mohammad Ejaz-ul-Haq?
“If someone exploded a bomb on Rushdie in
response to the British government’s decision, he will be within his
right to do so unless the British government apologizes and withdraws
the ‘sir’ title.” (CBS News.com)
Oh, and in case you thought I was kidding about bin Laden:
A group of hardline Muslim clerics said on Thursday it had
bestowed a religious title “Saifullah” (Sword of Islam) on
Osama bin Laden in response to the knighthood for Rushdie. (ABC News.com)
So just to recap the Pakistani position: Honoring a guy who wrote a book you don’t like? Grounds for death threats. Honoring a terrorist mastermind responsible for plotting and causing the deaths of thousands of innocent people? That’s a great idea.
This one goes beyond the apology demand as political leverage to an apology demand as intimidation, extortion and, dare I say, terroristic threats. Implicit … well, explicit really … in the Pakistani national assembly’s resolution and their Religious Affairs Minister’s remarks is the threat that if the British government doesn’t do what they say, then there’s gonna be trouble.
Granted, much of the trouble will be deranged Pakistanis burning, looting and tearing down their own neighborhoods. Have you ever noticed that? Yeah! Burn down Islamabad! That’ll show the infidel dogs of the West who’s boss!
Or at least save them the trouble of doing themselves later.
But, I digress. There has been a troubling trend in recent years of angry Muslim mobs — or mobs of angry Muslims, take your pick — backed by their governments demanding all kinds of ridiculous things. They riot over cartoons. They riot over books they don’t like. They riot over the Miss Universe pageant. Any excuse for a riot.
And that’s fine. It’s their town. Let’s call it Crazytown. They want to keep burning it down and rebuilding it, I don’t care. What frightens me is not these paroxysms of rage but the fact that, to some extent, the intimidation seems to work.
Recall the recent apology demand by the Church of England directed at Sony over their video game. Remember the Bishop of Manchester saying that, had Sony set their fictional gun battle inside a mosque rather than a cathedral, there would have been questions raised in Parliament, an official investigation and the game would have been withdrawn?
The sad thing is, he’s probably right.
Remember the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad? Riots and death threats ensued … and many media outlets, in reporting on the story, refused to reproduce the cartoons.
Gosh, we wouldn’t want to offend the Muslim world.
Or, rather, the more excitable elements thereof. I haven’t conducted a survey, but my guess is that the vast majority of Muslims around the world have too much sense and better things to do than riot over cartoons and books. They may well take offense at such things but are grown up enough to realize that it’s a big world and, you know, sometimes things will offend you.
In our present media culture it is trendy, chic even, to print, say and do things offensive to Christians. Because no one is terribly scared of Presbyterians. Or Catholics for that matter. Salman Rushdie wrote a novel called The Satanic Verses that many Muslims found offensive, even blasphemous. I forget exactly why, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa urging Muslims to kill Rushdie, who spent nine years in hiding.
Dan Brown wrote a novel called The DaVinci Code that many Christians found offensive, even blasphemous. The Pope did not declare a fatwa against Dan Brown. Brown is not, to the best of my knowledge, in hiding. There have been protests and complaints but no riots that I’m aware of. No one has burned down Cleveland over Brown’s book. For the most part, Christian religious leaders have been content to refute those elements of The DaVinci Code that they consider erroneous.
Which is as it should be. That is how civilized people respond to being offended. Turn the other cheek, as it were.
So what happens? Offending Christians is cool. Offending Muslims is a no-no. Bad behavior is rewarded. Which only encourages the mobs of Crazytown to become even more demanding. It takes less and less to offend them. As the Minister of Religious Affairs reminds us, we wouldn’t want any trouble, now, would we?
So now comes this latest demand for an apology.
The British government, to their credit, has diplomatically told Pakistan to get stuffed.
Reacting to the reported passage of the resolution by Pakistan’s
parliament on Monday, demanding the withdrawal of the title, a
spokesman for the British Foreign Office said, “The honour was ‘richly
deserved’ and the reasons for it were ‘self-explanatory’.” (TheNews.com)
Translation: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will knight any of her subjects she damn well pleases.
Which is precisely the response this demand for an apology deserves.