Lecture 11

Anthology Texts:

[Daniel Pipes: The Rushdie Affair (1990)]

History of the Ban:

Many leaders sought to avoid the whole Rushdie issue. They did not refer to it in public and instructed their media either to report the controversy without comment, or to ignore it. Even when asked point-blank about the matter, they skipped around it. "I don't care to comment about the action of the Government of Iran myself," was King Husayn of Jordan's reply to such a question.' Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan used almost the same words: "I do not want to start a controversy with Iran. " "Turkey is not a party to the arguments concerning the book," came the word from Ankara. In Egypt, the media downplayed the international fracas; for its part, the parliament debated The Last Temptation of Christ at much greater length than The Satanic Verses. Political allies of Tehran also refused public support. President Hafiz al-Asad of Syria begged off when asked about the edict: "I am not an authority on religion. " Syria's chief authority on religion, the mufti, did no more than request Rushdie (like the Muslims in Britain) "to admit his mistake, withdraw the book, and prevent its further circulation."

From the vantage point of those wishing to stay clear of trouble, the obvious step was to ban the book and say no more. The Muslim states as a totality chose this path when their foreign ministers met in mid-March 1989 for a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Notwithstanding intense Iranian efforts to find support for Khomeini's fatwa, the OIC over­whelmingly voted to do no more than call on member governments to ban the book.

Virtually every government with a Muslim majority or plu­rality did just this, as did a number of governments with substantial Muslim minorities, including those of Papua New Guinea, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Tanzania, Liberia, Sierra Leone and South Africa. Most remarkably, two Western states with negligible Muslim populations banned the book. In Venezuela, the authorities imposed a fine of 15 months imprisonment for owning the book, and even reading it was made an offense. In Japan, sale of the English-language edition was banned. Fines were imposed. The Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar threatened that anyone found with the offending book would be sentenced to three years in prison, a fine of 20,000 shillings ($2,500), or both. The Malaysian government imposed almost the identical penalty, three years in prison, 20,000 ringgit (about $7,400), or both.
Some governments went further. Iran and several other states banned all books published by Viking, including its very popular Penguin series. Rushdie himself was barred from several coun­tries. Secondary bannings of issues of magazines (such as Time, Newsweek, Asiaweek and Far Eastern Economic Review) cover­ing the controversy were fairly common.

These regulations were occasionally taken seriously; when a Christian citizen of the Sudan was spotted at the Khartoum airport returning from London with two copies of The Satanic Verses, the books were taken away and he was subjected to unspecified legal measures. In the Comores, a small island country off East Africa, all foreign magazines were impounded out of fear that they might carry extracts of the satanic book. The authorities in Mali went to almost comic lengths to protect their citizens from the book. According to a report on the weekly cabinet meeting, as covered by Radio Bamako,

The president informed the Cabinet of the decision by the party to ban the importation, distribution, and propagation of the book, The Satanic Verses. The president has charged the ministers of defence, information, territorial administration, and basic development, as well as the minister of agriculture with carrying out this decision.

In other countries, application was much more lax. Foreign magazines with extracts of the book were allowed into Senegal. In Indonesia, possession of the book was punishable by a month in prison or a fine. Yet, at the same time, local magazines ran lengthy synopses of the book.

- Daniel Pipes, The Rushdie Affair: The Novel, the Ayatollah, and the West (New York: Birch Lane Press, 1990): 142-44.

Theme & Symbolism:

A Timeline of British India

1757 – Robert Clive wins the Battle of Plassey, the real beginning of the East India Company’s rule in India (present since the late 17th century).
1769–70 – Great Bengal Famine: 10 million dead (disputed as excessive)
1773 – Warren Hastings created the first British Governor General of India.
1783–84 – Chalisa famine: Severe famine. Large areas were depopulated. Up to 11 million people may have died during the years 1782–84.
1791–92 – Doji bara famine or Skull famine. One of the most severe famines known. People died in such numbers that they could not be cremated or buried. It is thought that 11 million people may have died during the years 1788–94.
1837–38 – Agra famine of 1837–38: 800,000 dead (disputed as inadequate)
1843 – Annexation of Sindh.
1849 – Anglo-Sikh wars result in the annexation of Kashmir, Punjab and the North-West Frontier.
1857 – The Indian Mutiny.
1858 – British India created.
1865–66 – Orissa famine of 1866: 1 million dead.
1868–70 – Rajputana famine of 1869: 1.5 million dead (mostly in the princely states of Rajputana)
1873–74 – Bihar famine of 1873–74: A large and generous relief effort was organized by the Bengal government. There were no mortalities during the famine.
1876 – Queen Victoria becomes Empress of India.
1876–78 – Great Famine of 1876–78: 5.25 million in British territory. Mortality unknown for princely states.
1896–97 Indian famine of 1896–97: 1,000,000 dead (in British territories). Mortality unknown for princely states.
1899–1901 Indian famine of 1899-1900: 1 million dead (in British territories). Mortality unknown for princely states.
1919 – Amritsar massacre kills at least 379 (official figures). Unofficial estimates are over 1,000.
1943–44 Bengal famine of 1943: 1–1.5 million dead from starvation; 3 million including deaths from epidemics.
1947 – British withdraw from India. Partition massacres kill an estimated half million people.

The Amritsar Massacre

'Dyer is infamous for the orders which he gave on April 13, 1919 in Amritsar. It was under his command that 90 troops, comprising of 25 Gurkhas of 1st/9th Gurkha Rifles, 25 Pathans and Baluch of 54th Sikhs and 59th Sindh Rifles, all armed with .303 Lee-Enfield rifles and the Gurkhas additionally armed with khukris opened fire on a gathering of unarmed civilians, including women and children gathered at the Jallianwalla Bagh in what came to be later known as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

The civilians had assembled at Jallianwala Bagh to participate in the annual Baisakhi celebrations which are both a religious as well as a cultural festival of the Punjabis. The Bagh-space comprised 6–7 acres and was walled on all sides except for five entrances, four of them being very narrow and admitting only a few people at a time. The fifth entrance was blocked by the armed soldiers and by two armoured cars armed with machine guns, although these vehicles were unable to pass through the entrance. Upon entering the park, the General immediately ordered troops to fire directly upon the assembled gathering; firing continued till his troops' ammunition of 1650 rounds was fully exhausted. The firing continued unabated for about 10 minutes. From time to time, Dyer "checked his fire and directed it upon places where the crowd was thickest"; he did this not because the crowd was slow to disperse, but because he (the General) "had made up his mind to punish them for having assembled there." Some of the soldiers initially fired in the air, at which General Dyer shouted: "Fire low. What have you been brought here for?." Later, Dyer's own testimony revealed that the crowd was not given any warning to disperse and he felt no remorse for having ordered his troops to fire.

'The worst part of the whole thing was that the firing was directed towards the exit gates through which the people were running out. There were small 3 or 4 outlets in all and bullets were actually rained over the people at all these gates... and many got trampled under the feet of the rushing crowds and thus lost their lives... even those who lay flat on the ground were fired upon.'

The official reports quote 379 dead and over 1,000 injured. However, public enquiry estimates, figures from Government Civil Servants in the city as well as counts from the Home Political cite numbers well over a thousand dead. According to a Home Political Deposit report, the number was over 1,000, with more than 1,200 wounded. Dr. Smith, a British civil surgeon at Amritsar, indicated over 1800 casualties. These massive casualties earned general Dyer the infamous epitaph of "The Butcher of Amritsar" in India. It has been repeatedly pointed out that the actual figures were deliberately suppressed by the government for political reasons.

On the day following the massacre, Mr. Kitchin, the Commissioner of Lahore as well as General Dyer, both used threatening language. The following is the English translation of Dyer's Urdu Statement directed at the local residents of Amritsar on the afternoon of April 14, 1919, a day after the Amritsar massacre:

"You people know well that I am a Sepoy and soldier. Do you want war or peace? If you wish for a war, the Government is prepared for it, and if you want peace, then obey my orders and open all your shops; else I will shoot. For me the battle-field of France or Amritsar is the same. I am a military man and I will go straight. Neither shall I move to the right nor to the left. Speak up, if you want war? In case there is to be peace, my order is to open all shops at once. You people talk against the Government and persons educated in Germany and Bengal talk sedition. I shall report all these. Obey my orders. I do not wish to have anything else. I have served in the military for over 30 years. I understand the Indian Sepoy and Sikh people very well. You will have to obey my orders and observe peace. Otherwise the shops will be opened by force and Rifles. You will have to report to me of the Badmash. I will shoot them. Obey my orders and open shops. Speak up if you want war? You have committed a bad act in killing the English. The revenge will be taken upon you and upon your children."

Brigadier Dyer designated the spot where Miss Marcella Sherwood was assaulted sacred and daytime pickets were placed at either end of the street. Anyone wishing to proceed in the street between 6am and 8pm was made to crawl the 150 yards (140 m) on all fours, lying flat on their bellies. The order was not required at night due to a curfew. The humiliation of the order struck the Indians deeply. Most importantly, the order effectively closed the street. The houses had no back doors and the inhabitants could not go out without climbing down from their roofs. This order was in effect from April 19 until April 25, 1919. No doctor or supplier was allowed in, resulting in the sick being untended.

On his return to Britain, General Dyer was presented with a purse of 26,000 pounds sterling, a huge sum in those days, which emerged from a collection on his behalf by the Morning Post, a conservative, pro-Imperialistic newspaper, which later merged with the Daily Telegraph. A Thirteen Women Committee was constituted to present "the Saviour of the Punjab with sword of honour and a purse." This single incident incensed the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore so much that he renounced his knighthood in protest. The Morning Post had supported Dyer’s action on grounds stating that the massacre was necessary to "Protect the honor of European Women."
General Dyer was oblivious of the events that he was responsible for. He wrote an article in the Globe of 21 January 1921, titled, "The Peril to the Empire". It commenced with, "India does not want self-government. She does not understand it." He went on to write:
  • It is only to an enlightened people that free speech and a free press can be extended. The Indian people want no such enlightenment ...
  • There should be an eleventh commandment in India, "Thou shalt not agitate" ...
  • Gandhi will not lead India to capable self-government. The British Raj must continue, firm and unshaken in its administration of justice to all men.'

[The Jewel in the Crown (1984)]

Workshop 11:
The Jewel in the Crown

We'll begin with the book report on The Satanic Verses, then move on to do the class exercise in pairs or small groups.

Exercise 11:
How many people can you offend in one lifetime?

  • In Midnight's Children (1981) he offended Mrs. Gandhi and the whle post-independence political establishment of India.
  • In Shame (1983) he insulted Benazir Bhutto and the political elite of Pakistan.
  • In The Satanic Verses (1988) Salman Rushdie deliberately chose to take on the Ayatollah, Mrs. Thatcher, and the USA.
  • The question is, why? And did he intend to offend the whole of Islam in the process? Or just the fundamentalists and fanatics?

Next week:

Final assignment due.

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