I, like many others, am disturbed and horrified by the attack on author Salman Rushdie that took place at the Chautauqua Institution, a place I’ve been to a few times, which is just an hour’s drive away on the lovely shores of Lake Chautauqua. Hatred and religious extremism no know boundaries and can flourish anywhere, though this wasn’t a local hatred; from what I can tell, some guy checked where Rushdie was going to be, went there, and attacked.
I haven’t read any of Rushdie’s novels, but I’ve read a few of his essays and other pieces over the years. He has always struck me as a nuanced thinker and a fine writer, and that he could be attacked in this way is appalling…as is, quite frankly, the entire “fatwa” placed on him in the first place. The whole concept of blasphemy has always struck me as deeply, deeply weird. I have never been able to wrap my head around the idea of God–a being so vast and powerful as to be able to create the entire Universe–nevertheless being apparently so thin-skinned as to be offendable by anything some being says, thinks, writes, or does down here on Earth. It just doesn’t make sense to me, and I can’t understand why anybody would even want to believe in a God like that in the first place. It seems to me we should ask more of our supreme beings.
There’s a cartoon online that sums up this point in pithy fashion. I tend to agree. If you think blasphemy is even possible, and that it’s something that needs to be enforced in God’s name here on earth, something is wrong with both your religion, for its small and limiting view of God, and with you, for having chosen that religion.
One final thing strikes me about this whole affair: the fatwa against Rushdie was pronounced by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, 43 years ago. The man who drove a few hundred miles to execute the fatwa yesterday is 24 years old. He was taught this hatred. He was taught it, and he took it into his heart willingly.
Many people tend to think that such religious extremism is bound to die out just by a kind of atrophy. And maybe it will, in some inevitable course. But it’s clear that this will be a very long process, and in the meantime, there are plenty of self-minted extremists rising to do evil in the name of their small-minded God who commands it.