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Theopolitics of the Rushdie Case
Theopolitics of the Rushdie Case
The Jews are awaiting their Messiah. The Christians eagerly expect the return of Jesus Christ. The Moslems anticipate the twelfth Imam. And the Atheists waiting to "Let George Do It" idly watch as the world goes to hell in a wheelbarrow.
As this tale of madness unfolded, the intellectuals of the world took no part in it: they abandoned the playing out of the drama to the loons on earth, ill will to men.
There are two factions of Moslems, and that really is not germane to the sounds of wind and fury either. But they are the Shiites and the Sunnis. The Shiites regard Ali as the first rightful Imam (Caliph) and do not consider the Sunna (the oral law, tradition) of any authority, but rather charge it as being apocryphal. In Shiite doctrine, Mahdi, a twelfth Imam, is living in concealment through the centuries but is expected to come to rule Islam.
The Sunnis are the orthodox and conservative body of Moslems and are divided into sects about which you don't need to know a damn thing. They are ruled by the Sunna, which is an oral collection of sayings and examples of Mohammed and his immediate followers. They serve as a supplement to the Koran. The Jews have the same kind of garbage collection, which they call Mishnah, which supplements the Old Testament; and the Christians, in their own right, have the excrement of the papal bulls, which supplement the New Testament. These three horrible religions, springing from the forehead of ignorance, live on into our times.
To briefly discuss the youngest of these introduced into the East in the early seventh century: Islam is the religion of Mohammed.1 He is so revered that at any time his name is articulated the speaker must follow it with the phrase, "Peace be upon him." Islam's adherents are called variously Muslims, Moslems, Musulmans, or Mohammedans, and all are members of the Semitic family. The word islam means "submission to the will of god." Mecca, the city in which Mohammed was born, is the holy city of this religion. The faith is expressed in the shahadah: "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet."
The problem is that Mohammed died without a male heir, leaving money and political power to whoever could grab it. Mohammed's cousin and son-in-law, Ali, and Ali's second son Husein were both killed in the internecine war of succession — and legends of them have created a powerful mysticism to which Moslems cling — as the Jews cling to the mysticism of Moses, Abraham, and Isaac; as the Christians cling to Paul and the apostles, to the mythical Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Dreams die hard.
The Shiites proposed the rule of Islam by descendents of the holy family and called this legitimism of the Imam, the ruler. Iran, which is a Shiite nation, is actually run by several hundred ayatollahs, all of whom came through the Shiite religious schools at Qom. They have old school ties, being first classmates, and then friends for years. The ruling power rests with a twelve-member Council of Guardians, made of senior ayatollahs of which Khomeini was the supreme head — the first among equals, but who stands in for the "hidden" Imam, the twelfth religious leader who disappeared in the tenth century and who is to return to create a perfect world, to fill it with truth and justice. After the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's death, he was succeeded by the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, elected as spiritual leader by the eighty-three-man Assembly of Experts, who followed his wishes regarding Khamenei. Hashemi Rafsanjani was elected president of the country, but the new Imam has the power to dismiss the president, declare war, appoint major officials, and serve as commander in chief of the armed forces.
The minority has ever wanted to be the majority. Khomeini's cry to kill Rushdie was his last attempt to rally all Moslems to unity, and there are approximately one billion Moslems in the world. The estimate is that 85 to 90 percent are Sunnis. There are thirty million in the Soviet Union, and a Moslem majority exists in Albania, Bangladesh, Chad, the Gambia, Lebanon, Malawi, Malaysia, Niger, Senegal, the Sudan, and Syria. The Arabian peninsula countries are nearly 100 percent Moslem: Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Somalia, Tunisia, and Turkey. Then, of course, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Mali, Pakistan and Egypt are, at least, 90 percent Moslem. Ninety million Moslems live in India, making up about 11 percent of India's 880 million population.
In the Moslem nations there is no distinction between church and state. The subjugation of unbelievers is, therefore, one of the basic commandments of the faith. An apostate from the religion is seen as the deadliest enemy of Islam, and to Khomeini Rushdie represented all of them. With the collusion of a handful of other zealots he reached out, through Rushdie, to terrorize the modern secular world which was seeping slowly but certainly into his far from impregnable religious domain. As recently evidenced, not even a Berlin wall can keep out ideas.
But that modern secular world does not defend itself from the frontal attacks of the Khomeinis, the Falwells, the Thatchers, the Terry Randalls, the popes, the Ronald Reagans, or the Bushes. A flaccid, directionless mass, it hopes to conquer the blows by absorbing them, with little or no complaint and certainly no correction. And so it was with the Rushdie red herring. Khomeini whipped up the mindless to senseless acts of violence, to which there was small objection except for the economic self-interest of the nations or publishers involved. The strictured mind of Khomeini was protecting itself by protecting the god-image it mirrored. A few isolated persons and small groups took umbrage at the side threat to freedom of speech and freedom of press involved in the international theatre of bombast, anger, and death. But since those voices were briefly heard, scattered, and lacking either authority or force, their complaints were ignored. The great irony is that the Rushdie matter will be resolved, if it is resolved at all, only by time and apathy as the secular homogenized culture reduces every human component to "My opinion is as good as your opinion. Neither can we criticize or find offense." In the agglutinated mass everyone is equal. There is no further need for freedom of the press, freedom of speech, or freedom of conscience. We are all freaks together — except, of course, that all religions must be protected, for they alone are sacrosanct.
1 His full name is Abu al-Qasim Muhammad ibn 'Abd Allah ibn 'Abd al-Muttalib ibn Hashim