Hazem Saghieh

Revisiting Salman Rushdie's Stabbing

It is not very important whether or not the novelist Salman Rushdie was stabbed in compliance with Khomeini’s old fatwa. The Iranian newspaper Kayhan commended Hadi Matar for his heinous act, bestowing Khomeinist legitimacy derived from this fatwa upon it. Even the Iranian “diplomat” Mohammad Marandi, an advisor to the team negotiating the nuclear deal, tweeted something to a similar effect.

Many figures, both Iranian and Arab, also expressed their delight with the stabbing attack and insisted that if Matar didn’t do it, they would have been ready to do what he did. One of the preposterous ideas repeated in their exaltations was considering the attack to have avenged ‘Quds Force’ Commander Qassem Soleimani, granting the attack political and “strategic” significance that doubles the justifications available to those looking for them. It elevates the stabbing to the caliber of assigned duty, with or without a previous fatwa.

Another matter that loses its significance is the idea of hiding. We recall that what was coined “globalization of terrorism” at the time began with the 1989 fatwa and the burnings of The Satanic Verses in several British cities. After that came 9/11, sharpening this theory and giving it strong fangs. We also know how many Russian defectors were hunted down in European capitals. Salman Rushdie had himself been in hiding to protect his life against a potential rabid attack.

In other words, we now have groups, and they are no longer confined and isolated, almost everywhere, and these groups are ideological, dogmatic in their faith and ready to use extreme violence to defend their beliefs. They could be sponsored by their states, but they could also not be; they could be motivated by their foolhardy ideology- though in the case of Matar, both motives are probably at play.

Nonetheless, the worst thing these groups do, in addition to murder and stabbing, is harming the migrant and refugee populations for whom this same globalization had been a wing taking them to where they now find themselves.

What Hadi Matar did, and other actions like it, often exacerbate racism and xenophobia, especially against Muslims, be they refugees or migrants. There is an abundance of racists, and their capacity for hatred is endless, especially in light of the crushing economic crises.

This factor, however, is a pressing matter that demands thinking of solutions that no actor can provide alone. The remedies will remain deficient so long as we do not have two sides working in tandem on the same strategy: if democratic governments ought to intensify their efforts to curb extreme and violent rhetoric, be it that of their country’s racists or fundamentalist immigrants and refugees, especially since hiding is no longer a solution for anyone, then other roles must be carried out by the immigrant and refugee communities, the first of which is addressing patterns of behavior and consciousness that are not compatible with life in modern pluralistic society or facilitating integration into them.

Neither of the tasks has been carried out adequately, and the inadequacy with which each is being realized reinforces the inadequacy of the other.

Days before the stabbing, cities like London, Montreal in Canada, and Dearborn in the United States, among others, saw commemorations of Ashura, whose organizers were not concerned with reaching out to residents. They did not think of them, their moods, their sensibilities, or their culture- unless, that is, they assumed that those residing in these cities are concerned only with cursing Yazid bin Muawiyah night and day!

This is among the ramifications of a loose, narcissistic conceptualization of pluralism that also entails catastrophic effects for those who have it: if everything we have is pristine, it should not be questioned because doing so would be a “racist” infringement on pluralism, and everything around us (Western relations and institutions) is satanic, imperialist, or, racist, then we have every reason to live in a ghetto that separates us from the evils of the neighborhoods surrounding us. Why, for example, do we send our children to their wretched schools instead of “educating” them in the pristine sanctuaries of ours where they can receive a righteous education?

It could be said, and it often is, that a “shared consumer culture” can break down the barriers and borders. However, we now have tons of evidence that jeans, T-shirts, and pop music can go hand in hand with an unchanging, inherited culture that allows for domestic violence, child abuse and murder.

The actual outcome of applying this logic, which calls for clinging to our fundamental assumptions and withdrawing from the “profanity” surrounding us, is that our children will be unable to acquire the languages and skills provided by the “infidels’” schools and will therefore be unable to access the job opportunities they deserve in the societies they had immigrated to or sought asylum in.

They thus lose, and we, as a society and culture, lose a lot from them losing. However, we win the purity of a doctrine that tells us that we are absolutely impeccable while ‘they’ are racists oppressing and looking down on us. We are also rewarded, by this behavior, with youths like Hadi Matar, national gems we can brag about wherever we go.