Another Triumph Over Fundamentalism Run Amok

Indian-born novelist Salman Rushdie’s newest novel has just been published, and so far the reviews have been very positive.

A New York Times article printed in advance of that publication’s review quotes a critic from The Times of London who described this novel, Victory City, as “one of Rushdie’s most joyful” books, in which “the sheer pleasure he took in writing it bounces off the page.”

But the same NYT piece notes that friends of Rushdie’s are hoping that the power of his words and his imagination will now take center stage—more prominently than the politics surrounding his condemnations of fundamentalism, his position as a symbol of free speech, or the vicious assassination attempt he suffered.

I find it difficult not to think about those in the US who are sowing the same dangers that forced Rushdie into hiding in 1988. For ten years, the “fatwa,” or death order, the Iranian clerics declared against him was in force—with a $2.5 million bounty as a reward. His crime: writing about the prophet Muhammed in human terms.

When the fatwa was lifted in 1998, Rushdie moved to the US, to New York, reveling in his newfound freedom. He apparently felt safe here. But in 2022, in a cultural center not far from the city, he was attacked by a knife-wielding man from New Jersey who said he didn’t like Rushdie, didn’t think he was a good person; “he’s someone who attacked Islam, the belief systems.” He noted that he respects the ayatollah (who died in 1989), thinks he’s a “great person.”

So he stabbed Rushdie in the neck, chest, stomach, thigh, and right eye. The man was charged with attempted murder and held without bail. Though he pleaded not guilty, the attacker was surprised that Rushdie survived.

Rushdie’s new book, Victory City, The Times writer states,

“builds on many of the themes that have long preoccupied Rushdie—the power of myths and legends to shape history, the conflict between the forces of multiculturalism and pluralism versus fundamentalism and intolerance.”

His “overarching message” in this novel is reportedly

“that stories will outlast political clashes, wars, the collapse of empires and civilizations…”

Meanwhile, here in his adopted home, acts of political violence by right-wing extremists are the number one security threat, say US officials. Book-banning is increasing, with librarians under siege and local school boards being overtaken by white nationalists—including the Proud Boys, whose founder and some members have been found guilty of seditious conspiracy against the US. Hate crimes and death threats have increased exponentially against Asian-Americans, Jewish Americans, LGBTQ Americans, immigrants, and politicians and political workers at all levels.

We know that much of the turmoil in our country is a reaction to our growing diversity—and that the Big Lie, the Insurrection it provoked, and the openly prejudiced statements and taunts to violence by some members of Congress and other elected officials are closely tied to fears of our diversity.

We are witnessing the attempts to prevent students from reading what some have deemed “woke” books and to learn about American history in its entirety–slavery, Reconstruction, and all. Rushdie’s emphasis on the importance of stories and storytellers sharpens my sense of the dangers we face if we are complacent in allowing the few to decide what is read, heard, and studied by the many.

So I think it behooves us to hold two concepts in our minds simultaneously. We can celebrate this new work by an important and gifted author, grateful to hear that he is pondering new stories “and is as funny and quick-witted as ever”—while simultaneously listening well to his words and experiences about “the conflict between the forces of multiculturalism and pluralism versus fundamentalism and intolerance.”

It’s significant that Salman Rushdie’s new novel has burst upon us at this critical time. We know which side of that conflict we must take.


14 thoughts on “Another Triumph Over Fundamentalism Run Amok

  1. Stories do outlast politics. The great literature of the Renaissance, the Middle Ages, and even the Greco-Roman period is still with us, though hardly anyone but specialists now remembers the politics of the time of, say, Chaucer. Today’s great stories will also last long after the politics of our time is forgotten.

    The fact that the attack on Rushdie happened near New York — and that similar attacks have happened in Denmark, Paris, etc — illustrates one of the particular dangers of religious totalitarianism. Even dictators like Stalin and Kim made little effort to enforce their will beyond the borders of the territories under their rule. Religious totalitarianism claims the right to enforce its taboos by violence anywhere in the world. It’s a menace to all of us, so long as it exists.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Quite so, Infidel. And when you speak of dictators who “made little effort to enforce their will beyond the borders of the territories of their rule,” I am reminded of the unholy alliances between white nationalists like Steve Bannon and trump, et al—whose religious views aren’t foremost—aligning themselves with violent anti-democratic forces in Russia, Brazil, and elsewhere.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Indeed, Joseph. Putin’s horrors seem to know no bounds. I worry when I hear about the forces on his “right” that are unhappy about his bungled Ukraine assault and want stronger actions…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. This is a comment from Denise Shekerjian that went awry. I felt it was thought-provoking, so I’m pasting it here.

        Agree as to celebrating all that Rushdie brings and just think what it took to get this next book written! Agree that stories outlast politics, too, but I had to think that over. Politics = stories, so where’s the line?


      3. A good point, Denise. Politics does equal stories, and the best ways for politicians to persuade the public appear to be via stories that resonate.

        I think the distinction may be in the longevity involved. If the stories are powerful enough, they’ll transcend the political environment and time.



  2. Tim O’Brien wrote in the preface of his classic work, “All stories are true. All of the stories in this book are true. Some of the stories did not happen.”
    IMO someplace between Politics=stories that have some grain of truth in them and Politics= stories told as farce would be a mid point to consider. Politics=stories I will allow you to tell, that’s why I’m armed.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The universe had a laugh. I liked Denise’s comment and while on her blog I got some advice, that if you want to write you have to do it everyday so at the end on Jan I wrote my first piece of everyday writing which then immediately fell into the void.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I am forced to be an optimist! Yesterday when Ace and I returned from our walk Salman Rushdie’s Victory City was on the sill a gift from above. I priced it for purchase but $30 and an unread volume of Satanic Verses on the shelf stayed my hand. It starts strong, a fortunate stroke of serendipity.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Excellent! A writers read. Is this a good thing or is this a bad thing reverberates throughout the book. Emotional, I find myself in a state of melancholy even though the end is explained at the start. I recommend it .

        Liked by 1 person

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