An Islam of the Internet | Panda Anku


When I met Salman Rushdie in Paris shortly after the death sentence of Iranian dictator Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, I was surprised by his reaction. I will never forget it. Far from fearing that “fatwa” that asked any good Muslim to murder them with paradise as their reward, Rushdie told me that henceforth he would have to double his champagne consumption, spend his evenings in nightclubs, and chase after tall blondes. In summary, celebration seemed to him the most appropriate response to the obscene obscurantism of the ayatollahs. He more or less kept his word, until the recent attempted assassination of a young Lebanese-American of Shia religion in Chautauqua, New York. That’s Rushdie for you: a player, in life as in literature. His books are funny and outrageous; In any case, neither Khomeini nor the would-be assassin ever read a word of Rushdie. The fatwa struck Rushdie for precisely this impertinence towards all authorities, spiritual or secular.

What is the relationship between Rushdie, Khomeini’s fatwa, and the recent attack? None or little. For Rushdie, the life of Mohammed and the Koran are sources of literary inspiration alongside the Gospels, Buddhism and others Don Quixote– so many characters his work plays with without the slightest concern for realism or judgment or preaching. Khomeini had no idea what literature was or what a novelist was. The Lebanese-American assassin is no less ignorant and has no other source of knowledge than Facebook and other social networks.

Was Khomeini’s motivation religious? There is reason to doubt that as he did not know the text that formed the basis of the fatwa. His action was in fact political. He hoped then to establish himself as the undisputed leader of the reestablished Persian Empire and, moreover, of all Islam. From the perspective of this drive for power, Rushdie was the ideal target: he was of Muslim origin, but Sunni, not Shia, and an atheist revered in the West. title of the incriminating work, The Satanic VersesIt was scandalous enough to stir up popular hysteria. The fatwa must therefore be understood in the context of the twin wars for influence: the Muslim world versus the West and Shia versus Sunni Islam – a twin religious war, more political than spiritual, with Rushdie caught between the pincers, an accidental target.

We in the West have fallen into Khomeini’s trap by paying too little attention to the struggles within the Muslim world, giving the fatwa a value it did not deserve and promoting the ayatollah to a preeminence it did not have at the time . The publicity that the West gave to this fatwa contributed enormously to the growing misunderstanding between the West and Islam: Today, for most in the West, Islam is a religion of hatred and intolerance. This prejudice was reinforced by subsequent attacks committed “in the name of Islam”.

What have we learned about Islam in the time between this fatwa and the assassination attempt on Rushdie? Nothing. Who in the West knows the difference between Shias (mostly Iranians) and Sunnis (Arabs and non-Arabs)? Few, not even the American soldiers, most of whom were unaware of this basic religious distinction during the invasion of Iraq. If one were to summarize what we need to know about Islam in a provocative but revealing aphorism, one would turn to the great Algerian scholar of Islam, Mohammed Arkoun: “Islam does not exist. There are only Muslims.” Every Muslim can enter into a relationship with God through the Koran. Apart from the Shia minority, there is no clergy in Islam. The Sunni religion, which represents 90 percent of practicing Muslims, could be compared to Protestantism in its infinite diversity and lack of hierarchy and a necessary clergy. Only Shia Islam, which is a kind of national Persian church, is theocratic.

It follows that Islam takes on the character of those who practice it. If there are as many versions of Islam as there is diversity among Muslims, it is because each interprets the Qur’an in the light of their own culture. The difference between a Moroccan and a Javanese Muslim is even greater than that between a Brazilian Pentecostal and a Swiss Lutheran. The calamity that has befallen Muslims – and by extension Rushdie – is the emergence of an Internet Islam, a collection of hateful slogans divorced from any study of the Koran and uprooted from any culture. Above all, the Muslims who are dangerous to both fellow Muslims (who make up the majority of their victims) and Westerners are the ignorant Muslims, the dregs of the internet subculture. The correct response to the attack on Rushdie would be to invite Muslims and non-Muslims alike to learn more about Islam – wishful thinking. At the very least, let’s be clear that Rushdie is less a victim of Islam itself than its ignorance.

Photo by Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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