We lived in England in the late 1980s. I do not recall all the details, and Google comes up a blank, but we saw a newspaper survey that showed global concerns by religion. Most religions came up with issues like the environment, world peace, and poverty, but to Muslims the most pressing issue was killing Salman Rushdie.

This is the Fatwa issued on Salman Rushdie:

The author of The Satanic Verses, a text written, edited, and published against Islam, against the Prophet of Islam, and against the Koran, along with all the editors and publishers aware of its contents, are condemned to capital punishment. I call on all valiant Muslims wherever they may be in the world to execute this sentence without delay, so that no one henceforth will dare insult the sacred beliefs of the Muslims.

His knighthood has brought the issue back into prominence in the Muslim world. No moderate Muslims have spoken out defending Rushdie. Few Westerners have, either. Tim Rutten, writing in the L.A. Times makes that point:

Equally to the point, what is the societal cost of silence among those who have not simply the moral obligation but also the ability to speak — like American commentators and editorial writers?

What masquerades as tolerance and cultural sensitivity among many U.S. journalists is really a kind of soft bigotry, an unspoken assumption that Muslim societies will naturally repress great writers and murder honest journalists, and that to insist otherwise is somehow intolerant or insensitive.

Lost in the self-righteous haze that masks this expedient sentiment is a critical point once made by the late American philosopher Richard Rorty, who was fond of pointing out that “some ideas, like some people, are just no damn good” and that no amount of faux tolerance or misplaced fellow feeling excuses the rest of us from our obligation to oppose such ideas and such people.

If Western and, particularly American, commentators refuse to speak up when their obligations are so clear, the fanatics will win and the terrible silence they so fervently desire will descend over vast stretches of our world — a silence in which the only permissible sounds are the prayers of the killers and the cries of their victims.

When a nation imposes a death sentence on the citizen of another country then it has declared war on that country. It is a pity the West has not yet understood that Rushdie is us.

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