Monday, September 04, 2006

It Started with Book Burning

“Where one burns books, one will, in the end, burn people.” - Heinrich Heine

In a terrific piece for the Foreign Policy web site, James G. Forsyth traces the origins of jihadist terror in the UK to the 1989 campaign waged against the publication of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses. As Forsyth makes clear, the same worldview that inspired radical Islamists to burn books also leads them to bomb trains and airliners:

Jan. 14, 1989, is a date that means little to most Britons. But any attempt to understand Britain’s current predicament—the investigations into 70 homegrown terror plots, the phrase “enemy within” being thrown around with abandon, and Muslim leaders demanding Islamic law for Muslim family matters—must start there.

That Saturday, following the public burning of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses in the northern city of Bradford, the country’s largest bookseller withdrew the book from public view in that city. In the Muslim community, it was shown that those who advocated the rule of the mob—not the rule of law—got results. The British authorities demonstrated that they would abandon liberal values for the false promise of the quiet life. That decision has resulted in a situation where British citizens blow themselves up on buses and subways, plot to take down passenger jets, and young British Muslims believe in surprising numbers (31 percent, according to the most recent poll) that their country’s foreign policy justifies terror attacks.

The mob in Bradford burnt the Satanic Verses because it regarded the book as blasphemous. They had every right to do what they wanted with their purchased copies, but no right to intimidate bookshops into pulling it from their shelves. Nor should the police have helped persuade bookstores to give in to this pressure. The situation became even more disturbing after Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini called for Rushdie's head on Feb. 14, 1989. The call was frequently repeated in Britain, despite a British law that makes incitement to murder punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment. (The year prior to the Rushdie protests, there had been more than a thousand prosecutions for incitement.) Demonstrations against the book frequently resulted in chants of “Kill Rushdie, Kill Rushdie.” Perhaps the most egregious case was that of the late British Muslim activist Kalim Siddiqui, who told a public meeting, “I would like every Muslim to raise his hand in agreement with the death sentence on Salman Rushdie. Let the world see that every Muslim agrees that this man should be put away.” Still, the Crown Prosecution Service refused to act, perhaps fearful of a poplar backlash. Polls showed almost a third of British Muslims agreed with Siddiqui and the ayatollah.

The most disgraceful aspect of the Rushdie affair was the unwillingness of UK authorities and political leaders to stand up in defense of their own society's principles:

Meanwhile, British politicians failed spectacularly to understand what was at stake. The deputy leader of the Labour Party said that the paperback edition of the book should be canceled. Conservative parliamentarians groused that the price of freedom was too high, and Rushdie ultimately felt obliged to contribute 100,000 pounds to the cost of protecting his own life.

The ultimate result of this indulgence of hatred and lawlessness was the dramatic growth of radical Islamism among British Muslims, as witnessed by these poll numbers:

After 9/11, the British attitude to these emissaries of hate stiffened, with polls showing 93 percent support for apprehending those who aid and abet terrorists. But the reaction was too late. The poison had already spread. Polls revealed that 57 percent of British Muslims regarded the campaign against the Taliban as a war on Islam, 40 percent thought those Britons who went to fight with the Taliban were justified, and 15 percent viewed the attacks on the Twin Towers as in some way warranted.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Keep in mind that these numbers are in reference to the Afghanistan campaign, and that Iraq was still ruled by Saddam Hussein when this poll was taken.

In short, the Islamist campaign against The Satanic Verses was more than a vile attack on intellectual freedom: it was the first step in a long process of radicalization that now poses a substantial danger to the UK and its allies. By tolerating book burning in the name of multiculturalism, the British authorities paved the way for radical Islamists to move on to terrorism and mass murder.


Blogger FreadomistaW said...

A great piece; essential for understanding the threats we face.

Question: was this sentence a misprint, and if not, what did it mean:

"The year prior to the Rushdie protests, there had been more than a thousand prosecutions for incitement.) "

1,000 prosecutions in ENGLAND under this law in 1988/9???

6:58 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Question: was this sentence a misprint, and if not, what did it mean:

"The year prior to the Rushdie protests, there had been more than a thousand prosecutions for incitement.)"

As far as I know it's not a misprint. I think Forsyth's point was that there was a law against incitement to murder on the books, and that it was being enforced. So, only politically correct cowardice can explain the unwillingness of UK authorities to then enforce this law in the Rushdie case.

11:42 PM  

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