Why Take the Risk? 1
N.P.R.: Why did you contribute to the book called "For Rushdie"? You now have a fatwa against you. This would be seen as a provocation, as a spitting in the eye of the Iranian regime. Why are you taking the risk of doing this?
M.A.: Surely, the provocation has
come from the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has started this terrifying manhunt,
not from me. But if my defending Rushdie is considered a spit in the eye of
that regime, so be it. I would love that. Having said that, I think it was my
duty to defend Rushdie not only as an intellectual but first and foremost as an
Iranian. Do not forget that the fatwa was issued in
N.P.R.: Some people… don't agree with Rushdie's ideas. What are your feelings about this?
M.A.: I don't belong to that group. Anyway, to agree or disagree with Rushdie's ideas is neither here nor there. One doesn't read fiction to agree or disagree — one may like or dislike a novel point. I enjoyed reading his "'s Children", and I certainly back him up for writing the "Satanic Verses". Certain parts are so funny. Under the circumstances, I would have backed him up irrespective of his being a good or a bad writer. One other point that might be of some interest to your audience: all the historical facts in that book are correct and can be found in reference books such as "Tabari's Chronicle"2, which has never been contested by the Muslims. Rushdie has not invented anything. So those who say that he has insulted Islam etc. are just talking through their hats. Other parts, which are pure imaginations of the author, should be judged only by literally standards, not by religious decrees.
N.P.R.: You said that even if you didn't agree with the book, you would have contributed to "For Rushdie". Why?
M.A.: Because I personally believe that freedom of thinking, writing, creating, is the preliminary freedoms of every human being. I think these are among the greatest achievements of mankind. What is more they are man made and have nothing to do with divine laws. Men have to care for these values. So I care.
N.P.R.: You are saying as an Iranian you feel you have a duty really to stand up for Rushdie. Is this because you see this exercise, this book, as a sort of teaching to the West: "Hey you know we are not all fanatics out there!" Do you see it that way?
M.A.: If there is any teaching involved here, it is addressed to the Islamic Republic. However, I would like this book to make the West aware of the fact that Iranians are not all terrorists or fanatics. Many of them appreciate the achievements of the West and share the same universal values with Western people. These universal values are not absent from my country, which is a very ancient country with a very ancient culture. In the real Iranian culture, there is a great deal of room for freedom of speech — and for defending it.
N.P.R.: Do you think a lot of Iranians agree with you?
M.A.: I certainly do. Let me tell
you an anecdote that may or may not be useful to you. Very few Iranians, those
N.P.R.: What impact do you like this book to have?
M.A.: I personally believe the whole issue of fatwa is a political one. We have the Islamic Republic on one side and Rushdie on the other. We are witnessing a duel between these two and I believe that only one would come out of it alive. Obviously, I want that one to be Rushdie. And this book can help.
N.P.R.: But this is just a book. (Mind you Rushdie also wrote just one book as well). But the fact that hundred Arabic Muslims — but you are not an Arab and I think some of the other contributors, such as Edward Saďd, are Christians…
M.A.: All contributors belong to the so-called Muslim world.
N.P.R.: Yes. You've come together on this. What is the significance of that for you?
M.A.: The significance is great. To begin with, it is the first time ever that hundred intellectuals belonging to that part of the world have come out with one single voice and have talked about something which has been considered as a taboo so far. They have broken this taboo. But evidently, I am perfectly conscious that one book cannot do much and cannot have an everlasting impact. However, this is the beginning of a long road for all of us and I hope that we will follow it to the very end. To see the light at the end of the tunnel we still have a long walk. This is just the beginning but a good and a solid one.
N.P.R.: The light in the end of the tunnel for you, I assume, is a much bigger issue than Rushdie. What is it exactly for you?
M.A.: Well, look, the theocratic
N.P.R.: You said that it is very important that a hundred intellectuals have got together and spoken with one voice. Do you see changes happening in the Islamic world, if one could use that expression…? Do you see a sort of counter movement perhaps by democratically minded people who are just getting fed up?
M.A.: Yes, that's exactly what is
happening. You know that the question of secularity in Islamic countries has
never been properly tackled so far. I believe that the democratic minded people
in the "Muslim world", as you put it, are getting fed up with that
situation. They are getting more and more mobilised. Now it's not pure
coincidence that Muslim zealots kill intellectuals in
N.P.R.: … You say you have to speak up and it is your duty… But you could be threatened for these couldn't you?
M.A.: Obviously… That possibility always exists, but I refuse to be intimidated. If I do, I would be playing their game and that is exactly what they expect of me: to become meek and shut my mouth. This procedure has worked for centuries: absolute obedience or else hell fire in that world, flogging and stoning in this! The only way to stop this scandalous blackmail is by voicing one's opinions — and high time too.
N.P.R.: There is
a rise of racism and anti-Islamic feelings in
M.A.: Xenophobia has always existed
N.P.R.: What is the message, what is so provocative about wearing this chador in your view?
M.A.: The comparison of the ideals
emerged from the revolution in
N.P.R.: OK. Let me ask you just a last question about this. But conversely, making such a big deal about it and having so much publicity, isn't this almost counter-productive in the sense you say: well I don't like Rushdie's ideas but that fatwa has turned him in to a martyr? (Those young girls did look like martyrs on TV.) By suppressing these girls, won't they in turn become martyrs? Don't you think then there is a dangerous side to this?
M.A.: You may be right. The whole thing could actually boomerang. I won't elaborate here on the fact that those who cry aloud – “Oh! Let those poor girls dress according to their convictions!” – are exactly those who have deprived Iranian women from the right of choosing their attire, and now are giving all sorts of financial, logistic and moral support to all fundamentalists all over the world: That won't answer your pertinent question would it? All I can say is that it is up to the French government to go about this matter in such a way as not to martyrize these girls. Without denying the fact that this whole business may prove to be a double-edged sword, I strongly believe that it must be stopped; otherwise, one would hear no end of the interference of such people in the daily life of the French citizens.
1This interview (transcription from rush) was given to the National Public Radio on the publication of English version of "pour Rushdie". This book, originally in French and containing a hundred texts written by a hundred intellectuals of the Muslim world in defence of Rushdie, has been translated into different languages.
2Most authoritative chronicle about the life of Mohammad by Mohammad Jarir Tabari (d. 923), Persian historiographer and interpreter of Koran.