January 25, 2012

Politicians in bed with extremists for electoral gains: Rushdie

Salman Rushdie, whose Jaipur Litfest video conference was cancelled on Tuesday, expressed disappointment that politicians are in bed with religious extremists groups and hence unwilling to oppose or stop them.

"My overwhelming feeling is a disappointment on behalf of India, which is a country that I have loved all my life and whose long-term commitment to secularism and liberty is something I've praised for much of my life. And now I find an India in which religious extremists can prevent free expression of ideas at a literary festival, in which the politicians are too, let's say, in bed with those groups...for narrow electoral reasons, in which the police forces are unable to secure venues against demonstrators even when they know the demonstration is on its way," said the writer of Midnight's Children and the controversial Satanic Verses in an interview with NDTV.

Religious extremists were the real enemies of Islam, Rushdie said. The writer said, "The real enemies of Islam are the leaders, the Deobandis, the various extremist leaders and their followers, who behave like this, because what they do is to strengthen the extremely negative image of Islam as an intolerant, repressive, and violent culture, as an ideology masquerading as a gentle faith, whereas actually what happens every time it's crossed, or every time it dislikes something, is that it resorts to threats and violence. People like this, who behave like this, are the ones who feed that image and they are the ones responsible for the negative views of Islam in the world, and they should be called the enemies of the faith."

Rushdie felt it was ironical that The Satanic Verses was banned in India whereas it was available in 50 other countries, including Turkey, Egypt and, now, Post-Gaddafi Libya.

"We live in the information age in which information moves freely. And no matter what this gang of protesters tries to do, they will not prevent the dissemination of my novel, which is published all over the world, I think in more than 50 languages and, by the way, is legally published, in my certain knowledge, in Turkey and Egypt, and recently, after the fall of the Gaddafi regime, it was un-banned in Libya.

"So you have several Muslim countries in which the novel is freely able to be sold and read without any trouble. And yet, in India; this was the first country in the world to ban the book and after 23 and a half years that ban still survives. If Libya can do this, Turkey can do this, Egypt can do this, does India want to be a totalitarian state like China or does it want to move in the right direction towards liberty and the open discussion of ideas?"

Rushdie added that the whole episode was a scandalous but it will not stop him from coming to India. "I will come to India as many times as I choose to.

Do what I will and I will not allow these religious gangsters and their cronies in the government to prevent me...so deal with it."

He also said, "I thought the whole thing was fantastically fishy. I think that from the moment, the way in which the Congress Party...the way in which Congress officials, and many other party officials of other parties, all stated their opposition to my coming, I felt quite clear that some way would be found to prevent me from coming. And in the end, sadly it was."