I don't suppose the photo helps, since it's pretty hard for most people to empathise with a man who has the gorgeous Padma Lakshmi for a wife. The above readers' page from the London Metro gives a cross section of (mostly negative) reactions to the decision to give a knighthood to Salman Rushdie. It's dismayed some observers to see how the author of Satanic Verses can still inspire effigy burning in parts of the Muslim world. What the UK government's decision has demonstrated for me, however, is not just the hatred by Islamists - but the resentment of the author in British society itself. If Rushdie were not who he was, with his baggage of fragmented identities, he would have been declared the greatest living British author long before now. Instead we have many people complaining about how all he has ever done for Britain is cost the taxpayer 10 million for his protection from the fatwa. The dead-eyed, empty-souled phillistinism of it, to say Rushdie has given nothing to Britain!
"Smoked Salmon" has been one of the more tongue-in-cheek paper headlines on the inflamed Muslim anger in the wake of the knighthood. "Was knighthood for Salman a foolish decision?" asks the Metro.
Seems to me, that the question really is this: Was Salman Rushdie's acceptance of the knighthood a foolish thing? And this is not so that he doesn't play into the hands of the fundamentalists. It is simply that Rushdie is one of the rocks upon which Postcolonial Literary theory is built. You don't write landmark essays like 'The Empire Writes Back to the Centre" & books like Imaginary Homelands and then go and accept the knighthood, tempting though it might be to be called 'Sir Salman'. What, the empire comes to the centre to become a knight now?
As it happens, Satanic Verses is the only Rushdie book I was never able to finish, because I got mid-way and didn't for the life of me know what the hell it was about. I got lost between the fictive real and the fictive imaginary. I allow this failed attempt was some 15 years ago. I wanted to try again last year and went to my bookshelf only to find that someone had secretly made off with my copy.
Salman Rushdie could have saved the fundamentalists, the UK government, we his devoted readers - and himself - unnecessary headache by refusing to become a 'Sir'.
When the offer came, the author might have done well to recall Keith Richards' outrage at Mick Jagger's acceptance of the same 'honour'. The Rolling Stones, come to think of it, had in their anti-establishment days released an album titled Their Satanic Majesties Request. "I told Mick it's a paltry honour... It's not what the Stones is about, is it?" said Richards. "I don't want to step out onstage with someone wearing a coronet and sporting the old ermine."
Richards recently admitted to snorting his father's ashes up his nose (aren't we supposed to be offended by this? I asked when the reports came out) - though he later back-tracked. He was pretty sensible in his indictment of Jagger's decision to accept the knighthood though. "Ludicrous."
I am a writer and arts journalist now based in Lagos. This is a blog on arts and culture. The focus is on Nigeria's art scene, especially her 'Word's Body' - the writers. As and when, we'll also touch on wider African writing, as well as international literature. In short, a saturation of the arts.