A Tale of Two Cultures: Islam and the West
Mark Walia is a professor at California State University, Fullerton, teaching both ancient and modern world history. From time-to-time, he also offers a unique course on radical Islam at Laguna College of Art and Design in Laguna Beach, CA, as well as a class on Western Civilization from the sixteenth century to the present day. Mark holds a B.A. in English language and literature from the University of Michigan, where he first developed a fascination with Islam and its distinctive view of human existence, an M.A. in European history from Wayne State University in Detroit, and a Ph. D. in religious history from the University of California, Riverside. His current research focus and the topic of a future book is the transformation of American youth in the twenty-first century.
A Tale of Two Cultures: Islam and the West
Chapter 1 - Freedom of Expression
In September 1988, disregarding the warnings of its editorial consultant, Viking/Penguin Press published Anglo-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie's latest work, The Satanic Verses in London, thereby igniting a furious disagreement about the rights of a lone individual to "blaspheme" or mock the most sacred tenets of Islam, and, at the same time, the right of an outraged community of believers to suppress that individual's freedom of expression in defense of God, by violence, if need be. In the eyes of Muslims, Rushdie had issued forth "the most, offensive, filthy book ever written by any hostile enemy of Islam," as Ali Mughram al-Ghamdi put it.  The Satanic Verses combines a discussion of contemporary life in Britain's Indo-Muslim community with a radical reinterpretation of the Prophet Mohammed's life and times in seventh-century Arabia. It is the latter aspect of this complex work that proved shocking to the Muslim mind. Through a series of dream sequences Rushdie reinterpreted and satirized most of Islam's cherished individuals and beliefs. First, the book's very title is shocking to Muslims because it suggests that the Qur'an did not come to Mohammed from God, but from the devil, an inversion of traditional beliefs so horrendous that it defies description.  Rushdie also portrays the Prophet's companions, men for whom countless generations of Muslims have felt deep love and respect, in starkly irreverent tones. They are portrayed as a "bunch of riff-raff," "goons," and "f---ing clowns," who have no ambitions in their lazy lives, save drinking and fornicating. As to Mohammed's wives their treatment is harsh: Rushdie portrays them as prostitutes and even describes the brothel in which they peddle their flesh.  Still, the discussion of Islam's Prophet himself provides the crowning affront. Mohammed, as we shall see, again and again, has an incredible hold on the Muslim heart. He is the perfect, sinless man, an unparalleled moral exemplar whose every word and deed must be followed. As the Qur'an puts it: "Verily, ye have in the messenger of God a noble exemplar for whoever hopes for God and the Last Day, and remembereth God much" (33:21). To attack Mohammed is to commit high blasphemy, a term out-of-style in Western societies. And blaspheming the Prophet is the worst offense imaginable, carrying the mandatory sentence of death, even if the offender repents of his crime.  Rushdie's portrayal of this sacred figure, whom he styles Mahound, constitutes a profound violation of everything that Muslims hold dear. The Prophet is described as a drunkard and womanizer, who conveniently receives messages from God encouraging him to indulge his lusts. Rushdie even suggests that Mohammed/Mahound allowed one of his associates (strangely named Salman) to make up revelations, which, dishonestly, he then accepted as divine. If this did not suffice to enrage the faithful, Rushdie's choice of name, Mahound, is the very same one given by medieval Christians to Mohammed, whom they believed to be a false prophet receiving messages from the devil. In using that historic slur, The Satanic Verses appears to affirm the meaning implied in its provocative title. Little wonder that the Islamic Cultural Center of London considered "the publication of The Satanic Verses " to have been "one of the most profane and filthy attempts in recent history to abhor, insult, and revile, the blessed Messenger of God." 
In October 1988 distraught Muslims formed the UK Action Committee on Islamic Affairs. The new committee immediately issued a series of demands to Viking/Penguin: The Satanic Verses must be withdrawn from circulation; Viking/Penguin must make a public apology; pledge that the novel would never be reprinted i