First thoughts on Joseph Anton

As an antidote to my more intolerable academic reading, I have started working through Joseph Anton – Salman Rushdie’s memoir about the aftermath of the death edict issued against him through Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwa. He calls it: “his unfunny Valentine from those bearded men, those shrouded women, and the lethal old man dying in his room, making his last bid for some sort of dark, murderous glory”. Rushdie goes on to suggest that the purpose behind the decree was to distract domestic opinion from the disaster of the Iran-Iraq war: “The real imam had taken his country into a useless war with its neighbor, and a generation of young people had died, hundreds of thousands of the country’s young, before the old man called a halt. He said that accepting peace with Iraq was like eating poison, but he had eaten it. After that the dead cried out against the imam and his revolution became unpopular. He needed a way to rally the faithful and found it in the form of a book and its author. The book was the devil’s work and the author was the devil that gave him the enemy he needed. This author in this basement flat in Islington huddling with the wife from whom he was half estranged. This was the necessary devil of the dying man” (p.11 hardcover).

As would be expected from the author of Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses, it is a rich, dense text with nested sub-biographies of friends and family members. It is a book that demands time and attention but, unlike the academic prose, it is clear and not redundant. You need to pay attention because there is something important in each line.

So far, the book stands out as an affirmation of the importance of free speech and of questioning religious dogma. Rushdie explains that his family name was the invention of his grandfather and an homage to Abul Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rushd: an atheist scholar of religious belief from the 12th century. Rushdie describes “the flag of Ibn Rushd” “which stood for intellect, argument, analysis and progress, for the freedom of philosophy and learning from the shackles of theology, for human reason against blind faith, submission, acceptance and stagnation” (p.23 hardcover).

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

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