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Satanic Verses is libel against Islam

To the Editor:

Muslims everywhere are outraged by the publication of the book The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. Even if Rushdie's convoluted satirical style is construed as a literary device, it is clear that he went out of his way in using highly repugnant and revolting language to insult and distort Islam. Personal belief is one thing, but freedom of expression stops where vilifications and misrepresentation of facts start. No civilized society can condone the publication of explosively misleading material disguised as "literature."

Rushdie meticulously describes a supposedly fictional background which is precisely the same as the very well documented Islamic history. He then depicts his "fictional characters" as the moral antithesis of those they were clearly meant to portray. This is nothing but vilification by proxy.

Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him), whose example one billion people aspire towards, is depicted as a lecherous "conjurer" of rules who had "no time for scruples." He is also attributed with fabricating the Qur'an (totally against Islamic belief). It is falsely imputed that the Qur'an, which has been preserved in its original form to this day, was freely manuscribed. Prophet Abraham (p.b.u.h.) is called a "bastard." The Archangel Gabriel is reduced to being a "pet" obeying its master. The wives of the Prophet Muhammed, who are reverently called the "Mothers of Muslims," are compared with prostitutes. Salman-al-Farsi and Bilal, two reputable early Muslims, are depicted as profligates. Rules and practices having no basis in Islam are falsely attributed to it and real laws are ridiculed, not argued against.

No respectful and decent person can be expected to allow such vitriol and utter falsity to pass without protest. Libel and slander are criminal offenses in this country. Given the fact that Rushdie was born into Islam he could only have written his tale with malice aforethought. Given that previewers of the book's manuscript warned the publishers that it would be extremely explosive, Viking-Penguin was highly irresponsible in printing the novel.

Because of the unequivocal attempt at associating itself with real events, The Satanic Verses is dangerously, even criminally, misleading for a Western audience that knows little about Islam and Muslims. Rushdie's metaphors and symbols are strongly reminiscent of and reinforce traditional Western prejudices and myths about Islam. The Satanic Verses is one of the most slanted works in a regular cycle of intentional or unintentional misrepresentations of Islam and Muslims in media sources and textbooks. Because of its wild implications and virulent language, the novel constitutes an unprecedented assault on Islam, and, indirectly, on the Abrahamic religions preceding it.

We support freedom of speech, but we also exhort people to exercise this right responsibly. So while we sympathize with the advocates of free speech, we deplore the fact that, in proving their point, they would propagate the same deceptive, twisted and outrageous passages which cause pain and deep, sincere anguish in so many. The recent protests and book-readings have transformed the conflict between a misguided individual and Islam to one between the Western "intellectual" world and the entire Muslim world. Would Susan Sontag and Normal Mailer just as vehemently defend propaganda that heaped calumny on Prophet Jesus (p.b.u.h.) or Prophet Moses (p.b.u.h.) or that praised Hitler, the Ku Klux Klan and apartheid, Pol Pot or Stalin? How would the Christian, Jewish, black, Kampuchean or Ukranian communities have felt?

Those who have rallied around Rushdie say that they protest a threat to "one of the most basic principles of Western" society. They should consider the fact that Muslims strive toward the example of the Prophet Muhammed (p.b.u.h.) more than that of any other human; in defaming him, Rushdie, with the aid of his publishers, has attacked the very character of one billion Muslims. Thus, given that Rushdie's novel and his publisher's rash impropriety have struck viciously "at the most basic principles" of Islamic belief, the reaction of the vast majority of Muslims till last month can only be described as remarkably mild.

Rushdie had been callously indifferent to peaceful pleas to rectify the situation earlier. His arrogant, vascillating and ambiguous statements are many. Initially he proclaimed that he should have been more "critical" of Islam; then he called his novel "fictional"; later he released a half-hearted three-sentence "apology" that totally ignored the numerous deaths that have occurred over this novel; and now he compares himself with "literary crusaders." What sort of man insults the dead -- those who cannot defend themselves? What sort of man deliberately distorts history just to further his own interests? What sort of publisher recklessly disregards its moral and social responsibility to see that slanderous, hateful and misleading works are not propagated? Many books have refuted Islam but rarely in its 1400-year history has any book fallen under the deliberately distorting and hateful category of The Satanic Verses.

We pray that this entire matter is resolved swiftly and justly.

Semseddin T"urk"oz G->

President, MIT Islamic Society->