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Westerners deplore Rushdie threat, not book criticisms

In his recent letter to the editor ["Satanic Verses is libel against Islam," Feb. 28] Semseddin T"urk"oz completely avoids the central issue in the recent furor over Salman Rushdie's novel, The Satanic Verses. There can be little doubt that this book is truly repugnant and insulting to Moslems everywhere. That much seems obvious from the extraordinary anger and violence that it has sparked. Furthermore, T"urk"oz is undoubtedly correct in his claim that non-Muslims are largely ignorant of Muslims and Islam. We must respect his sincere desire to tell us how deeply offensive this book is to those of the Islamic faith.

Yet T"urk"oz ignores what is important. Nowhere does he say where he stands on the Ayatollah's death threat against Rushdie, in spite of the fact that this issue completely overshadows the book itself. Only in the last sentence does he hint at his true feelings when he says "we pray that this entire matter is resolved swiftly and justly." What could that be except a prayer for Rushdie's murder?

T"urk"oz complains that Westerners have come to Rushdie's defense. What he doesn't understand is that nobody is defending the book or its contents. They are defending the author's right to write what he wants, without fear of death. There is a big difference. Indeed, it is appropriate to decry the former and defend the latter.

T"urk"oz attempts an analogy when he suggests that Western intellectuals would not behave the same if the roles were reverse. He is totally wrong. Time after time, we have defended the rights of neo-Nazis, pornographers, Klan members and everyone else to have their say, even when their views were totally repugnant to us. Furthermore, T"urk"oz's analogy was grossly incomplete because he didn't include the analog of Khomeini's death threat. If, for example, an American president was to offer $1 million for the murder of, say, the director of The Last Temptation of Christ, not only would there be an enormous outcry, but that president would be put in jail! His "analogy" underscores just how barbaric the Khomeini regime is.

T"urk"oz complains that Rushdie's apology to the Islamic world "totally ignored the numerous deaths that have occurred over this novel." He forgets that Rushdie did not kill anyone. It is not Rushdie's fault when mobs begin to riot over a book which most haven't even read. It is not Rushdie's fault when Ayatollah Khomeini is encouraging hysteria to rekindle the flames of his dying jihad. These people died because of blind religious zealotry, like so many others in history, who have died senselessly, in the name of one god or another. How can a truly religious person believe his faith is threatened by the words of a mere human?

When Mr. T"urk"oz suggests that Rushdie's book is libelous or slanderous, in the legal sense, he is simply wrong. When he condescendingly worries that Rushdie's book is misleading to the non-Muslim world, he should remember that hardly anyone would have even read the book had it not been for Khomeini's barbaric death threat. No one has done more to reinforce "Western prejudices and myths about Islam" than the Ayatollah himself. And who can blame Westerners for holding these prejudices when Muslim intellectuals, including T"urk"oz, are unwilling to denounce Khomeini's uncivilized behavior? Murder is a far greater sin than any written word.

T"urk"oz betrays his own zealotry when he reminds us twice that there are "one billion Muslims" and says that we Westerners "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." Who cares? A similar self-righteous arrogance can be found, to varying degrees, in virtually every organized religion.

T"urk"oz demonstrates his misconceptions about democracy when he says, "No civilized society can condone the publication of explosively misleading material disguised as `literature.' " Please, Mr. T"urk"oz, do not presume to instruct us on what is and is not civilized. We need only look at Ayatollah Khomeni to see a living definition of barbarism. In this country, the rules are fair and simple: Rushdie may write whatever he wants. Khomeini is free to write a rebuttal. Anybody who wants to read any of it is free to do so. But no one may murder. That is civilized.

Adam A. Brailove G->