June 23, 2007


Arise Sir Salman, and goodbye Bernard, those two experts at stirring things up: It was the charmless relish he took in the incorrectness of his jokes that made them work so well ( Howard Jacobson, 23 June 2007, Independent)

So Salman Rushdie gets to meet the Queen and Bernard Manning sleeps with Christ. How variously Fate distributes her favours.

Arise, Sir Salman. It has a ring, I think. But then a bit of alliteration never did anyone any harm. At least I hope it won't on this occasion. And I am of the party that applauds the honour. You can never sufficiently reward people, is where I stand, who cause offence. I don't mean specifically offend Islam. I can see why Muslims aren't too pleased. From where they stand this is another slap in the face. So we need to find a way of depersonalising it. It's not for stirring up Muslims or their religion that we send Salman to meet the Queen. It's for stirring, full stop. It's for doing what writers are supposed to do. And in an age of monolithic fundamentalism on the one hand, and the milk-and-water aesthetics of reading groups and Oprah on the other, it's for doing what writers don't do anything like enough. It's for being an anathema. A cursed thing.

But we're going to have to be consistent about this. We can't esteem offence when it's directed at someone else, and shrink from it when it's directed at ourselves. With what hauteur we dismiss the susceptibilities of Islam, lecturing it in the virtues of Western democracy, John Stuart Mill liberalism, free speech and open minds. Yet let a person challenge what we hold dear in matters of race and gender and the jaws of our society slam shut. Faced with a writer, philosopher, teacher or comedian who doesn't think as we think, our liberal democracies turn out to be as touchy as any theocratic state. True, we don't issue death threats. But orthodoxy for orthodoxy there isn't much to choose between us.

So there was no "Arise, Sir Bernard" before he died. The educated didn't make a good job of getting Bernard Manning for all their trumpeted attachment to the freedom to offend. But a few of us spoke up for him. He wasn't my favourite comedian. I don't have a favourite comedian. Jokes don't do it for me the way other forms of comedy do. But allowing that we must have jokes, that not everybody is going to get their comic medicine from watching Curb Your Enthusiasm or reading Martin Chuzzlewit, I thought he told them consummately.

And I am not just referring to his timing, which even his detractors admired. It was the unapologetic, deliberately charmless relish he took in the incorrectness of his jokes that made them work so well. He did the anathema thing.

...is that the latter are effective. The ayatollahs made Mr. Rushdie a bestseller, even though no one actually reads his books, while the Left silenced Don Imus, even though millions of listeners awaited his next show.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 23, 2007 8:18 AM

Did you know that if you rearrange the letters of

"shia fatwa salman rushdie"
You get

"I am wrathful as in ass-head"

Posted by: h-man at June 23, 2007 10:28 AM

The Left never killed Imus and pinned the fatwa to his body with a knfe as Islam did to a certain Dutch film director.

Posted by: However at June 23, 2007 12:11 PM

Rushdie's walkin' around. Imus always travels armed, has someone to drive him, and employs a security firm.

Posted by: oj at June 23, 2007 3:11 PM

The most under-rated journalist in England - he should do a "Hitchens"; emigrate and make a load of money

Posted by: mike at June 23, 2007 3:26 PM