Friday, February 12, 2016

"We’re talking about Iran" Says Salman Rushdie; "These are, how shall I put it, unreliable people"

Answering questions by the New York Times, Salman Rushdie says that he was impressed by Ta-Nehisi Coates's “Between the World and Me,” that the one book that made him who he is today is “The One Thousand and One Nights,” and that if he could require the president to read one book, it would — also — be “The One Thousand and One Nights.”

In a separate Alexandra Alter interview, we learn that
Salman Rushdie was a teenager when he first learned that his last name was invented rather than inherited.
“My grandfather wasn’t called Rushdie,” he said. “My father just made it up. He made a really good choice. It came from his interest in the philosophy of Ibn Rushd.”

Later Mr. Rushdie came to share his father’s obsession with the work of Ibn Rushd (pronounced Roosht), a 12th-century philosopher better known in the West as Averroes. Now, he has made him a central character in his new novel, “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights” … a homage of sorts to the myth of Scheherazade.

 … During a recent interview at his publisher’s office in Midtown Manhattan, Mr. Rushdie spoke about his love of science fiction, his failed television series, being on Al Qaeda’s hit list and his falling out with the novelist Peter Carey. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Q. You were very vocal in supporting the PEN American Center’s decision to honor the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo this year, something that some other writers, including Peter Carey and Francine Prose, opposed, because they said the magazine perpetuated bigoted ideas. Were you surprised to be on the other side of an ideological divide from some of your peers?
A. I could not believe it. Still can’t believe it. So many writers who are old friends. It was really shocking. Now, of course, the lasting damage is in some of those friendships. I haven’t seen any of them, nor have any of them been in touch with me. I felt a sense of injustice, that these people were executed for drawing pictures. If we’re a free-speech organization, how can we not be on their side? For Mr. Carey to say to The New York Times that he didn’t see it as a free-speech issue, I thought, “What?”

Q. He’s a friend of yours, right?

A. Well, was. It’s bewildering and saddening.

Q. You’ve been living in the open for years after going into hiding following the fatwa, but you’ve gotten threats from other extremist groups more recently. In 2013, Al Qaeda’s magazine Inspire put you on its hit list, along with other public intellectuals they view as hostile to Islam.
A. A lot of magazines put me on lists. I think I’m in more danger from n+1 [the literary magazine] than from Al Qaeda.

Q. The United States is on the brink of possibly ending sanctions against Iran and opening up diplomatic relations. As someone who was given a death sentence by the country’s religious leaders, how do you feel about this development?

A. Truthfully, I really do not know what I think. I am quite conflicted about it. On the one hand, the last decade or so show us that war hasn’t worked, so maybe try peace. The other argument is, we’re talking about Iran. These are, how shall I put it, unreliable people. I’m on that strange ground where I don’t quite know what I think. Which is all right — I’m a novelist. Fortunately I don’t have to rule the world.
In a somewhat similar vein, Cuban exile Richard Blanco tells Michael Luongo that he
was impressed by the president’s bold move [with Havana]. At the same time, I considered with great empathy the life stories of exiles like my mother, Cold War struggles for freedom and the American dream. I found myself craving some guarantee these historic changes will lead to greater freedoms and prosperity for the people of Cuba, which I hope the president does not lose sight of.