Political correctness should not obscure the reality that many terrorists attack in the name of Islam. Asked how we should strive to discuss terrorism and Islam, the author suggests a better way of looking at the struggle in the Middle East is to view it as a battle within Islam over modernity rather than a battle between Islam and the West.
Question: How should we talk about Islam and terrorism?
Salman Rushdie: The hard truth is that in the name of Islam very, very bad things are being done right now by a group that you could call a small minority of all Muslims, but it’s also wrong not... to say that they’re not Muslims. They are Muslims. And I think the more interesting way of looking at this is to look at it as a battle inside Islam, not between Islam and the West.
Right now I think there is a colossal battle taking place inside the Muslim world. The most obviously of course is the old Sunni/Shia battle. If you look at what is happening in Iraq right now for instance most of the deaths are not Americans. Most of the deaths are not foreigners. 99% of the deaths are either Sunni Muslims being killed by Shias or Shia Muslims being killed by Sunnis. If you look at what has been happening in Pakistan recently you see mosques being blown up by other Muslims. I mean, extraordinary. If an American were to blow up a mosque, there would be horror. But in Pakistan there are Muslims blowing up mosques all the time because they disapprove of the other Muslims who go to that mosque. So this is what I'm saying. There is a terrible conflict raging inside Islam which is not only Sunni/Shia because the other thing, the other nature of the conflict is between, if you like, modernity and ancient tradition; the people who want the world never to change, who believe that the values of the Arab Peninsula and the seventh century should represent the moral code for the present day, and people who feel that ideas need to modernize and progress and that you can adhere to your faith, but that faith needs to march in line with the rest of the world and needs to find a way of expressing itself in the modern world.
Now that conflict it seems to me is happening everywhere in the Muslim world. If you look at the opponents of the Iranian regime, the green movement in Iran, that clearly represents a young, liberal, modernizing spirit that exists in that country. And in every Muslim country you will see that. You will see particularly young people. They don’t want to live according to the rules that the old gray-beard mullahs set for them, so I think if we want to look at the Muslim world you have to look at it in those ways. You have to look at it as a world in conflict. And what we need to do is to support, I think, that modernizing positive way of being a Muslim, which involves living in the world as it is. Support that and encourage that, and be extremely critical as we should be, of that other tyrannical, despotic, medievalist Islam, which unfortunately is in power in a lot of places.
I often think that the best way to liberate Iran is just to drop Nintendo consoles from the air. And Big Macs.
Recorded November 12, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler