Rushdie on Islamic Fundamentalism

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University

In Shame (New York: Aventura/Vintage, 1984), Salman Rushdie argues that

so-called Islamic "fundamentalism" does not spring, in Pakistan, from the people. It is imposed on them from above. Autocratic regimes find it useful to espouse the rhetoric of faith, because people respect that language, are reluctant to oppose it. This is how religions shore up dictators; by encircling them with words of power, words which people are reluctant to see discredited, disenfranchised, mocked." According to Rushdie, sooner or later enough people reject the dictator, "and then it is discovered that he had brought God down with him, that the justifying myth of the nation has been unmade.

This situation leaves three options: disintegration, a new dictatorship, or "the substitution of a new myth for the old one. Here are three such myths, all available from stock at short notice: liberty, equality; fraternity. I recommend them highly" [278]

With which side of his complex Anglo-Pakistani, colonial- postcolonial heritage does Rushdie here align himself? Do you find unintended irony in his closing triple series of so-called myths? What things and events, good and bad, did the quest for these items produce?

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