Sir Salman Rushdie

Helen Clark recently made Lloyd Geering a member of the Order of New Zealand. This was no doubt offensive to many Christians but bot a single Christian leader (that I can recall) even complained publicly about it. The only complaints were the odd letter or blog post (and they were not saying Geering should not have got the honour because he offended Christians, just that apart from his heresy trial his work wasn’t at the level you expect to be one of the 20 greatest living NZers).

Now compare this to Sir Salman Rushdie’s knighthood. He is an internationally acclaimed novelist who has won the Booker prize and won or been a finalist for numerous other awards. There can really be no disputing that his achievements qualify him for a Knight Bachelor – a long way off the equivalent of the ONZ (The UK equivalent is the Order of the Garter).

The reaction, maybe predictably, from some Muslim Governments and priests has been extreme, with the Pakistan Ulema Council bestowing on Osama bin Laden the title “Saifullah”, or sword of Allah on the grounds “We have awarded this title in reply to Britain’s decision to knight blasphemer Rushdie. If a blasphemer can be given the title ‘Sir’ by the West despite the fact he’s hurt the feelings of Muslims, then a mujahid who has been fighting for Islam against the Russians, Americans and British must be given the lofty title of Islam, Saifullah.”

Yes there is no difference between someone who writes a book and someone who arranges for planes to be flown into tower blocks.

The Press today says:

The renewal of death threats against Rushdie, in the wake of his knighthood, is testament to the effectiveness of the honour in reaffirming the right of free speech even when it wounds. The knighthood and the reaction to it refocus attention on the reality that Islamic fundamentalists are engaged in a struggle to oppose such liberties and impose their oppressive beliefs on the world. Their war is cultural and religious. That has been lost sight of as the fighting in Iraq has gained dominance in the headlines. It has shifted attention away from the threat of extreme Islam. Its aim was plain to all in the aftermath of 9/11. Now it tends to be forgotten as the war in Iraq worsens. The knighthood will not reinstate the war’s essential meaning, but it will remind people of the fundamental challenge tolerance faces.

And the Dominion Post on Friday says:

Readers worldwide would concur that there is plenty of room to debate the author’s style, his content, even his ability. So why is it that, when Muslim sensibilities are offended, adherents instead throng the streets to burn flags, destroy buildings and call for their fellows to strike someone dead? It smacks of ignoranceand bigotry. It also says that a frighten-ing number of fanatical Muslims still hanker after a worldwide caliphate, in which Sharia law prevails and apostates are dealt with cruelly. Most in the West, driven largely by a contest of ideas in which shibboleths are questioned, sacred cows slaughtered and demigods eventually found out, would not countenance such a scenario.

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