Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Refusing martyrdom: Salman Rushdie and Galileo

The European website Sign and Sight brings us today some insight and some hope, in the form of an interview with Sadiq al-Azm, a Syrian philosopher. He makes an interesting analogy between the persecution of Salman Rushdie at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists, and that of Galileo's by the Inquisition. Particularly felicitous, in my eyes, is his analysis of both men as resisting what could have been martyrdom and eclipse of their creative talents. Though their freedom of movement and space were considerably constricted by their respective tormentors, rather than give in, conform and let go, they chose to continue doing what they knew how to do best, even within those shurnken boundaries.

In the supplement on Islam in Europe, Syrian philosopher Sadiq al-Azm attempts
explain the fierce conflict between science and religion in what he describes as the
completely backward universities of Beirut, Cairo and Istanbul. The situation
reminds him of the early days of the Enlightenment in Europe and he draws
astounding parallels between the case of Salman Rushdie and Galileo Galilei. "It
seems to me as if Rushdie's first recantation was just as forced and utilitarian
as Galileo's. The persecuted father of modern physics did not only recant his
recantation when he mumbled: 'And still it moves!', he also did so in giving his
most mature work, the 'Discorsi e Dimostrazioni Matematiche intorno a due nuove
scienze', to the world. He wrote this behind the back of the Church censors who
were keeping tabs on his every move, and smuggled it into Holland to be
published. It was the same with Rushdie who recanted his recantation by
resisting the terror of the fatwa and continuing to write critically, creatively
and almost exclusively about sacrosanct subjects. Will Islam wait another 300 to
500 years before making concessions to Rushdie? And finally, there is the
question as to whether Islam will ever be capable of reconciliation with the
ruling scientific body of knowledge."


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