SALMAN RUSHDIE, AUTHOR OF ‘THE SATANIC VERSES’ STABBED IN NEW YORK!
7 days ago, in Saturday Breakfast, while reacting to Sam Omatseye’s piece, “Obi-tuary” published in the Nation Newspaper, I had gone back in history and reminded everyone about Salman Rushdie who between 1988 and 1989, may have created the most provocative events in the history of global literature. The publication in the United Kingdom of “The Satanic Verses”, a novel by the Indian born British-American author, almost set the world on fire as a significant number of Muslims across the world accused Salman Rushdie of blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad.
The publication set off a chain of reactions and demonstrations across the world leading to the death of many. The late Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a worldwide fatwa for the killing of Rushdie anywhere he was found, with a 3-million-dollar bounty. Much of the world was horrified as Salman Rushdie lived in hiding and disguise for many years.
Yesterday, 34 years after publishing The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie, 75, was stabbed on stage as he was about to deliver a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in the state of New York. Eyewitnesses say that he was stabbed many times in the neck and abdomen by the attacker wearing a mask who has been identified as Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old from New Jersey.
Mr. Rushdie who was rushed to hospital by a helicopter was on a ventilator this morning and could not speak. If he survives, he may lose an eye because of the depth of the wounds inflicted on him.
When last week, I published “THE ‘SATANIC VERSES’ OF SAM OMATSEYE”, and told the story of Salman Rushdie, I could not have known that within 6 days, the great author would be fighting for his life.
With the deluge of reactions to Omatseye’s “Obi-tuary” article, I could not but feel that the Rushdie experience was being relived. Last week, Nigeria’s social media environment was practically on fire. Thousands of literary arrows were fired at Omatseye. The gentleman cried out that his life was in danger. It was truly a significant week in Nigerian literature: its use and abuse. While many were worried about what appeared to them to be a death sentence on Peter Obi, I was more worried about the tribal and ethnic insults, insinuations and innuendoes in Omatseye’s article and the possible consequences.
I am concerned that in the desperation to please their masters, many of Nigeria’s political operatives, in this season, are plummeting into tribal and religious bigotry and incubating hatred with irredeemable passion. All those who support Peter Obi must be labelled Igbo irredentists, Biafran apologists and closet IPOB members. I know that “OBI” has the same three letters as “IBO” spelt backwards, but many of my friends who are rooting for Peter Obi 100%, come from every state and every tribe across Nigeria.
In the same manner, the supporters of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu are being painted by the other side as die hard Yorubas who cannot see anything good in an Igbo man and who cannot help but hate Igbos. It is as if there are no Igbos who genuinely believe in Tinubu and support him. On social media platforms, you will be forgiven to believe that the nation is at war! At the heart of of the conflict is the primordial belief by each group or tribe that its people are the chosen people of God who will dominate the world.
The emotionally fortified among us might accept the development as election propaganda and noise which will evaporate after February 2023. In today’s Nigeria in which many are tormented by hunger, insecurity, and suspicion, how many people are emotionally fortified? The reality is that Nigeria is today like a vast land of dry firewood that only needs the smallest spark to explode in an all- consuming fire. The Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda lived with each other for many years until some people in 1994 lit the fire of intolerance that consumed almost half a million people in the genocidal free-for-all killing.
This is why all of us who practice some form of literature or journalism must remember the words, “the pen is mightier than the sword”.
To my knowledge, no one has issued a fatwa on Sam Omatesye and no one should. No one should harm Sam Omatseye. Sam, like every other Nigerian citizen has the right to his constitutional freedom of speech. As a writer, he should enjoy the literary licence that every writer thrives in. I however believe that all of us must understand that if the nation goes up in flames, there will be no Nigeria in which Tinubu, Peter Obi or Atiku will be President.
The other thing to remember is that there are many cranks and crazies out there who will on their own issue a fatwa and go out to harm people they believe are against them many years after the fact.
Please join me in praying that the great Salman Rushdie survives yesterday’s attack and gets back to writing the beautiful literature for which he is well known.
See you next week.