Britain’s knighting of Salman Rushdie has prompted protests through much of the Muslim world. These protests are similar to those over the Muhammad cartoons and other purported outrages; i.e., they are whipped up by imams, organized by radical groups, attended by what appears not to be an overwhelming number of people, with rituals of whacking with shoes and burning in effigy staged mostly for the cameras. At this demonstration in Pakistan, they burned not just Rushdie but Queen Elizabeth in effigy:
There was a time when one might have thought twice about burning a likeness of the Queen of England for political purposes, but those days are, of course, long gone. Now, no one in England seems to mind; on the contrary, the British Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, issued a sort of apology today:
“Obviously we are sorry if there are people who have taken very much to heart this honour, which is after all for a lifelong body of literary work,” Beckett said.
She stressed that Indian-born Rushdie was just one of many Muslims who had been recognised by the British honours system — something she said “may not be realised by many of those who have been vocal in their opposition.
“People who are members of the Muslim faith are very much part of our whole, wider community… they receive honours in this country in just the same way as any other citizen.”
The apology was about as insincere as the protests, being of the “we’re sorry you were offended” variety. But why apologize at all? This is a fundamental issue of principle, and it would make a lot more sense to express outrage at burning the Queen in effigy than concern about the rioters’ feelings.
Also, far be it from me to question the diplomatic instincts of Great Britain’s Foreign Secretary, but was it really politic to defend the knighting of Mr. Rushdie on the ground that it exemplifies the honors the British government pays to Muslims? Unless I’m mistaken, Rushdie is a former Muslim; I’m not sure whether he has ever publicly renouced the faith, but he is routinely denounced as an “apostate” in the Muslim world. It strikes me that the “give us credit for honoring a Muslim” theme is better left unpursued.
To comment on this post, go here.