A very interesting column in the Spiked Review of Books by Kenan Malik, author of the forthcoming From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and its Legacy. An excerpt:
For many, the controversy seemed to come out of the blue. For many, too, especially in the West, the image of the burning book and the fatwa seemed to be portents of a new kind of conflict and a new kind of world. From the Notting Hill riots of the 1950s to the Grunwick dispute in 1977 to the inner-city disturbances of the 1980s, blacks and Asians had often been involved in bitter conflicts with British authorities. But these were also, in the main, political conflicts, or issues of law and order. Confrontations over unionisation or discrimination or police harassment were of a kind that was familiar even prior to mass immigration.
The Rushdie Affair seemed different. It was the first major cultural conflict, a conflict quite unlike anything that Britain had previously experienced. Muslim fury seemed to be driven not by questions of harassment or discrimination or poverty, but by a sense of hurt that Salman Rushdie’s words had offended their deepest beliefs.
Twenty years later, the Rushdie Affair seems equally like a conflict from a different age -– but for the opposite reason. Not only have the issues that it raised -– the nature of Islam, and its relationship to the West; the meaning of multiculturalism; the boundaries of tolerance in a liberal society; the limits of free speech in a plural world –- become some of the defining problems of the age. But the politics of the pre-Rushdie age are now what seems anomalous.
It has now become widely accepted that we live in a multicultural world, and that in such a world it is important not to cause offence to other peoples and cultures. As the sociologist Tariq Modood has put it: ‘If people are to occupy the same political space without conflict, they mutually have to limit the extent to which they subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism.’