Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Rushdie jumps the shark


In the backdrop of the race riots raging in Sydney, Salman Rushdie examines the phenomenon of immigrant discontent and natives' fury in this essay posted on the Times, UK.

In the age of mass migration and the internet, cultural plurality is an irreversible fact; like it or dislike it, it’s where we live, and the dream of a pure monoculture is at best an unattainable, nostalgic fantasy and at worst a life-threatening menace — when ideas of purity (racial purity, religious purity, cultural purity) turn into programmes of “ethnic cleansing” or when Hindu fanatics attack the “inauthenticity” of Indian Muslim experience, or when Islamic ideologues drive young people to die in the service of “pure” faith, unadulterated by compassion or doubt. “Purity” is a slogan that leads to segregations and explosions. Let us have no more of it. A little more impurity, please; a little less cleanliness; a little more dirt. We’ll all sleep easier in our beds.

In my opinion, he oversimplifies the argument there a bit by suggesting that such riots spark off when the mitt of "white" patience is dislodged. That is not always the case. Indians have been living in the west for centuries; while cases of racism are common, they have never borne the brunt of the so-called supremacist fury. If it is really about retaining the authenticity/ purity of the white faith, how have Indians made, rather been accorded the privilege to make such a name for themselves in those countries? When Rushdie questions: "what does a society owe to its citizens?", he needs to be countered, how much should a society bend to accommodate those who are both cagey about returning to the dens of distress their forefather left long ago and adept at criticizing their acquired homeland for not doing enough.

The issue here is that the world changed on 9/11. Western societies realized that the home and hearth they had been protecting for decades was not immune to the rage of distant tribes. It is the helplessness that they feel in not being able to locate, much less decimate, the enemy that has supplied fuel to the fire. Riots across the western world (count Paris and Sydney as the latest) have little to do with gilt-edged longings for erstwhile colonial identities. If that were the case, analyzing them would still be reasonably possible. That it is not is the real tragedy of post-modernism. Brownlow in The Black Album is its classic victim, too careful of being politically incorrect, considered a wimp by one and all.
That Rushdie is making these observations is a tad baffling, for sure. Losing your vintage touch, Salman?
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