Modern eastern western encounters have occurred on many an occasion over the last century and into the present. Some with more notoriety than others dependent upon the nature of such an encounter, in hindsight to its implications and thus the repercussions of such an event that can be seen on many a front, whether geographical, ideological, philosophical, physiological perspective. In simple terms the inherent differences that set the eastern western divide.
We must not forget an encounter does not necessarily have to be a major event or spectacle it can be played out on a smaller scale through an individuals experience of what the western/eastern may constitute, either in form of propagated popular critique or first hand experience of self, particularly seen through the experiences of migrant peoples coming from the east to the west. The culture they brought with them, the extent of their assimilation, and by in large the western response to these peoples.
An initial response could be described as one of out right rejection or one of expecting more adherences to western norms with an almost colonial governance of the old, which the British commanded over its former subjects. Other aspects that are conjunctive with such ideas involve displacement, and uncertainty of ones own identity in regard to the east adapting to the west. A theme discussed by many an author of eastern origin residing in the west and their critical questioning of themselves and their inherent cultures, something that I will touch upon in due course.
Having looked upon the term ‘encounter’ in the Collins Diction gave an array of definitions all most every single one with an appropriation to the eastern/western context of things, to mention a few, experience, meet, attack, combat, confront and so on, words we can all empathise and engage with popular ideas of modern eastern western encounters, now more than ever before. The term itself becoming an ever-present and persistent reality not just for the politically or academically inclined but also for us all, society as a whole not just on the British podium but on an international one.
The eastern and western world have almost always been at odds on many a level, whether racial, religious, or plain ideological and so on, looked upon in many respects as a code of belief that has been systematically integrated in the greater psyche of the eastern and western mind, thus what it constitutes to be either. Something history itself lays witness to over all the conflicts that have been fought to sustain superiority of one over the other, to mention a few contemporary examples that irrefutably cannot be ignored are European Colonialism and American Imperialism that lay a living testimony to such a claim of hegemony.
As this piece of work essentially tries exposing the profound indifferences that still exist within popular thought in the whole eastern western frame work of things, contrary to what where made to believe through systematizing popular ideas of liberalism, individualism and inherent freedoms. Being ideas that in certainty do not deal with exposing and reconciling such differences yet manage to distort deep-rooted anxieties on grounds of claiming superiority.
A presumption that more or less everyone aspires for the same particularly when satirising ideas of the eastern under a pretext of redefining modern society, through using new codes of civility. What it might entail to be a modern, secular and democratic society, one whom accommodates more or less all for forms of expression particularly that of humanist kind, pushing individual freedoms at any given expense even those of violating the sacrilege of faith on grounds of intellectual creativity as pivotal to self-enlightenment having been seen as the new mode of thought for all progressive societies for social and economic success.
A pattern of thought that most westernised societies have assimilated to, and have unquestionably in certain variation been successful in exporting this indoctrination to the east, though predominately amongst the elitists, literati, and none Islamic peoples. In consequence prompting the west to further perpetuate its assault on Islam using all means at its disposal particularly the media a tried and tested source in influencing general public consensus. Though more so for consumption of its own populace rather than to win over greater public support as far fetched as the east. Although unfortunate and generalised a critique it may sound an eastern voice does not carry much weight in west and that’s where it really counts to be heard, well not unless it’s inclined to favour a western design, something that will make apparent in due course.
The western media as seen through its many experts, intellectuals, and academics alike has even further reserved an already limited vocabulary when engaging with Islam to a handful of words. All to often described as oppressive, intolerant, zealous, barbaric, dictatorial, and of course fundamentalism, being a popular term bestowed with a certain sense of exclusivity and adamant responsibility for that which comes with such a title on the shoulders of Islam. Were never made to forget by design or perhaps even the unintentional that most modern encounters whether in fact or fiction are in direct response to Islamic insurgency and a perceived threat to western interests as the terrible attacks of September 11th and its reportage lay witness to such a claim, being another matter perhaps for a different discussion.
By choice for this particular piece of work in further exposing these inherent differences often cloaked under a false makeover provided by the government, media, and indeed the literary word in neglecting any real objectivity and fairness particularly when dealing with Islam. As seen in the late 80’s, when Salman Rushdie in 1988 wrote his highly charged and very controversial novel the ‘Satanic Verses’ published by Viking/Penguin London, which for all its perceived wrongs can be accredited with opening a long sort after debate on faith engaging in and around a number of issues. Such as they’re being any real significant importance of faith in western society and particularly in context to that of one besides Christianity, and what degree of authority or governance should religion have upon its faithful.
What constitutes as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ particularly in the artistic sense when engaging with any faith, and why? And finally does anyone have the right to mock and question the authenticity of another’s faith, all being questions that had been brought forth in the light of the books publication, though done in a very distasteful sense and under tense circumstances, thus bringing the west and east together once again though unfortunately for all the wrong reasons.
Firstly as western societies would like themselves to be perceived as unhindered secular, libertarian, and of course democratic societies. Which is all good in theory though in reality it’s a different story as such notions seem to work more so on a perceptual level, as the Rushdie fiasco would have us believe pointing out the double standards adopted by the west in giving the green light to an out right assault on Islamic values in the most vile and obscene of language used in a so called work
of fiction. Supposedly being written on the theme of migration, transformation divided selves, love, demise, London and Bombay, so why did he provocatively name it the satanic verse and as suggested by Faruqi, why devout six out of nine chapters to an Islamic theme and real Islamic characters disguised under a facade of fantasy and the incongruous1. Still leaving many a unanswered question, firstly as a result of the ambiguity with which Rushdie himself changes the books meaning giving it an almost a new explanation in every interview to date, as if he was merely going with the flow and changing his colour in an almost chameleon like fashion, perhaps a ploy at appeasing his audience.
At times talking about the book as a mere work of fiction, and at other moments justifying the profanity directed at the prophet Muhammad as being dreamt upon by the novels protagonist, being described as volatile and disturbed character thus perhaps in Rushdies eyes legitimising his work as fiction, though at other moments he has clearly stated if he realised the offence the book would caused he would have made a point of writing an even stronger and more critical book on Islam.
In short the book was fraught with provocation and controversy thought by many a Muslim whether devout, moderate or lapsed as an open attack Islam, as Shabbir Akhtar in his book ‘be careful with Muhammad’ points out any Muslim that fails to be offended by such a book, on account of that ceases to be a Muslim and goes on further to stress how the book has become a litmus paper test for distinguishing faith from rejection2.
The name of the book itself is insulting with connotations suggesting that the Muslim holy book the Quran and its contents are in fact “satanic verses” as the title advocates. Not stopping there the author goes further in assaulting the prophet Muhammad, namely referring to him as Mahound an soubriquet with different variations in medieval times, used by Christian clerics back then to ridicule the prophet as a baby frightener, a fraud, and an anti-Christ, a immoral person who used the wives of other men to satisfy his own lust and brought revelations to satisfy his own promiscuous conduct3. And goes even further in insulting the prophets wife’s, which according to the Quran are mothers of the devoted, and respected by Muslims as the same way the prophet is revered. Though Rushdie addresses them in the crudest of fashion referring to them as whores and the holiest of Muslim shrines ‘Kaba’ as a brothel, as the following extract would suggest.