The Satanic Verses
The Promise of the Magic Lamp: Submission and Sacrifice in The Satanic Verses
In The Satanic Verses, it seems that no relationship is a relationship between equals. Everyone is paired with an opposite: dominant and submissive, god and worshipper, angel and devil, faithful and adulterous. This inequality creates toxic, even dangerous situations, in which one person sacrifices much for the sake of someone else, or for the sake of religion, with nothing in return. Salman Rushdie plays with notions of faith and faithfulness to critique the concept of sacrifice in both religion and in personal relationships. Through both subverting the idea of blood sacrifice and portraying toxic relationships, Rushdie suggests that religion itself can be a toxic relationship, when a person gives up everything for a promise of a future they have no reason to believe in. This idea is epitomized by “the promise of the magic lamp,” and so I will begin with that, a part of the character Saladin Chamcha’s backstory.
When Saladin was growing up, his father was a formidable presence in his life. He is described as always spying on him or coming up right behind him, even ripping off Saladin’s bedsheet in the middle of the night to “reveal the shameful penis in the clutching, red hand (36).” The father is omniscient, omnipresent, and seemingly omnipotent to young Saladin, much like a god. In fact, he is described as “more godlike to his infant son than any Allah,” and a “profane deity (49).” When Saladin finds a wallet filled with British money, his father, sure enough, is there to snatch it away. To add to the father’s cruel nature, on a bookshelf in his study is a “magic lamp,” just like something out of A Thousand and One Nights. But of course he does not permit his son to rub it in the hope of letting a genie out. He does promise, however, that one day Saladin will come to possess it for himself. This “promise of the magic lamp” convinces the young Saladin that “one day his troubles would end and his innermost desires would be gratified, and all he had to do was wait it out (37).” This presents a structure that one sees time and time again throughout reading the novel: Someone desires something, but is unable to get it. In the meantime they suffer and are punished. They hold onto the hope that in the end they will get what they desire. This pattern, found throughout many different storylines in the novel, is a critique on faith that Rushdie is trying to make.
Saladin is not the only character with faith in something that may or may not cause all his troubles to end. Outside of this father-son relationship, the novel is full of romantic relationships and other interpersonal relationships that follow the same pattern, a pattern that is clearly toxic, even abusive. Religion, too, follows a similar structure in the novel. The “promise of the magic lamp” is depicted as similar to the “promise of the afterlife.” Characters place their faith in something that may or may not come after they die, and this faith becomes detrimental to the life that they have. Rushdie’s critique of blind faith in religion, especially Islamic extremism, is apparent even in the word he chooses to call it. Rather than calling it “Islam” in the Jahilia sections of the book, which feature the life of Mahound, or Muhammad, and his founding of the religion, Rushdie calls it by its literal English translation: Submission. This is a conscious choice on his part, meant to highlight the fact that Islam, one of the world’s dominant religions, literally means submission, a word that suggests its followers must allow themselves to be dominated, to surrender to the will of something or someone else. Of course, to submit to something is not always a bad thing—it encourages humility and can remind someone that they are only human. But taken to an extreme, submission can be deadly. The Supreme Leader of Iran at the time Rushdie wrote this book, Ayatollah Khomeini (coincidentally the same man who issued the fatwa against him), said, “What could be better in the service of Islam and the noble Islamic nation than to drink the beverage of martyrdom and proudly meet God (Hatina 123)?” With powerful religious leaders so accepting of the notion of martyrdom and suicide, it is no wonder that suicide attacks in radical Islam were, and still are, such an issue.
Submission means to give up something to someone else, and when a person has faith in an afterlife guaranteed to them if they become martyrs, then they might give up their lives and/or the lives of others in order to do so. The concept of self-sacrifice for the sake of religious faith is an extreme version of the magic lamp idea, a magic lamp worth dying for. This is seen in The Satanic Verses on a number of occasions. “Martyrdom is a privilege,” says Tavleen, the woman who hijacks the plane and goes on to blow it up midair. “We shall be like stars; like the sun (88).” This is an example of faith turned toxic. Tavleen has no evidence that murder and suicide will bring her to heaven, but she firmly believes in it. What she says at that moment certainly echoes Khomeini’s words above. When she kills the first hostage, she used the word “sacrifice,” and Rushdie emphasizes the use of that particular word (87). To sacrifice is to give something to a god in the hopes of gaining something in return. But it is not exactly an even trade—someone gives a sacrifice and then waits for their reward, hoping it will come. They “wait it out,” like Saladin for the magic lamp. The word calls to mind ancient rituals on the stairs of temples, blood being spilled for the sake of a good harvest. But this example is a thoroughly modern one, meant to show that the concept of blood sacrifice is not obsolete. It is done with a gun to the head rather than a dagger to the heart, but the idea is the same. Later, Tavleen sacrifices herself to her god, taking her fellow hijackers and the passengers on the plane with her.
Rushdie includes another example of a kind of blood sacrifice involving many people in the sections of the novel about Ayesha, whose rhetoric, like that used by Tavleen and Khomeini and found often in religious texts, advocates martyrdom. “Everything will be required of us, and everything will be given to us also (232)” becomes her refrain. She repeats it often until she has an entire village following her on a pilgrimage to the depths of the Arabian Sea. Rushdie complicates the concept of blind faith here—it is not entirely blind. The villagers have some sound reason to put their faith in Ayesha. Hers is a seemingly holy presence: wherever she goes she is followed by a mass of butterflies, the insects so drawn to her that they clothe her naked body. She also correctly diagnoses Mishal Saeed’s breast cancer (240). These are both valid reasons for the villagers to think she is some kind of prophet. However, when she promises that the sea will part for them just as it did for the Israelites fleeing Egypt, the villagers instead are drowned. By providing an example of faith that isn’t totally unwarranted, Rushdie shows that his critique is not faith itself, but the willingness to sacrifice everything for it. The fact that they believe in Ayesha as a prophet is not the issue here; in fact it is shown as a positive thing when Mishal first discovers she has cancer. The issue is the complete submission of self to this faith. As Frans Ilkka Mäyrä writes, “Rushdie’s text … does not address the total opposite of religious faith, it is not indifferent or unsympathetic towards the religious tradition. Instead, it articulates a middle ground between secularism and religiosity by exploring the religious elements with an involved but critical attitude.” When the villagers enter the water, “none of them reappear … not a single gasping head or thrashing arm (517).” To go far enough into the ocean after its unwillingness to part that the people drown, without so much as a struggle, is the most shocking part of the Ayesha story.
It should be noted that Rushdie is not depicting Islam exclusively as a dangerous kind of faith; his critique is of any extreme sacrifice to any extreme religion. As Meir Hatina and Meir Litvak write in their book Martyrdom and Sacrifice in Islam, “The idea and ideal of martyrdom for the sake of one’s beliefs has been viewed in most religions as the epitome of devotion to God (3).” They go on to explain the evolution of the concept of martyrdom in Islam, which has its roots in the other two Abrahamic religions; all three faiths have a history of being taken too far. Rushdie illustrates as well that martyrdom is not exclusive to religious faith. The novel portrays a number of martyrs within their personal relationships. Toxic relationships run rampant throughout The Satanic Verses, featuring inequalities of godlike proportions. Notable examples are the relationships women have with Gibreel. It is not insignificant that Gibreel had no luck whatsoever with women until he started acting in the roles of deities. Until he did, in fact, he “failed to kiss a single woman on the mouth (23).” As soon as he is cast as an elephant-headed god, however, he starts having sex with so many women that he cannot keep track of their names. Plenty of these women even want him to keep the elephant mask on while they make love (25). This is problematic, especially within a patriarchal religious culture, in that it shows women as wanting to give themselves to a godlike figure. Gibreel becomes their religion. Though he is abusive, unfaithful, and uncaring, they love him anyway and remain faithful to him. While Gibreel falls from the airplane, he has a vision of one of his lovers, Rekha, who killed herself because of heartbreak by falling from a skyscraper, calling to mind a fall from God. In the vision, Rekha says: “but afterwards you punished, you used it as your excuse to leave, your cloud to hide behind … now that I am dead I have forgotten how to forgive. I curse you, my Gibreel, may your life be Hell. Hell, because that’s where you sent me (8).” This quotation requires close analysis. First, by describing him as “punishing” and hiding in a cloud, it cements the idea that Gibreel is like a god to her, and she his worshipper. As long as she was alive, her faith was in him. She always had the hope of him returning to her, until the moment when he falls in love with Alleluia Cone: Gibreel’s version of a deity-like lover. It is then that she begins to doubt the power of her love for him, the idea that he will ever return just because she continually gives of herself for him. Doubt, as Rushdie points out, is the opposite of faith (94). Only when she dies and has no hope at all left for a future with him is she able to confront him and stop forgiving him. She is in Hell, not Heaven, which is significant. She chose Hell over life without Gibreel, making an unusual kind of martyr of herself, not out of faith but out of losing faith. However, it is the faith she put in Gibreel in the first place that led to her despair and suicide. “Everybody always forgave you … you got away with murder … God’s gift … (26)” she accuses him.
Gibreel is successful in being a godlike figure to women because he has the attitude that he is God’s gift to the world. This is what makes women give so easily to him. In The Satanic Verses, a person becomes godlike when what someone gives to them becomes a kind of sacrifice—sacrifice being, again, something that is given out of a false hope of getting anything in return.Saladin, the other main character in the novel, also has his share of toxic relationships, though he is often on the worshipping end of them, rather than the godlike one. Faith and faithfulness are inherently intertwined when it comes to his relationships. He is faithful to someone until he loses faith in them. Returning to the relationship with his father, when he goes to London he complies with his father’s request to pay all his bills for him. When he decides to become an actor against his father’s will, however, his father takes away Saladin’s hope of ever getting the magic lamp, saying he will never inherit it “now that you have your own bad djinni (48).” This is the thing that destroys their relationship until his father is on his deathbed. Saladin seems to replace this relationship with another toxic one, a rather unequal one with Pamela Lovelace. Though she does not love him, he pursues her, “need[ing] her so badly, to reassure himself of his own existence (50).” Though he tries his best to have faith in a “happy future” for them—a new promise of a magic lamp—he begins to doubt. This lack of faith leads to infidelity. Immediately afterwards he sleeps with Zeeny. Saladin eventually does inherit the lamp by the end of the novel, and when he rubs it, Zeeny appears; her name does in fact sound like genie, of course. But the lamp has more in store than that. Gibreel arrives at Saladin’s house after going on a killing spree, and when he rubs the lamp he finds inside of it a gun, shoots himself, and “is free (561).” The lamp that Saladin believed in so much ends up causing him trouble in the end, leaving a bloody body and police knocking at the door of his apartment.
Rushdie, through his narrative, combines religious extremism with romantic extremism, and extreme faith in all kinds of relationships. Whether one’s faith is in God, or in another person, Rushdie illustrates the problems that arise when one submits to that faith entirely. A healthy balance in faith is the key that Rushdie seems to suggest, a balance that is nowhere found within the novel. Instead, Rushdie depicts people who give up everything for nothing, a sacrifice that is sure to generate grim situations, from unfaithfulness in marriage to religious suicide attacks.
Beers, William. Women and Sacrifice: Male Narcissism and the Psychology of Religion. Wayne State University Press, 1992. .Hatina, Meir and Meir Litvak. Martyrdom and Sacrifice in Islam: Theological, Political, and Social Contexts. I.B. Tauris, 2017. Mäyrä, Frans Ilkka. “The Satanic Verses and the Demonic Text.” 2005.Rushdie, Salman. The Satanic Verses. Henry Holt, 1988.
Sympathy for the Devil: The Narrator’s Argument in The Satanic Verses
“Please allow me to introduce myself, / I’m a man of wealth and taste, / I’ve been around for a long, long year / Stolen many man’s soul and faith / … / Pleased to meet you / Hope you guess my name” sings the gravelly voice of Mick Jagger at the beginning of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” After admitting responsibility for the temptation and death of Christ, the murder of Czar Nicholas II and his family, and the German Blitzkrieg of World War II, the narrator argues that all humans contain a mixture of good and evil, and that even he, the narrator, should receive some sympathy. He sings, “Just as every cop is a criminal / And all the sinners, Saints / As heads is tails, / Just call me Lucifer…”Unlike Jagger’s Lucifer, the narrator of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses never explicitly reveals his identity. Most of the novel is narrated in a multiple third-person style, in which the narrator follows various different characters, and has access to all of their thoughts and everything they perceive. However, the narrator periodically inserts himself into the story, in a series of very short passages that are written in the first person. In these passages, the narrator not-so-subtly hints that he is the devil himself, Satan. This changes the tone of the entire novel. The devil is the complete opposite of an objective narrator; traditionally, he cannot be trusted. In the New Testament, he even goes so far as to tempt Jesus, the son of God, to suicide: “Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down…'” In the Koran, the devil, when cast down, says, “I will surely make all fair seeming to them on the earth; I will surely beguile them all,” and the Koran says of those who are beguiled, “And verily, Hell is the promise for them one and all.” In these holy texts, the devil is not to be believed; he seeks the downfall of humanity. This reputation casts doubt upon everything that the narrator of The Satanic Verses says. Moreover, it suggests that the narrator of the novel has an agenda in telling this particular story.Satan, the narrator of Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, through the story of the novel, and especially through a comparison of himself with his double, Saladin, is trying to prove to his human readers that he deserves redemption. This is not an easy task – this Satan must overcome the reputation he has gained through centuries of religious texts and literature and even pop songs such as Jagger’s. Satan does this by orchestrating the action of the novel, and, through the figure of Saladin Chamcha, who resembles Satan both in name and, temporarily, in visage, the narrator argues that even those who commit truly evil acts should be able to redeem themselves.Although the narrator never names himself directly, it is suggested from the very beginning of the book that he is the Devil. The first thing the narrator does to bring himself into the story is to raise the question of his identity. He asks, “Who am I? Who else is there?” This might suggest that the narrator could be God, or Allah, himself. However, this is revealed to be untrue. Only a few pages later, the narrator says, “I know the truth, obviously. I watched the whole thing. As to omnipresence and potence, I’m making no claims at present, but I can manage this much, I hope… Who am I? Let’s put it this way: who has the best tunes?” (10). According to the online notes for the novel, this is “an allusion to a reply of John Wesley when he was reproached for setting his hymns to popular tunes to the effect that the Devil shouldn’t have all the best tunes.” The allusion might work both ways; however, even without the obscure reference, the passage clearly insinuates that the narrator is Satanic – God would certainly be able to make claims to omnipotence.In the third section of The Satanic Verses it is made even clearer that the narrator is Satan. He says:”Higher Powers had taken an interest [in Saladin and Gibreel], it should have been obvious to them both, and such Powers (I am, of course, speaking of myself) have a mischievous, almost a wanton attitude to tumbling flies. And another thing, let’s be clear: great falls change people. You think they fell a long way? In the matter of tumbles, I yield pride of place to no personage, whether mortal or im-. From clouds to ashes, down the chimney you might say, from heavenlight to hellfire … under the stress of a long plunge, I was saying, mutations are to be expected, not all of them random. Unnatural selections (133).The narrator is acknowledging the connection between Gibreel and Saladin’s fall from the exploding Bostan and Satan’s fall from Heaven in Milton’s Paradise Lost. Milton’s epic poem begins with Satan in Hell, after “Him the Almighty Power / Hurled headlong flaming from th’ ethereal sky / With hideous ruin and combustion down / To bottomless perdition…” Satan’s appearance is changed by his fall, although not drastically at first, “he above the rest / In shape and gesture proudly eminent / Stood like a tow’r; his form had yet not lost / All her original brightness.” Satan is indeed a higher power, and the greatest of the fallen archangels; in his rebellion he fell the farthest. By claiming “In the matter of tumbles, I yield pride of place to no personage,” the narrator of Rushdie’s novel is slyly admitting that he is the Devil himself.The question then arises as to whether, in the world of The Satanic Verses, the devil can also be God. When “God” appears sitting on Gibreel’s bed, Farishta asks, “‘Who are you?’ … ‘Ooparvala,’ the apparition answered. ‘The Fellow Upstairs.’ ‘How do I know you’re not the other One,’ Gibreel asked craftily, ‘Neechayvala, the Guy from Underneath?'” (318). To answer the question, Gibreel’s visitor creates a massive storm and says, “Whether We be multiform, plural, representing the union-by-hybridization of such opposites as Oopar and Neechay, or whether We be pure, stark, extreme, will not be resolved here” (319). This passage suggests that God and Satan may be one and the same. But the apparition does not definitively answer the question of his nature, as Rekha Merchant points out to Gibreel, saying, “I wouldn’t trust that Deity of yours either, if I were you, … he hinted as much himself, fudging the answer to your Oopar-Neechay question like he did” (323). Rekha tries to tell Gibreel that the Devil and God are one being, but she is lying. She says,This notion of separation of functions, light versus dark, evil versus good, may be straightforward enough in Islam O, children of Adam, let not the Devil seduce you, … but go back a bit and you see that it’s a pretty recent fabrication. Amos, eighth century BC, asks: “shall there be evil in a city and the Lord hath not dine it?” … It isn’t until the Book of Chronicles, merely the fourth century BC, that the word shaitan is used to mean a being, and not only an attribute of God. (323)Rekha’s point is a strong one, and she isn’t alone in making this point. Early in the 2nd Century CE, a philosopher named Valentius established a school that speculated that “the origin of darkness, and thereby of the dualistic rift of being” was located “within the godhead itself.” However, I would argue that Merchant’s argument, although based in the real doctrine of certain religions, is ultimately false. We already know that Rekha is a demonic spirit; as Gibreel falls from the Bostan at the beginning of the novel, she says to him that she comes from “Hell, because that’s where you sent me” (8). Because she is demonic, nothing she says can be trusted. But the Rekha who makes the point about the separation of functions is not the true Rekha; Gibreel realizes that the “speech was one of which the ‘real’ Rekha would plainly have been incapable” (323). This Rekha, the apparition, is an entity designed to test Gibreel. Shortly after her speech on the nature of good and evil, he realizes she is false, and says, “It’s a trick. There is no God but God. You are neither the Entity nor Its adversary, but only some caterwauling mist. No compromises” (335). Rekha vanishes, defeated along with her lies.Yet Rekha’s argument still seems to have potency because the narrator himself, when he appeared to Gibreel, claimed to be God. It is eventually revealed that the “Deity” who visited Gibreel on Alleluia’s bed was indeed the narrator of the novel. He admits it, saying:I’m saying nothing. Don’t ask me to clear things up one way or the other; the time of revelations is long gone. The rules of Creation are pretty clear: you set things up, you make them thus and so, and then you let them roll. Where’s the pleasure if you’re always intervening to give hints, change the rules, fix the fights? Well, I’ve been pretty self-controlled up to this point and I don’t plan to spoil things now. Don’t think I haven’t wanted to butt in; I have, plenty of times. And once, it’s true, I did. I sat on Alleluia Cone’s bed and spoke to the superstar, Gibreel. Ooparvala or Neechayvala, he wanted to know, and I didn’t enlighten him; I certainly don’t intend to blab to this confused Chamcha instead. I’m leaving now. (408-9)In this passage, the narrator, like Rekha, tries to suggest that he is God as well as Satan, but he never takes credit for creation, and this narrator has a penchant for bragging about all of his deeds, from the metamorphoses of Saladin and Gibreel to the above apparition. When the narrator says he “didn’t enlighten” Gibreel, he means that he lied to him – the apparition said that it was from Heaven, and he was not; he was from Hell.The narrator is not God, he is Satan, the Devil, Lucifer, by any name God’s adversary. The narrator cannot be God, because in his opening statements, he admits that he is not omnipotent or omnipresent, and presumably not omniscient either. These traits would certainly be present in the one true God. With his “I’m making no claims at present,” the narrator hints that he, Satan, the angel who would be but is not God, still desires these things. In Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, if there is a single God that is opposed to the Devil, he never shows himself. The narrator says, “From the beginning men used God to justify the unjustifiable. Small wonder, then, that women have turned to me” (95).The narrator could have told the story of Gibreel and Saladin without revealing his identity; he chooses not to. Satan chooses to almost confront his readers with his identity, challenging us to believe him despite his reputation. In the Gospel, Jesus describes the devil, saying, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Milton’s Satan says, “For only in destroying I find ease / To my relentless thoughts…” Rushdie’s Satan does not deny any of these accusations – instead he tries to overcome his past through a simple inductive argument: if a human being, who rejects his father and commits unspeakable acts, can receive forgiveness from those he has harmed, why should the Devil not be given that same redemption? To make this argument, he takes the charismatic and likeable Saladin Chamcha, turns him into a monster, and lets us watch as the world allows Saladin to atone for his misdeeds.Saladin begins the novel as a likeable and understandable figure. He is first described, when falling from the exploding Bostan, as “buttony, pursed Mr Saladin Chamcha” (4), a description which, although not exactly flattering, is certainly easier to identify with than Gibreel, who is gyrating and singing almost unintelligibly as he falls. The narrator constantly emphasizes Saladin’s humanity in extraordinarily physical terms; when he lands safely on the ground, “Saladin Chamcha coughed, spluttered, opened his eyes, and, as befitted a new-born babe, burst into foolish tears” (10). Saladin’s childhood, although privileged, managed to evoke pity in the reader. When the ten-year old Salahuddin loses the “fabulous hoard” (35) of the found wallet, when he imagines his “dream-city, ellowen deeowen … London” (37), when the thirteen-year-old Chamchawala is molested on the rocks outside of his house, we sympathize and identify with him in an extremely visceral way. Saladin never disgusts us like the womanizing, halitosis-infected Gibreel. Saladin’s loves, revealed to us in the seventh book, allow us to understand the very essence of his being: “Culture, city, wife; and a fourth and final love, of which he had spoken to nobody: the love of a dream… his imagined son” (400). We understand Saladin; we know and see in ourselves his hopes and dreams.Of course, even before he is transformed into a satanic form, Saladin is not perfect. He is married, and claims to love his wife, but he “went to bed with Zeeny Vakil within forty-eight hours of arriving in Bombay” (51). But perhaps what is most alienating about Saladin is his rejection of his past. The narrator admits that this can be seen as odious, saying, “A man who sets out to make himself up is taking on the Creator’s role, according to one way of seeing things; he’s unnatural, a blasphemer, an abomination of abominations.” But even this is not really despicable, Satan goes on to say immediately, “From another angle, you could see pathos in him, heroism in his struggle, in his willingness to risk: not all mutants survive. Or consider him sociopolitically: most migrants learn” (49). Saladin’s faults, although not insignificant, are understandable; he is not a strange and disgusting Bollywood idol like Gibreel.Even before he transforms, Saladin shares several traits with Satan. Both Satan and Saladin reject their fathers. Satan, rebelling against his God, created such strife that he was cast out of heaven: “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” In Milton, the faithful angel Abdiel reminds Satan, “As by his Word the mighty Father made / All things, ev’n thee,” and Satan responds, “Doctrine which we would know whence learnt: who saw / When this creation was? Remember’st thou / Thy making, while the Maker gave thee being? We know no time when we were not as now.” Satan denies that his father is responsible for him, and in doing so, is cast out of heaven.Saladin’s rejection of his father comes in a different form. At first, Saladin distances himself from his father. He rejects his father’s second wife without meeting her, obtains British citizenship, becomes an actor, directly against his father’s wishes, and eventually stops communicating with his father. But then, when he first returns to India, instead of denying the importance of his father in his life, Saladin blames all of his faults on his father:Of what did the son accuse the father? Of everything: espionage on child-self, rainbow-pot-stealing, exile. Of turning him into what he might not have become. Of making-a-man of. Of what-will-I-tell-my-friends. Of irreparable sunderings and offensive forgiveness… Above all, of magic-lampism, of being an open-sesamist. Everything had come easy to him, charm, women, wealth, power, position. Rub, poof, genie, wish, at once master, hey presto. He was a father who had promised, and then withheld, a magic lamp. (69).Saladin, after his attempt to escape his father, now tries to blame his life upon Changez Chamchawala. Changez, years earlier, had loved his son infinitely, in his own way. He had sent his son to England for the best education possible. Before the plane took off, Changez made a superstitious motion that Saladin would later repeat when flying, “trying not to let his son see him doing it, [Changez] crossed two pairs of fingers on each hand, and rotated both his thumbs” (41). I see this as a prayer for safety; Changez seemed afraid of the dangers of flying and wanted to protect himself and his son however he could. Changez cared, above all else, for his son’s safety and growth into a man. Forcing Saladin to pay for the first time in London was intended as a life lesson that would benefit the young man for the rest of his life. But because of Saladin’s continued rebellion, Changez is eventually forced to sever his ties to his son. “Face it, mister:” he says, “I don’t explain you any more” (69). Like God, Changez is forced to cast away his brightest star.Once he returns to England from India, fallen from his father’s grace, Saladin begins to resemble the Devil physically. He becomes hairy, his feet turn into hooves, he develops horns that grow “both thicker and longer, twirling themselves into fanciful arabesques” (275), he sprouts a thick beard, a tail, and a permanent, giant erection. His breath becomes as foul as Gibreel’s had been. In the final stages of his physical transformation, he grows to massive height, and “smoke began to issue from [his] pores” (294); he breathes fire. However, the real change comes when Saladin acknowledges the evil that exists within him.In the first half of the book, even when he divorces himself from his father and from his country, even when he is cheating on his wife, Saladin is, in his own way, trying to do the right thing, whether for himself, or for some concept of “the good.” He genuinely believes that England is better than India; this motivates his denial of his earlier self. But when his form has finally changed completely into that of a devil, he also acknowledges that many of his impulses are evil. The narrator says of Saladin, “I am, he accepted, that I am. Submission” (289). Saladin admits that evil does lurk in his heart, and makes the decision to act upon that evil by revenging himself upon Gibreel; the narrator comments, “who should the Devil blame but the Archangel, Gibreel?” (294). This passage is very similar to Satan’s sentiment in Paradise Lost, “So farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear, / Farewell remorse: all good to me is lost; / Evil be thou my good.” Saladin also sounds very much like Shakespeare’s greatest villain, Iago, who says of his commander Othello, “I follow him to serve my turn upon him… / …I am not what I am.” Saladin, like Iago and Satan, has completely fallen from grace, and in this moment is restored to his human form, because he has learned that, even as a man, he contains evil.Once Saladin has completed his descent by admitting his own evil impulses, he seeks a way to injure Gibreel. Saladin believes that he wants to revenge himself on Gibreel for, “his treason at Rosa Diamond’s house; his silence, nothing more” (427). The narrator, though, claims that Saladin’s true motives go beyond revenge. Satan says:Let’s rather say an even harder thing: that evil may not be as far beneath our surfaces as we like to say it is. That, in fact, we fall towards it naturally, that is, not against our natures. And that Saladin Chamcha set out to destroy Gibreel Farishta because, finally, it proved so easy to do; the true appeal of evil being the seductive ease with which one may embark upon that road. (427).At first, Saladin is not sure what exactly he wants to do to Gibreel. At Billy Battuta’s lavish party, he approaches Gibreel, looking for some way to attack him. All Chamcha does, at this point, is to tell Gibreel how Pamela became pregnant, “‘Congratulate her lover,’ Saladin thickly raged. ‘My old friend, Jumpy Joshi. Now there, I admit it, is a man. Women go wild, it seems. God knows why. They want his goddamn babies and they don’t even wait to ask his leave” (429). Saladin unwittingly excites the jealousy of Gibreel; after Saladin points out Jumpy, Gibreel chases down the unfortunate karate instructor and knocks him cold with an oar. The first time Saladin propels another towards an evil act it is unintentional, but it teaches him Gibreel’s weakness, and begins his journey down the path to becoming an Iago. As he “grows closer” to Gibreel, Saladin more thoroughly understands Farishta’s insane jealousy, and how to capitalize upon it. He thinks, “You poor bastard, … you really are going off your wretched head at a rate of knots. Don’t imagine that means I’ll let you off” (436).Having discovered his enemy’s weakness, Saladin begins to attack Gibreel. He starts small, making an offhand comment about Allie: “She’s certainly a very attractive woman” (438). Gibreel’s response, a glance full of rage, tells Saladin that he has chosen the right Achilles’ Heel to attack. Saladin’s later attempts to incite Gibreel’s jealousy become more and more insidious, cruel, and unforgivable. The narrator even says, “There is the moment before evil; then the moment of; then the time after, when the step has been taken, and each subsequent stride becomes progressively easier” (438-9). Chamcha tells Farishta the story of Strindberg’s wife, who left him because he was too jealous, and then watches as Gibreel verbally abuses his lover. Then, Saladin finally begins to make phone calls to Gibreel and Alleluia. He calls the lovers, using his thousand-and-one voices to raise Gibreel’s jealousy past the boiling point. Saladin becomes a poet, speaking his lines to Gibreel with the voice of a child, creating a new set of Satanic Verses:I like coffee, I like tea,I like things you do with me.Tell her that.***Rosy apple, lemon tartHere’s the name of my sweetheart.A…l…l…***Roses are red, violets are blue,Sugar never tasted as sweet as you.Pass it on.***When she’s down at WaterlooShe don’t wear no yes she doWhen she’s up at Leicester SquareShe don’t wear no underwear;***Knickerknacker, firecracker,Sis! Boom! Bah!Alleluia! Alleluia!Rah! Rah! Rah!***Violets are blue, roses are red,I’ve got her right here in my bed.Goodbye, sucker. (444-6).With these verses, Saladin completes his metamorphosis into a demon, although his outward form remains human. He destroys Gibreel’s sanity, causing Farishta to commit an “Unforgivable Act” upon Allie. Gibreel does not smother Allie as Othello killed Desdemona; he is much more cruel, destroying her past in the form of all her miniature Everests, including the priceless one made by her guide. Ironically, the first person Alleluia calls to find sympathy and tell of her break from Gibreel is her false friend and destroyer, Saladin.Saladin has ruined Gibreel utterly, he has abandoned the good, he has become a new Iago, a new Satan, but very soon thereafter he is forgiven, both by his discarded father and the man he has destroyed. As London burns, Gibreel races through the city with his trumpet Azraeel, breathing fire upon people and buildings. He sees Saladin, whom he has discovered to be the author of his fall from Alleluia’s grace, trapped underneath a fallen beam in the Shaandaar Caf, surrounded by flames. Gibreel could leave the fallen Chamcha to die, but he:lets fall his trumpet; stoops, frees Saladin from the prison of the fallen beam; and lifts him in his arms… Gibreel Farishta steps quickly forward, bearing Saladin along the path of forgiveness into the hot night air; so that on a night when the city is at war, a night heavy with enmity and rage, there is this small redeeming victory for love. (468).Chamcha receives news of his father’s impending death, and, instead of ignoring the passing of the father he chose to reject, decides “it was imperative that he reach Bombay before Changez left it for good” (511). Salahuddin discovers that he has “recovered from the past” (515), from his evil. Changez forgives his son; Salahuddin shaves his father’s face. He carries the weak old man to the bathroom; his father says, “you get the lamp, after all” (529). Salahuddin inherits from his father the magic lamp that is grace and salvation, “He took the lamp from its shelf and sat at Changez’s desk. Taking a handkerchief from his pocket, he rubbed briskly: once, twice, thrice. The lights all went on at once. Zeenat Vakil entered the room” (533). When Gibreel confronts Salahuddin at the end of the novel, Chamchawala is truly repentant; facing death at the hands of a gun, he thinks, “he was going to die for his verses, but could not find it in himself to call the death-sentence unjust” (546). Gibreel, once an angel, commits suicide, Salahuddin, once the devil Saladin, rediscovers the love of his father, finds new love, and is given a new lease on life. He learns that “in spite of all his wrong-doing, weakness, guilt in spite of his humanity he was getting another chance” (547).The narrator tells the story of Saladin Chamcha to raise a specific question: does Saladin deserve redemption? There is no way that any reader with a heart can say no. Certainly, Saladin’s evil destroys the greatest love affair in the book, and results in the deaths of Gibreel, Sisodia, and Alleluia. But because he seeks redemption, because he admits his fallibility, we do not begrudge him his salvation. Saladin does not end like Iago, the demi-devil whose last words are “Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. / From this time forth I never will speak word.”The narrator is making a subtle argument through the action of the novel: if Saladin deserves a second chance, then perhaps all those who commit evil should be allowed to redeem themselves. The narrator may be Satan, he certainly has fallen from heaven, but he is not the Satan of the Bible, the Koran, or even of Milton. The traditional Satan does not seek redemption, or readmittance into heaven he seeks to mar God’s works on Earth, and, “wills the Bad, and always works the Good” (417). This narrator is not that Satan. He does not seek to destroy God’s creatures, men, simply to change them, to argue through them for his own redemption. His is not deductive; the Devil cannot prove that he deserves to be saved. It is an inductive argument, an argument by examples; if Saladin, as evil as the devil himself, can be saved, why not the Devil himself? Saladin has discovered that “even the most unforgivable crime of being one’s father could be forgiven, after all, in the end” (513). Can Satan forgive his father?There is a major flaw in the narrator’s argument: Satan is a higher power, a fallen archangel; Saladin is human. Saladin is saved because of and in spite of his humanity, a quality that the narrator tells us repeatedly that he does not possess. This point would seem to suggest that the Devil, once an angel who should have known better than humans not to fall into evil, does not deserve redemption. But even against this point, Satan acquits himself. Throughout his tale, the narrator displays a very human understanding of true emotion whether the love of Alleluia Cone and Gibreel Farishta, Rosa Diamond and Martin de la Cruz, Jumpy Joshi and Pamela Lovelace, or especially, Salahuddin and Changez Chamchawala. This Satan understands the transcendence of climbing Everest and of sex, the overwhelming emotion and charisma of Ayesha, the butterfly girl, the unbreakable bond between father and son. The narrator made me cry with his tale of Changez’s funeral, “The grave. Salahuddin climbs down into it, stands at the head end, the gravedigger at the foot. Changez Chamchawala is lowered down. The weight of my father’s head, lying in my hand. I laid it down; to rest. The world, somebody wrote, is the place we prove real by dying in it” (533). No heartless demon could be capable of such affecting prose.Satan succeeds. He wins, through Saladin, redemption, or at least understanding, in our eyes. The third set of Satanic Verses revealed by the novel is the narrator’s verses. Paradoxically, these Verses are the novel, all 547 pages. These verses do not destroy, like Saladin’s, they create, and allow us to forgive. And it is heartbreaking that, for the narrator, there is no forgiveness from his father, the ever-silent God, who never speaks once in the novel, never offers his fallen angel-son forgiveness, a magic lamp, or even sympathy.BibliographyBrians, Paul. Notes on Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses (1988). Online at http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/anglophone/satanic_verses/Jagger, Mick and Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones). “Sympathy for the Devil,” Beggar’s Banquet. London/Decca Records: 1968.Jonas, Hans. The Gnostic Religion. Boston, Bacon Press: 1958.The Koran. Transl. J. M. Rodwell. London, Guernsey Press Co: 1983.Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. Scott Elledge. New York, W.W. Norton & Company: 1993.The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Ed. Herbert G. May and Bruce M. Metzger. New York, Oxford University Press: 1977.Rushdie, Salman. The Satanic Verses. New York, Viking: 1988.Shakespeare, William. Othello. From The Tragedies. Ed. Peter Alexander. New York, The Heritage Press: 1958.
The Dangers of Forming Realities: Perspective and “Orientalism” in The Satanic Verses
In Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, ideas about man creating his own reality are explored in ways that intricately involve a series of relationships and themes that, in the end, create a dense meaning behind the idea of reality and how it differs in each character’s life. As defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, reality is “the true situation that exists”. There are problems, however, with this definition. One definition of reality cannot accurately apply to each individual around the world. ‘True situations’ vary from person to person, depending on the background, origin, religion, culture, language, and class status of each person, so who is to say what reality is the true reality? Salman Rushdie, Edward Said and Chinua Achebe are among the multiple writers who have studied conflicting realities, especially between countries, leading into a more complex analysis of themes such as privilege, power, and nation. With a plethora of perspectives comes numerous realities, and with numerous existing realities come conflict, competition, and doubt. Examining all of these themes under the one idea about how each man forms his own reality, the works of these scholars bring out thought-provoking ideas that lead the readers to consciously doubt their own realities and how they were formed.
From the beginning of The Satanic Verses (1988), characters are constantly questioning their identities and their realities. On page 10, the question “Who am I?” is first presented. As the book continues, each character struggles to answer this question and to form their reality in such a way that will bring happiness and success to his/her life. Each character’s attempt to form their reality is based on many factors. First of all, humanity’s reliance on stability leads people to form their realities partly based on what makes them feel the most secure, confident, and in control. The religious aspect of a human’s reality is often extremely crafted in ways that benefit that individual. Often times, people discover feelings of confidence and control within their realities through religious entities. In The Satanic Verses, a religiously focused text, there ironically exists a feeling of an absence of any sort of god. Many characters take determining the path of their lives and their realities upon themselves, using a self-created higher power to justify their actions and decisions. For example, in Part III of the novel, Archangel Gibreel serves not God, but Rosa Diamond. He obeys her requests and bows down to her needs, which are not the expected actions of an archangel. In most stories, you would expect that an angel would be higher in power and status than an old, crazy, ghost-seeing woman, like Rosa Diamond would. However, in this section Rosa completely controls Gibreel, using him as a tool in order to feel comfortable in taking her life and her reality into her own hands. Gibreel is Rosa’s godly source of affirmation and stability. Now confused about the difference between reality and dreams, true love and forced love, and life and death, Gibreel cannot find a route to escape the control of Rosa Diamond. “What the hell am I doing here?”, Gibreel asked himself, “But he stayed, held by unseen chains.” (Rushdie 148). The power in this section lies not in the godly figures, like Archangel Gibreel, but in the common people, like Rosa, because it is people themselves, not their religious gods, who craft their realities. Each man has the power to form ideas and perceptions in creating his individual and unique reality.
Rushdie introduces this relationship between Rosa Diamond and Gibreel as an example of how humans use religious entities as a source of stability and reassurance. The existence of gods and higher powers becomes the foundation of reality for many individuals. People create gods because gods are easy to control and come to know. God is different to every individual because people have the ability to shape their god into whatever they need in order to feel the stability that humans crave in order to be confident and comfortable in their own skin and in their own reality. “A man who invents himself needs someone to believe in him.” (Rushdie 49). In order for humans and for characters like Rosa Diamond to believe that what they want to do is the right thing to do, they must have a higher power that reassures them that they are in the right. Their actions are good, their opinions are reasonable, and the reality that they have shaped for themselves is logical. If an individual succeeds, then they can pat themselves on the back for their grand idea, but if they fail, they have that godly entity to blame for ‘telling’ them to do it. Mortals can never feel stable within their own beliefs, unless there is some sort of supernatural being there to fulfill man’s desire for “nothing left unregulated” (Rushdie 376) and unstable. In Rushdie pointing out such ideas about religious entities, he provokes doubt in the reader’s mind about the validity of religion and about religion as simply a source of comfort in a human’s construction of his own reality. Rushdie discredits religion as simply an instrument of man’s will to power. Religion, however, is not the only factor that affects the molding of an individual’s concept of reality. Another factor that affects one’s perception of reality is what he/she believes constitutes power in an individual.
In The Satanic Verses, the reality that Saladin subscribes to is the one that grants the English people all of the knowledge, power, and privilege over neighboring inferior countries. Because this is his perception of the English, and therefore, the truth by which he has chosen to live, he strives throughout the novel to literally become English in every aspect of his life. He tries to alter the reality that he is Indian by changing his accent, moving to England, and becoming romantically involved with an English woman. Saladin strives to alter his identity by becoming a new individual who satisfies his reality about what is socially accepted as powerful. This is driven by a sort of pressure to become the best person that one is able to become, and the idea that this achievement cannot be met in one’s home country and culture. Happiness comes with success in Saladin’s mind, and in order to have this success, he must recreate himself in a new place, where the people are supposedly born with talent and power. Saladin, therefore, is constantly depicted as putting on masks in order to become someone else, as he struggles to rid away his Indian culture in order to become a classy Englishman. In his mind, if this goal is accomplished, then the reality will be that he, now among the rest of the Englishmen, will suddenly have power and privilege. For Saladin, ‘becoming an Englishman’ requires many steps. In the beginning of the novel, as Saladin was growing up, he began to dream about his hopeful future in England. He wasn’t happy following in the footsteps of his father, and he didn’t feel like he could reach his potential in pursuing his Indian culture.
Later, we see Saladin’s name and accent change, which for him began the process of his acceptance into the English culture. In one scene, Saladin is literally wearing a mask in his new English job, as he works as a voice-over actor, a job in which he hides his Indian appearance, but shows off his new English accent. In Part I, Zeeny tries to convince Saladin that his job as a voice-over actor is degrading, as she tells him that “even now, they only let you on the air after they cover your face with rubber and give you a red wig.” (Rushdie 64). In addition, on pages 50 and 51, Saladin ignores the struggles in his life with Pamela by pretending that their marriage is filled happiness and love. Her love is something that he needs. It makes him feel as if, now that he has an English lover, other Englishmen will accept him as fellow man of their culture. “He needed her so badly, as if to reassure himself of his own existence.” (Rushdie 50). All of these examples depict Saladin’s struggle to form his reality into one of English success and power. It is an idea that clearly creates struggle within a character’s life, including struggles with culture, power, privilege, identity, and race. Regardless of these hardships, characters, such as Saladin, strongly fight these themes in their daily lives in order to create a life for themselves that satisfies their idea that power only exists in certain countries and cultures; in this situation, that powerful country is England. Simply altering one’s identity, however, cannot successfully alter the reality that he/she is truly not the person they are forcing themselves to become. Saladin, for example, may truly believe that he has transformed into a noble and respectable Englishman, but the reality in other people’s minds remains that Saladin is an Indian, no matter where he lives or what his voice sounds like. Conflicting realities suddenly become a source of competition and struggle. Contradictory realities among different individuals often lead to conflict. Since humans have the tendency to form personal realities—based on factors such as religion and the need for power—there is inevitably going to exist numerous realities, and the majority of them will not exercise authority over the few realities that have become strong stereotypes engrained in societies across the world. Not everyone can win. This idea is strongly expressed within Saladin. After making so many efforts to become English, Saladin didn’t realize that even after all of these efforts, he would still be scrutinized and degraded by the English. For example, when encountering the English officers, Saladin tried to claim that he was English—because he truly believed he has transformed into a proper Englishman—by giving the officers a London phone number which would supposedly lead them to Saladin’s “lovely, white, English wife” (Rushdie 145). Still, however, because Saladin looked Indian, the English officers treated him with disrespect and disgust, because the reality to which they had subscribed is one that labels Indians, like Saladin, as repulsive and beastly. People like Saladin exist all over the world—people who are stripped of their potential success simply due to the false realities that surround their culture’s identity. It is a deeply rooted and complex system of beliefs created by the human mind’s natural instinct to judge and to stereotype, but it is something that desperately needs to be untangled and uprooted. Because Saladin’s idea of reality conflicted with and was overcome by that of the English officers, he was abused and degraded.
Situations similar to that of Saladin exist all across the world. Edward Said, author of the text Orientalism (1978), shares parallel ideas with Rushdie about degrading stereotypes and false realities that the majority of the people around the world succumb to. Said invents the terms “Orient” and “Oriental” to describe what he calls “Orientalism”. Said argues that the Orient’s identity is based on a series of refined European misconceptions. Asia and the Middle East are portrayed through the European imagination, and nothing else, whether or not the Europeans’ knowledge is credible and/or even accurate. These frequently inaccurate and bias perceptions bind Orientals into an inescapable, inferior position, in which they are subject to foreign rule, religious oppression, powerless roles, and unjust and ignorantly conceived stereotypes. Whether the Orientals succumb to this superior force is irrelevant, as the English’s self-acclaimed ‘superiority’ and ‘knowledge’ gives them the power to draw the lines and make the decisions in all of the Oriental countries. On page 56 of Orientalism, Asia is represented by ideas formed only by outsiders, and more specifically by Orientalists. Rushdie explored this idea with Saladin and the British officers. Saladin was defined metaphorically as a monstrous goat-like animal by the British officers due to his birthplace and heritage and nothing else. Similarly, Asia “speaks through and by virtue of the European imagination” (Said 56). Whatever the European Orientalists view Asia as is what Asia will be. Supposedly, as a superior nation, Europe has the power to create and enforce these descriptions and stereotypes upon the Asians, no matter how absurd and crude the descriptions may be. Through ideas passed on in literature and through word of mouth, Asia is depicted as unknowledgeable and powerless, while the Europeans are the opposite. This deeply rooted description is hard to escape and therefore, it is almost required that the Asians accept and succumb to it. All of these ‘realities’, however, are invented by simply the Orientalist imaginations, so how can a large portion of the world justify subscribing to such degrading so-called realities?
Said’s ideas about Orientalism directly relate to the theme of forming one’s own reality explored by Rushdie. Orientalist views are all created by nothing more than imagination. “The Orient was a scholar’s word, signifying what modern Europe had recently made of the still peculiar East” (Said 92). This quote describes the essence of Orientilism well. The European Orientalists are a group of people who publish facts that aren’t necessarily even researchable—facts about culture, religion, language—all things that one must experience to truly understand. Therefore, most of the knowledge on which the study of Orientals is based contains information made up by the Orientalist perception and by the reality that the Orientalists have formed about the Orientals. In this quote, it points out that the word “Orient” is even a scholar’s word. The actual noun that describes this group of Asian and Middle-Eastern people was even invented. What does this say about the rest of the information that the Orientalists have come up with? This quote clearly indicates the likelihood of all it being bogus. Nothing is completely accurate, as it is almost all simply a false reality created on a foundation of opinion and perception, including the name ‘Orient’ itself. The Orientalist imagination is limited by what they actually know. This knowledge does not include the knowledge about what Oriental culture is truly like because the Orientalists have never actually experienced Oriental cultures. Therefore, the misleading realities and stereotypes that we subscribe to are all formed by unquestioned, false information. Many realities exist around the world, as each individual creates his/her own reality based on their opinions, perceptions, and experiences. However, only certain realities are viewed as powerful and credible, whether or not they deserve to be. The reality created by Orientalism is an example of an acknowledged and dominant perspective. Dominant realities are those that are circulated the most across the world. To prove this point, Said refers to the authority that humanity gives to books. Humans doubt themselves so much that they do not trust humanity as a source of information. Humans need books or texts to assure them that certain truths are, in fact, true. Texts lay out laws and say how things should be done, and once texts are published, the words cannot be changed. The words are tangible and irrevocable. A person’s opinion, on the other hand, can change, and their spoken words are not tangible. Humans, therefore, have a “tendency to fall back on a text when uncertainties of travel in strange parts seem to threaten one’s equanimity” (Said 93). This fact works in the favor of the Western nations because with English as the dominant language in many areas around the world, it the English books and films that are the most frequently circulated and recognized worldwide. If humans have the tendency to trust the information in books simply because words are comforting in that they are tangible and if the majority of the books are English, than the majority of the words that individuals across the world will be trusting will be words of the Western English nations.
African writer Chinua Achebe has similar ideas about stereotypes created by imperialist Britain. In The African Writer and the English Language (1975), he investigates ideas explored by both Said and Rushdie—ideas about Western perspectives as influences on others’ views of citizens of potentially less powerful nations. “These nations were created in the first place by the intervention of the British, which I hasten to add, is not saying that the peoples compromising these nations were invented by the British” (Achebe). Achebe makes a great point that the British did, in fact, construct Orient countries, but that they didn’t literally invent the people of these countries. Using Said’s terms, the actual Orients—or in this case, Nigerians—constructed themselves through the natural process by which culture is born. Because the British didn’t ‘invent’ the Nigerians, and because the British don’t share an identical or even similar culture with the Nigerians, the British have no right to claim to understand the culture. This is where Achebe and Said’s points come together. The British may have instigated the birth of the Nigerian culture and of their many colonized nations. However, the British did not experience this birth of culture firsthand. Therefore, to categorize and to scrutinize these nations by attempting to define their culture is wrong. And to subscribe to the false reality that we, as Westerners, are better than or superior to all of them, as Orients, is wrong. It is important to understand Achebe’s statement about the role of the British in the development of the Orient countries. And it is important to accept their role only as it exactly is. When Westerners define these Eastern cultures in books and in films as ‘in need of guidance’, ‘inferior’, or as ‘dependent on our strong and incredible nation” is when the line is crossed. No culture can be defined by any simple explanation. No country or individual should be scrutinized because of being from his or her country. And no country should try to analyze, categorize, or dissect the culture of any country besides its own. It doesn’t matter that the Westerners influenced the development of the Orient countries. Having a role in the development of these countries or not, the Westerners will never relate to or begin to understand all of the wonders, advances, and even the hardships and failures of other countries. It is impossible to write accurately about a culture that you are not a part of, yet Westerns continue to do exactly that, and with success, as their audiences subscribe to the inaccurate information simply because the words are ‘tangible’. It is reasons such as these why certain people, as exemplified by Rushdie’s character Saladin, are treated unjustly due to nothing except the realities associated with their skin color and nationality.
Together, the ideas of Rushdie, Said, and Achebe come together to focus the attention of our world’s readers not on the inaccurate realities published in many Western books, but on the idea that doubt is important, especially when reading about cultures beyond that of one’s own country. Because every individual’s reality is formed—by their religions, by their personal goals, by their perception of power, and by many other important factors—there is no single reality that can be described as entirely factual and applicable to every individual around the globe. The only reality that one can fully understand is their own. Because it is impossible to experience the thoughts and witness the events of any other human besides yourself, it should not be reasonable or just for anyone to act as if he/she does, in fact, understand the reality of another being. The ideas of Rushdie, Said, and Achebe are important to consider when judging another culture or when considering whether a single, universal reality or truth exists. These writers’ ideas are relevant and worth considering because the false realities, which they refer to in their texts, exist all over society. Stereotypes exist in the news, in Hollywood movies, in novels—they exist everywhere. Because stereotypes are so prevalent, it is inevitable that each individual subscribes to at least some of them. Often times, placing stereotypes upon other nations is overlooked. They are embedded deeply into our culture, so much that referring to and believing in certain stereotypes becomes natural.
Saladin in The Satanic Verses, the so-calledd Orientals in Orientalism, and the Nigerians in Achebe’s The African Writer and the English Language, provide our society with examples of nations and individuals scrutinized and degraded based on the stereotypes associated with their nationalities. As these writers’ works have circulated and joined the millions of texts recognized worldwide, their readers hopefully attempted to open their minds to these stereotypes in order to acknowledge their absurdity and falsity. Because creating false realities is among the many natural human instincts, it is, of course, unrealistic to hope that one day, these stereotypes will not exist at all, but it is certainly reasonable to attempt to introduce awareness of such tendencies to the creators of these false realties themselves.
Achebe, Chinua. “The African Writer and the English Language.” Morning Yet on Creation Day. Garden City, NY: Anchor, 1975.
Rushdie, Salman. The Satanic Verses. New York, NY: Viking, 1989. Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978.