This period was a demonstration of just how far people are willing to go in order to suppress anything, and saw the beginning of a new kind of censorship: self-censorship. One that is sadly all too prevalent in 2019.
It was also a turning point for Kenan Malik in that:
... It made me question my own relationship to the left and to the antiracist movement. The transformation...mirrored a wider transformation that was taking place on the left itself, a transformation from a belief in secular universalism to the defence of ethnic particularism and group rights. Once the left had been a champion of Enlightenment rationalism and humanism. It had believed in the ideas of a common humanity and universal rights, argued that everyone should be treated equally despite their racial, ethnic, religious or cultural differences and looked to social progress as a means of overcoming cultural differences. Today many on the left decry the Enlightenment as a Eurocentric project.
And so, with this in mind, From Fatwa to Jihad examines the legacy of the Rushdie affair, from the rise of multiculturalism through to the 9/11 attacks and the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
It's a fascinating tale, one that takes in the Empire Windrush through to the fight for civil liberties in the 70's, battling racists and police in the early 80's and the beginning of the policies that saw segments of the population, once united, closing themselves off and internalising their struggle.
Malik traces the beginning of multicultural policies to the aftermath of the 1981 riots that engulfed the UK. With the Scarman Report concluding that "complex political, social and economic factors" created a "disposition towards violent protest" (while avoiding to blame the police), Margaret Thatcher began to off-load money into various ethnic and community projects. While the stated intention was to unify communities and help understand and celebrate their differences, Malik correctly points out that this effectively became a bribe to keep people off the streets from protesting, and led to the creation of a professional middle class among ethnic groups, ones who could wield significant influence when it came to elections and making sure successive governments pay attention to their ideas.
Coupled with the Labour controlled councils (in the days of the 'looney left') offering cultural self-development courses and what you ended up with was separation. Suddenly people, who had never thought of themselves being anything other than British, became 'ethnic' overnight as it was a way to obtain money (for example, a leisure centre that would cater to the Muslim community).
It's a perfect example of how good intentions can link up with amoral methods to divide and conquer.
Discussing the Rushdie affair, it's amazing how the pieces slotted together to create such a moral panic (or 'clash of civilisations'). People who had, at the beginning of the 1980's, been involved with street action against the National Front and were fully integrated into English society, had become disillusioned and dispossessed by the left's embrace of identity politics and pursuit of government grants. The Satanic Verses controversy was a way of uniting and striking back.
For Malik, this has carried on throughout the last three decades through to the 7/7 bombers and the Charlie Hebdo gunmen. People who have little to no interest in Islam, but feel cut off from mainstream society because the likes of Tony Blair feels he has to speak to 'representatives of the Muslim community' (as if they are some alien species that he cannot communicate with) as well as their parent's way of life, seek solace in the most extremist violence.
Simply put, From Fatwa to Jihad is an astonishing read. Malik (a former member of the Revolutionary Communist Party) takes both the left and right to task for their failures that have led to the current global climate, as well as defending Enlightenment rationalism and universal human rights and beliefs.
Let the Rushdie affair be a lesson to us all, and let this book show us how we got there.
Kenan Malik, 2017, From Fatwa to Jihad: How the World Changed From the Satanic Verses to Charlie Hebdo. Atlantic Books ISBN-13: 978-1786491046
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.