Joseph Anton (Rushdie) - Discussion Questions

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1. How would you describe Salman Rushdie's personality in this memoir? Do you find him self-effacing...grandiose...self-pitying...or refreshingly honest? How do you see him?

2. The memoir is written in the third-person, an unusual perspective for memoirs, which are usually first-person accounts. Why might Rushdie have used this point-of-view?

3. In the first few pages, Rushdie compares the fatwa against him to the first bird that appears in Alfred Hitchcock's film, The Birds. He sees the fatwa as a harbinger of more violence to come—even a precursor to 9/11. Do you agree? Or is he overstating his case? Was the fatwa against Rushdie the leading edge of Islamic anger at the West...or did violence exist prior to The Satanic Verses?

4. Talk about the extreme security precautions Rushdie had to take and what it was like for him. How well would you have coped under such pressure? What did he find most difficult? What would you have found most difficult?

5. Trace the psychological toll the fatwa took on Rushdie—his fear, anger, despair. What does he mean when he talks about "the divide between what 'Rushdie' needed to do and how 'Salman' wanted to live"? How did the fatwa bring to the surface Rushdie's need for coming to terms with the past, his need for love, his basic assumptions about life?

6. Talk about Rushdie's complicated relationship with his father. How did his father influence the man Salman Rushdie became?

7. What are Rushdie's views on religion? How do his religious view dovetail with—or differ from—your own?

8. How does the Islamic world view The Satanic Verses? Why is it considered blasphemous? What is Rushdie's own view of the book? In what way does he say that the work is a "much more personal, interior exploration" than, say, Midnight's Children?

9. Rushdie considers the fatwa, as "a terrorist act that had to be confronted." He believes the world's leaders had and have an obligation to "defend his right to be a troublemaker." Do you agree?

10. (Follow-up to Question 9) In September, 2012, the very month that Jospeh Anton was published, a film derogatory to Islam and Mohammed, produced by a small group in California, was released on Youtube. Considered blasphemous, the film inflamed Muslim anger throughout the Middle East. Should there be limits to the freedom of artistic speech? Criticism of religions is illegal in Germany, for instance. In the U.S. and other Western countries, however, free speech is granted almost absolute protection. Is it a government's responsibility to protect authors like Rushdie, cartoonists in the Netherlands, or film producers in California, who allegedly blaspheme religions? What do you think?

11. (Follow-up to Questions 3, 9 and 10 ) On September 16, 2012,  a semi-official Iranian religious foundation announced it was re-instating the fatwa on Rushdie, offering $3.3 million reward to whoever would assassinate him. Their reasoning for doing so is as follows:

As long as the exalted Imam Khomeini's historical fatwa against apostate Rushdie is not carried out, it won't be the last insult. If the [1989] fatwa had been carried out, later insults in the form of caricature, articles and films that have continued would have not happened.

Did the fact that Rushdie escaped death under the fatwa—and that the fatwa was later rescinded—embolden others to insult Islam?

12. Talk about Salman Rushdie's understanding of the power of literature and its place in the world. Why does he see literature as vital for global peace? Does that place too great a burden on literature?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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