Salman Rushdie

In this episode we’ll be looking at some of the recent turmoil in Libya. As you probably know, the country has been experiencing a number of radical changes since Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in October of 2011. Recently a number of Arab nations, including Libya, have been violently protesting a YouTube film that parodies Islam. At the height of those protests came the assassination of Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya. At least, those were the stories being told in the United States. We’ll spend a little time exploring whether it’s terrorism or heroism to defend your own country from United States. And we’ll also consider how the application of the word “terrorism” is being used to invent a narrative for western audiences.

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Transcript of Podcast

Kevin: Hello and welcome back to another episode of our show. In this episode we’ll be looking at some of the recent turmoil in Lybia. As you probably know the country has been experiencing a number of radical changes since Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown back in October of 2011. Well, recently a number of Arab nations – including Lybia – have been violently protesting a YouTube film that parody’s Islam.

At the height of those protests came the assassination of Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador to the country – at least, those were the stories being told in the United States. We’ll spend a little time exploring whether it’s terrorism or heroism to defend your own country from the United States. And we’ll also consider how the application of the word terrorism is being used to invent a narrative for western audiences.

The co-creator of this show recently published a piece exploring the current Lybian narrative as described by Salman Rushdie, a prominent author who has had a bounty on his head over the past 23 years for allegedly insulting Islam with his book, Satanic Verses. Let’s start with a clip from Salman Rushdie on NPR:

Interviewer: What do you think when you hear about violence in the Muslim world because people perceive that their religion has been insulted?

Salman Rushdie: In the last half century, these cultures seem to have slid backwards into – into medievalism and repression. I think it’s one of the great self-inflicted wounds. And out of that comes the rise of this new, much harsher Islam, come all these phenomena that you’re talking about. The thin skinness, the paranoia, the ease with which violence is engaged in, the readiness to believe that it’s okay to kill people if you declare yourself offended by something. This is the mindset of the fanatic, the mindset of the tyrant, and it’s a real shame that seems to have spread so widely across the Muslim world.

Kevin [reading Jad]:I hesitate to tell someone who grew up in the Muslim world about the recent history of the Muslim world, but anyone who says what Salman Rushdie just said needs perhaps a quick refresher. The quote slide backwards into medievalism wasn’t a “self-inflicted” wound. The people of the Muslim world were dragged into the torture chambers of medievalism by colonial secret police, were herded into medievalism by western armed and supported dictators, and were finally bombed into medievalism by thirty years of relentless aggression from western militaries and their proxies.

Yes, Islam is awful and stupid and can be a rallying point for the hostilities that are boiling over. The same is true for any Abrahamic religion. The idea that some thirteen minute YouTube clip is really actually driving the entire Muslim world in a bat shit, firebombing rage is remarkably stupid. I’m sure Salman Rushdie is not remarkably stupid – he sort of sounds like it in this interview though. Which brings me to point number two – the idea that some thirteen minute YouTube clip is really actually driving the entire Muslim world in a bat shit, firebombing rage is remarkably stupid, and yet that’s the story – at least the headline – nearly universally across all media. Man, those people are crazy.

They’re going nuts over an offensive YouTube clip? Another round of bombing is too good for them. I have actually heard a couple of reports that at least hint at the fact that perhaps, just maybe, daily drone attacks, constant military occupation, and the propping up of a whole chain of awful governments against the will of the population have something to do with the recent violence. Literally, like two, maybe three in a solid week of coverage. Pepe Escobar of the Asia Times makes the convincing case that the Lybia attacks was, “blowback” from the killing of Abu Yahya al-Libi – an ally of the United States in the fight against Gaddafi, who was then assassinated. The death was announced on September 11th.

This story, in which cultures are clashing and a mad and unfathomable, “other” is just what is waiting to destroy you and your happiness is bullshit. It’s just a story, completely fabricated by people who would take your money – at gunpoint if necessary – to kill and enslave innocent human beings just like you and your family all around the world. It’s just a story to blind you just like Salman Rushdie is blind. Who can look at a history in the last 50 years and not see that the murderers who need to be held accountable, are the leaders of the western powers.

Don’t believe the stories. Don’t become blind to evil. Let’s leave the stone age relics of religion and rulers that the 0.0001% would have us cling to behind and forge a new path for humanity, a path that most of us have been on this whole time.

Kevin:Those were the words of Jad Davis, I’m Kevin Ludlow and this is our show.

Kevin:So NPR just kind of did this article with him, and that’s really where you kind of just pick things up right?

Jad: Yeah, absolutely. It was just a – and I don’t want to jump straight to the conspiracy theory, but it’s just a fact that there’s a narrative and every time there’s an event that takes place in the Middle East, somebody has to come out and say, or some set of people have to come out and say, there’s no excuse for this sort of violence, they don’t represent Islam, whatever it may be. So I think he was the guy this time you know, it was just a five paragraph thing is all he said in this interview on NPR. You can find that quote anywhere where somebody is condemning – essentially – somebody else across the world for throwing a brick through a window, you know –

Kevin: Right, right.

Jad: When that person is resisting the armed might of the United States military, it just happened to be he was the guy this time around.

Kevin: The only thing that I was a little surprised about, and I actually wrote it down, at the very end of it, he was asked:

Interviewer: You were saying that it says more about the perpetrators of violence than it does about whatever was written that offended them.

And Rushdie says:

Salman Rushdie: Yes, of course, of course it does. I mean, I think if we wish to live in any kind of a moral universe, we must hold the perpetrators of violence responsible for the violence they perpetrate. It’s very simple – the criminal is responsible for the crime. I mean, it’s quite clear that this YouTube film is a disgraceful shoddy little thing, and it’s – I think – perfectly proper to condemn it and the people who made it. But to murder people who had nothing to do with it because you deem yourself insulted and therefore other peoples blood can randomly be spilled, that’s clearly a deeply uncivilized attitude.

It kind of sounded to me like he actually was condemning the filmmakers too, and I may just be strongly misreading that. “I think it’s perfectly proper to condemn it and the people who made it, but to murder people who had nothing to do with it because you deem yourself insulted and therefore other peoples blood”, blah, blah, blah. So it sounded to me like he makes the distinction to say, look, you shouldn’t go out there and murder people that had nothing to do with this.

Jad: Wow, yeah. You know what, I didn’t even read it that way. It seems like a fair reading.

Kevin: And that really blew my mind because I’m like, wait a second, aren’t you the guy who was under the exact same sort of situation?

Jad: I would be willing to wager that he would take that back or qualify[?] because I highly doubt that he meant that it would be alright to kill the filmmaker – I could be wrong.

Kevin: Right, and that’s what really – it really threw me off because I know enough about his position and then I listened to the line a few times and I was like, I really feel like you should condemn anybody wanting to kill people, not just the people that didn’t have anything to do with the film.

Jad: Yeah man. That is a fine point – I can’t argue with that one bit. Yeah, no, that totally – I totally missed that. I was just going for the straight up – I think it’s kind of an argument you make in the last episode with 911. Just strictly on the numbers, if you’re going to say, who in the world is causing the most harm and mayhem and death at the moment? Is it the people who are upset because of this filmmaker, or is it the people who are occupying – militarily – the country that those other people are in? And it seems to me again, it’s just like, if you’re going to come down and say, “we need to hold people accountable for their actions”, then there are far more culpable criminals in the world. Unfortunately some of them have been sheltering him from lunatic ayatollahs so he may want to keep that opinion to himself. That’s my major take I think.

Kevin: Well, I think the thing is that all Abrahamic texts are essentially the same.

Jad: I totally agree. Yeah, I think that’s my understanding as well.

Kevin: And I don’t think it’s necessarily religion, but rather poverty and ignorance, and oppressive dictatorships that tend to push people towards fundamentalism in the first place.

Jad: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean it think that’s just like, say, the southeastern United States will take their religion very seriously – which doesn’t mean that they adhere to the teachings of the old and new testament – but it does mean that if somebody says that they speak in the name of God or whatever, they can heavily influence the mindset of those people and the political activity of those people. So it’s again to do with the poverty and I think just the systematic disempowering of those categories of people. Religion is one of the bombs I guess, for the soul, and it gives one a feeling of a place in the world where one doesn’t have one, I suppose.

Kevin: Let’s use this as a segway then.

Jad: Sure.

Kevin: So, the big thing that’s happened is with respect to the bombing of the embassy. It goes on for a week that the reason he was killed is because of this Islamic video that surfaced. There’s protest all around it. One of them just spawns into him getting killed at this embassy – turns out that this was an actually a well-planned terrorist attack – and I use the word terrorist very loosely in this case. It seems like the Obama administration is finally on the side of saying, “okay, this was a terrorist attack”, and et cetera, et cetera. But I think it ties into this whole thing with Salman Rushdie. I mean is this – do we see this as a – and I don’t want to put you on the spot with this one cause this is a sensitive question –

Jad: Sure.

Kevin: I mean, is there any justifiable action here? Do we call these people terrorists, or are they actually just trying to continue fighting against an oppressor – the United States?

Jad: Well – and that’s the interesting thing, I don’t know the answer. That’s a country in which that diplomat was one of the political adjuncts to the anti-Gaddafi movement right, so he’s an ally with some of them, and I think it just – if anything it underscores the absurd complexity of those kind of political situations and how simplified the view is when it’s presented to us. If you read – I think I link to the Asia Times in there – Asia Times, Al Jazeera or whatever – you can get a feeling for exactly how nuanced that whole process was – the ousting of Gaddafi and the sort of coalition of European powers and NATO powers, and local militia, and foreign Jihadists all kind of, trying to come together for the purpose of taking over the country and then trying to divvy up the country. And that’s a process that’s ongoing, so I think the United States and other western powers are just other gangs along with local Arab gangs, and foreign Arab gangs, and whoever knows who else just – dividing up the bounty from the gang leader they killed.

Kevin: Sure, sure absolutely. I think you and I can probably say that in some cases, people almost deserve to die. Not that we want them to die, but if they’re going to be the ones to trample somebody else’s land and to tell somebody else what to do, then perhaps there’s a consequence that they ultimately need to suffer – or we shouldn’t be surprised when they do suffer it anyway. And in this case, do you think that same mentality holds with the embassy?

Jad: Yeah, I don’t know. So you’re saying essentially that there are times in which aggression is justified or justifiable right, I mean, like if you look back at the case of somebody who’s defending their home against a U.S. soldier that’s kicking down the door or whatever, potentially you could make the argument that even though the U.S. soldier is our guy, that the person defending himself against him was justified in doing so.

Kevin: Not only would I make that argument, I’d make it a big point to make that argument with people because I think that’s one of the things we fail to recognize and that’s again why I have a hard time even using the word terrorism in this case.

Jad: Right, absolutely, and I think we’re in 100% agreement. I think – and again, I’m not saying that this particular guy deserved it or whatever – but I think the situation he was in is he was – he’s a member of a group that was allied with another group, and the United States is at war with parts of that group. So there’s a conflict that he is a pawn in say, but if a slight is detected – and in this case, the theory is that the slight was that the assassination of Muhammad al-Lybi -I think his name is. The point is I think they’re saying there’s something different between gangs putting out hits on each other and working together sometimes and sort of the sacrosanct nature of state to state diplomacy is kind of – I think that clouds the issue – it makes it confusing. Whereas if you take the sanctity of the state structure and the state ambassadorial structure away and say if you have this turmoil of bloodshed and mayhem, then if you put yourself in the middle of it, you might die – it’s not unlikely.

Kevin: Sure, sure. I don’t think it’s necessarily surprising that Christopher Stevens – he was the ambassador – I don’t think it’s necessarily surprising that he was killed. Had it been a military base or had it been whatever – there’s any number of things that it could have been – an embassy – I think – bombings take the opposite side of this, but I feel that embassies are generally welcome in other countries. I mean, it’s something that most modern countries share is this embassy program. So, to attack the United States embassy – whether we’re occupying or not – the embassy didn’t set itself up there. That’s something that the government permitted I assume anyway. So, I don’t know exactly what to take on this one.

Jad: Right, well let me tell a possible tale and you tell me if it falls – if it changes the way you feel about it, and I’m not trying to do so necessarily, but I believe that the embassy and ambassador were established in conjunction with the rebellion against Gaddafi. And I believe it’s the case and again I’m not – I don’t have any facts and I don’t think very many people have any facts, so this is mostly conjecture – but the conjectures that I’ve read – again, the Asia Times and Al Jazeera, are that the ambassador was coordinating with foreign Jihadi’s to arm them – get them what they needed so they could continue to fight – which is entirely reasonable given the fact that he was there to help the people who were there to overthrow Gaddafi.

But then the United States assassinated the Lybian leader of that group when he was back in Pakistan after the conflict, and that group turned around and assassinated the ambassador. Given that telling of the tale, be it true or not, it’s a retaliatory killing because of an assassination of a person that the ambassador had been working with.

Kevin: Okay.

Jad: And, again I have a link to the longer story on the article. Yeah, that’s all of the evidence that I have, which is none. So, it’s just a story, but I’m saying if it’s not the case, if that guy just showed up, got off the plane, went to the embassy, had dinner and then got shot, then that’s not the story, in which case, it’s less reasonable that he’s a victim of the violence.

Kevin: So, that’s the story then that came from the Asia Times?

Jad: Right.

Kevin: That’s the hypothesis, but it’s – as you said to me earlier – it’s backed up by – it’s more than just conjecture. He’s got some facts to tie it together where it sounded pretty reasonable to you if I’m not mistaken.

Jad: Yes, that’s the case. And again in all of these things, it’s a story you know, and it probably has elements of truth, and probably some that aren’t true and it has a point to it the author has an opinion he wants to express. Just like the original story that people were mad about a movie and so they went and killed the ambassador – that had a point. It was trying to make people think a certain way.

I’m in no position to evaluate the truth or falsehood of the stories, I can only really do so based on the credibility of the actors or the authors I guess, in this case. And the credibility of the United States is very low and their stories change very frequently. In fact, it already has changed like hearing it three days later.

Kevin: Absolutely, provided that the story happens even in a reasonable manner in which he described it happening, then I would have to agree. I would say that that’s all fair game at that point. And it sounds horrible saying stuff like that, but that really is the position I’m taking of the United Sates right now and it’s very difficult to discuss that position with other people. Much like the 911 situation we were talking about. People just don’t want to hear it

Jad: Yeah, for sure. I think there’s like a vision of the past, in which ambassadors are – they’re the nonviolent people. They’re the people who are supposed to be avoiding wars and things. And it’s just like police officers – they’re supposed to be helping people and whatnot, but we’ve gotten past that point. Those stories don’t hold any water anymore. The state department is an arm of the American empire and police are violent bullies, and if you have those jobs – I’m not saying you should die, but there’s a pretty good chance that you’re going to die and as you become more and more opposed to the will of people that are around you, the people that are around you on all sides , and their hostility grows towards the group you represent, again justified or not , no matter – you’re putting yourself at a position to where you’re likely going to just face the consequence. Again as this consciousness grows, people are going to understand that you died because you were serving darkness. You know, to put it in a sort of a – again, there’s the hyperbole I guess, folks.

Kevin: I think that’s the more justifiable hyperbole frankly, because there is a lot of that. That’s what the conversation – at least from my side – has been for a number of years now.

Jad: Right. In closing I was going to say the larger part of the article Salman Rushdie aside, is the story of the story – the tale that he’s a part of which goes along with the Islamic movie, and Muslims being crazy, and the United States strangely not in the story as any other part of this whole thing other than just somebody who’s country that movie came out of. I think that processing those stories in a different way, being cognizant that they serve a purpose and the purpose is to desensitize us to violence that’s going to happen to those people is kind of key. That’s really the – main thrust to the thing. Like I said Salman Rushdie just happened to be a mouthpiece for that incidentally.

Kevin: So that’s all we’ve got on the topic this week. Thank you so much for listening, and we hope you found the discussion both interesting and educational. Of course, we sincerely hope you’ll tune in to future episodes of this project in the future. If you’d like to contact us, stop by either of our websites at Jad Davis – that’s J-A-D dash D-A-V-I-S dot com – don’t forget the dash – or – K-E-V-I-N-L-U-D-L-O-W dot com. As with our previous episodes, all material we reference will appear online. Thanks again, and we’ll talk to you very soon.