J. Pharoah Doss: Cancel Culture’s children

by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier

Recently, Salman Rushdie, a 75-year-old novelist, was a guest speaker at the Chautauqua Institution. He was slated to discuss how the United States was a safe haven for exiled writers. 

Rushdie is an expert on the subject. 

In 1988 Rushdie published The Satanic Verses. The novel mentions when the prophet of Islam mistook words from Satan for divine revelation. Rushdie fictionalized a controversy that already existed in early Islamic history, but the novel offended Muslims world-wide. Public book burnings were held, and bookstores were firebombed. Then the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, ordered Rushdie’s death for blasphemy. 

Rushdie went into hiding, but Rushdie’s Japanese translator was stabbed to death in 1991, Rushdie’s Italian translator was stabbed multiple times that same year but survived, and in 1993 Rushdie’s Norwegian publisher was injured in a shooting. 

But that’s the past, Rushdie’s been out of hiding for years. 

Unfortunately, right before Rushdie addressed Chautauqua’s audience, a man rushed the stage and stabbed Rushdie several times. 

Rushdie survived the attack.

The assailant was Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old born in the United States. Matar’s Lebanese mother told an interviewer that in 2018 her son spent a month in the Middle East with his father but returned “radicalized”. Matar told the authorities he didn’t like Rushdie because the author attacked Islam, but admitted he only read two pages of The Satanic Verses. The authorities discovered Matar’s social media account revealed he’s sympathetic to Shia extremism.

There you have it. Matar was an Islamic extremist and attacked the author for an old offense. Or was there another element of extremism that aided and abetted Matar’s new-found radicalism?

Four years ago, a BBC journalist interviewed Alyas Karmani, a Pakistani Muslim raised in London and a university student in 1989. Karmani indicated that The Satanic Verses altered how he identified with Islam. 

Before the book was published, he adopted “western culture”, and all his friends were “White liberal mainstream types”. After Ayatollah Khomeini ordered Rushdie’s death, Karmani’s friends turned on him. He thought they accepted him, but they kept asking him “What’s wrong with you people?” and “Why are you doing this?”

Even though Karmani adopted “western culture”, he was still lumped with the fundamentalist, his so-called enlightened friends didn’t make a distinction and viewed everyone who had brown skin with a Muslim background as less civilized. 

Karmani called himself one of “Rushdie’s children” that was radicalized by White liberals who pushed him back into Islam, but “Rushdie’s children” didn’t embrace Islam for spirituality, they embraced a global-Muslim identity that was radical and hostile toward The West. 

Matar is too young to be one of “Rushdie’s children”, but he is a child of “cancel culture” which can also be extreme and hostile. 

“Cancel culture” emerged around the mid-point of the previous decade while Matar was still an adolescent. It’s when a selected few publicly demand for a prominent person to face disciplinary action for making statements that “offended” the selected few.

It’s important to note that when the selected few claims to be “offended”, it doesn’t mean their feelings are hurt. It means a prominent person made a statement that conflicts with their cherished values, which they have declared are the only values worthy of the public square, and any speaker that doesn’t reflect those cherished values must be silenced. 

When conservatives were “canceled” by the selected few “the right” reminded “the left” of their famous dictum, “We disapprove of what you say, but we will defend your right to say it”, but the left countered with “free speech is not free of consequences.”

Matar’s generation wasn’t instilled with the classical liberal approach to free speech. They were encouraged to be offended by speech that opposes their cherished values and make sure their opponents were punished. 

However, “the left” wants us to believe “cancel culture” is simply about accountability, but “the right” insists all opposition to the cherished values held by the selected few will be considered blasphemy, and the selected few will call for the execution of prominent people’s careers in the same way Khomeini called for Rushdie’s death.

If “the right” is correct, then Matar was radicalized before he went to the Middle East, and once again “the left” is guilty of pushing too hard.

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