Salman Rushdie had good reason to avoid having an index in his recent memoir. Indexes are a fine replacement for forming an opinion by actually reading a book, and reading is not only enjoyable but necessary. It is a masterful and deeply moving book which addresses many, if not all, of the unsettled accounts from literature’s bloodiest recent battle. Those who behaved with courage are remembered, and so are those who did not. One of the joys of reading the book is being surprised by the names that come up.
Of course nobody will be surprised to read of Keith Vaz MP assuring the author of his “full support” only a couple of weeks before addressing a crowd of thousands of Muslims at a rally against The Satanic Verses. But how fascinating it is to read of Rushdie’s meeting with Vaz’s then party leader. “Kinnock was opposed, he said at one point, to state subsidies being given to segregated Muslim schools, but what could he do, he cried, it was Labour policy. It was not possible to conceive of his adversary, the formidable Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher, feebly throwing up her arms like that,” writes Rushdie. This could not be said of any political leader since Mrs T.
Towards the end of a discussion between Roger Scruton and Terry Eagleton organised by Intelligence Squared there is an opportunity for audience questions. Eagleton’s disciples are instantly recognisable by their unintelligible points, which peter out long before ever arriving at a question-mark.
The last question comes from a well-spoken young woman of quite spectacular rudeness and ignorance. Still at university, she languidly attacks Scruton for an idea of culture which consists, she declares dismissively, of just “dead white men”. Her claim is such an affront to speaker and audience that a certain amount of hissing goes up across the hall. “Of course that is what you think,” says Scruton with a mild note of exasperation, “because it is what you have been taught to think.” He is far too polite to ask the girl the question which I wish someone had put to her: in what circumstances would she consider it remotely acceptable to turn up to a discussion between two philosophers and sneer at a culture of “dead black men”?
An American friend who is a lawyer and academic describes the ordeal of submitting work to the California Law Review. The boxes to be ticked on the accompanying form include a section on “gender of the author”. The available options are: ”Prefer not answer; Male; Female; Neither; Both; Genderqueer.” Given the obvious reasons for this list, there are only a limited number of things any decent person might do.
One is to submit the most illiterate article possible while ticking “neither” or “both” on the author’s gender list. Or perhaps “neither” and “both”. However, there is one possibly harsher lesson. I recommend adding to the available options, drawing a whole new box and ticking “Other”. The breakdown of the system this will cause is the perfect way to usher in the return of the forces of sanity.
For those who consider the burka a little too revealing, Sheikh Muhammad al-Habadan has an answer. Replying to questions on the Muslim satellite channel al-Majd, the cleric agreed that any covering which reveals both eyes of a woman is just too arousing. Even in these garments, he said, a woman can make herself attractive by using eye make-up. His proposed solution is a burka which reveals only one eye.
Though the sheikh may be right in finding one eye less attractive than two, I am by no means certain that he has thought this through. Had he consulted me I should have saved him from error.
After all, whatever else can be said against it, you know where you are with the traditional burka, not least because it is clear where the occupant’s eyes are roving. This new burka threatens a quite different effect. After all, how is one to know — with only a single eye on view — whether you are being given the glad eye? When a lady in a burka blinks — as she must at least a number of times each minute — it is plainly just a blink. However if she blinks in a one-eyed burka what is one to think? Is the blink a blink or is the blink a wink? As the sheikh and his friends sit on the bus on the way to work, it might appear to them that they are surrounded by cyclopean females winking at them without respite. The effects, I predict, will be appalling. Surrounded by the objects of his desire/revulsion, the sheikh will, if he has his way, be blind and insane within the year.