“And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.”
Ayatollah Khomeini lived for a while in Paris before the Iranian Revolution.
Whilst living there he moved amongst the Parisians not exactly in a daze, but averting his gaze from the decadent, depravity of Gay Paree.
Khomeini averted his gaze to the point that he stared at the pavement whilst walking around the French capital, protected by the Government agents of a Western liberal democracy from the unhealthy attentions of the secret police of an autocracy.
One might be forgiven for thinking that Khomeini in his railings against the corruption of Western civilisation, might have made a deep study of it or at least sampled it a little whilst living in Paris.
From whence did I learn about all this?
Why, from reading The Satanic Verses, of course.
I read The Satanic Verses when the book first came out and, frankly, found it hard going.
Clearly, the Iranian clerics who went in for literary criticism as a sideline had not read it or maybe they were really offended by the obvious, to my reading, mocking of Khomeini himself within its covers?
Was that as much of a reason for getting worked up over the book as any perceived slight of Islam?
After all, sometimes, a cigar is just a smoke, but taking personal offence is not the behaviour one expects of a Holy Man (although it is common amongst followers) so best to make it about your faith rather than about yourself so as not to seem petty and, well, rather worldly?
Had the French Government not extended him the protection of its security forces during his time in Paris, Khomeini might well have been murdered by the Shah of Persia’s secret police.
Khomeini in 1981, like Lenin in 1917, was late to the start of the revolution.
And until his return from Paris to join the fray Khomeini had not been experiencing the arduous conditions under which many of his fellow revolutionaries had been living in Iran.
Allah (or, if you prefer, the Great Satan) had moved in a mysterious way, using the forces of Western liberal democracy to preserve the life of a prophet.
Khomeini certainly never expressed any gratitude for the intervention of very earthly powers at a key moment in his life when he was personally very vulnerable.
Never any thanks to people thinking his life was worth preserving, even if only for sordid political motives.
Paris has often been a hangout for revolutionaries tolerated by the French Government whilst it enjoyed amicable relationships with the very governments those revolutionaries would overthrow.
And they have the cheek to label us, Perfidious Albion.
Birmingham is, as some folk discovered recently, the proud beating heart of a Western liberal democracy.
A Muslim chap, a fellow Brummie, interviewed by the BBC here in Birmingham some years ago said, of course, you have got a right to spit on my doorstep, but why do you feel the need to exercise it?
To behave like a bully.
That chap was not an abstract concept and I felt at the time and still do that he made a reasonable point.
Islam is as much as anything else a religion of the downtrodden, the poor and the marginalised.
Every day it gives hope and solace to 100s of millions of our fellow members of the human race.
In all the talk about free speech and the right to offend, middle class Western liberals seem to forget that or maybe they do not care about the feelings of those 100s of millions when they are punching down.
I do not think you may claim to be a liberal or a progressive if you do not have at least a degree of empathy with the views of those with whom you would disagree.
Proudly displaying a lack of empathy is hardly a great advert for the moral superiority of Western liberalism.
Perhaps they need to check their privilege on such occasions?
Those 100s of millions cannot respond to what they have been told by people they trust to be a slighting of their faith by writing a letter to The Times or The Guardian or by posting an article on Unherd.
They must sit down under it and turn the other cheek or do the other thing.
To march; to demonstrate; to protest, even violently, and to undertake acts of violence, both premeditated and unpremeditated.
Khomeini and zealots of all stripes, liberals amongst them have no time for the messiness that comes from not believing in absolute truths.
And they have an unfortunate tendency in this context to see fellow human beings on the other side of the argument as abstract concepts, not individuals like themselves.
“As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me. They do not feel any enmity against me as an individual, nor I against them. They are ‘only doing their duty’, as the saying goes. Most of them, I have no doubt, are kind-hearted law-abiding men who would never dream of committing murder in private life. On the other hand, if one of them succeeds in blowing me to pieces with a well-placed bomb, he will never sleep any the worse for it.”
George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius
However, “… what is admirable on the large scale is monstrous on the small …” in the battle of ideas.
Orwell went on to write, “He is serving his country, which has the power to absolve him from evil.”
How does they are standing for their faith, their ideal, their principle, which has the power to absolve them from evil sound, in place of Orwell’s “serving his country (blindly)”?
“Righteous people terrify me … Virtue is its own punishment.”
However, no one has a right to stick a knife in Salman Rushdie’s eye, whatever their motivation, even if they may have a right to spit on his doorstep.