The Moor's Last Sigh (1995)
Westchester Women's Book Club
Salman Rushdie's chronicle of the da Gama-Zoigby merchant family wends its way from the 1492 expulsion, by Ferdinand and Isabella, of Moslems and Jews from Spain to modern India, where Hindu nationalists seek to define non Hindus out of India, back to Spain where the narrator is imprisoned by a mad Moor. It's two broadest themes seem to be: (1) that religious identity is not that important or, at least, should not be considered that important; and (2) that the modern age (1492 you will readily recall is the year that Columbus sailed) has been uniquely defined by such religious intolerance. One can obviously understand that a writer who is living under threat of death for blaspheming Mohammed would feel this way, however, he is wrong on both counts.
As to the first point, individuals are defined by their religious/moral beliefs and cultures are defined by the dominant religious/moral beliefs of their members. Mr. Rushdie seems to relish turning religious characters into evil caricatures; Abraham, for instance, is portrayed as the kind of evil Jewish criminal overlord that we would sooner expect to find in 1930's Nazi propaganda. He seems to believe that serious religious beliefs necessarily warp the soul & make believers evil. It's odd that this author who is so widely celebrated as a victim of religious intolerance, is himself so intolerant of others.
In fact, there's a weird sort of dissonance in the outrage we hear from Mr. Rushdie and his defenders. On the one hand, they loudly declare the importance of free expression and the right to broadcast ideas, no matter how objectionable. But on the other hand, they react in horror to the fact that ideas & speech have consequences. Mr. Rushdie, like a neo-Nazi or a flag burner or a Klansman, has a right to propound his ideas. But having spewed forth his hate speech, he should not expect to be immune from the violent reactions of those he attacks. Ideas have consequences. If you aren't willing to cope with the consequences, don't express your ideas. Along with the right to speak, comes the right to shut up.
As to the second point, The Moor did breath his final sigh at the start of the Modern Age, but Mr. Rushdie's focus on the expulsion of Jews and Moors from Spain is misplaced and his interpretation of that moment as being fundamentally about a birth of intolerance is inaccurate. We date the Modern Age (specifically The Renaissance) to this time period because, with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire, the Christian Church was forced back into the heart of Europe and brought forgotten texts and learning back West with it. Also, the Colombian voyages opened a New World & unleashed tremendous energies in Europe. But most importantly, it was during these years that Martin Luther's teachings and Guttenburg's printing press brought about a democratization of religion and learning. These were the really important causes of the Modern Age, the resurrection of Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella was more symptomatic of the general rise of Europe than causative of the Modern Age.
Moreover, far from leading to an age of intolerance, the opening of the New World, the birth of Protestantism and the widespread access to learning provided by the printing press, all had the effect of allowing for greater differences in religious beliefs. The press put religious texts into people's hands, Luther vindicated their right to read them & develop their own understandings of their meaning and the New World provided a safety valve for those who would previously have been destroyed as heretics, to flee & establish their own communities of like believers. Mr. Rushdie's attempt to square the circle and equate the rise of fundamentalist Islam and Hindu nationalism with the rise of Europe, is profoundly wrong.
Instead, these two spasms of intolerance are more readily comparable to the Inquisition. Against the great tide of the Reformation and Renaissance, the Catholic Church tried to interpose a breakwater of intolerant conformity, but it was doomed to failure. Similarly, fundamentalist Islam and nationalist Hinduism will ultimately be swamped by the tides of Protestantism, Capitalism and Democracy.
Mr. Rushdie should recognize that the forces of history are on his side, relax a little, and return to writing less portentous fictions like his Carrollesque Haroun and the Sea of Stories, to which, incidentally, his little word plays are better suited.
See also:Salman Rushdie (3 books reviewed)
Westchester Women's Book Club
Whitbread Prize Winners
-ESSAY: The End-Of-History Smart Set: From '60s radicals to pro-war liberals, the West's last literary clique now seems a relic of the 20th century. That isn't such a bad thing. (Matt Purple, 5/28/21, American Conservative)
Book-related and General Links:
-ESSAY : Women beware women : Salman Rushdie on the scandal of the missing girls of India (May 5, 2001, The Guardian)
-IDEA OF THE DAY : The Problem of Being Salman Rushdie (Inigo Thomas, Sept. 10, 2001, Slate)
-Amazon.com Reader's Guide
-NY Times Review (Norman Rush)
-Palimpsest Regained (JM Coetzee)(New York Review of Books)
-The Rushdie Phenomenon: A second Look (review from India Star)
-Salman Rushdie: An Overview
-Salman Rushdie: The Salon Interview
-REVIEW : of The Moor's Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie (Paul Gediman, Boston Review)
With all due respect, this probably the most narrow-minded review of the book I've ever read ! To go through this brilliant work of modern literature, and to only take away these two points, is nothing short of ridiculous. It would be unfair to blame accuse Rushdie of anti-Semitism just because a crime lord is a Jew. The rest of the book is totally pro-pluralism, and tends to divert us from stupid and truly bigoted observations such as that. Remember, when Moraes refuses to indulge in smuggling nukes, he claims then to be a Jew. And Rushdie isn't making any socio-political theories about the world in general: the world of his characters is based on very real events and movements in modern India, things which people like me will be familiar with. Don't 'Americanise' his reflections and then try to prove them flawed. You obviously have no idea of the socio-political circus that is modern India, and can go nowhere by trying to simplify/'dumb down' Rushdie's work so that they can make any sense to your obviously very narrow scope of knowledge.
- Suraj 'Indian-in-exile' Menon
- Oct-29-2005, 19:29
This review is hardly accurate. You obviously are reading it with a complete bias and misunderstanding. I suggest you read up on your Indian history, and learn what you are talking about first.
- Apr-26-2005, 11:22
You are a complete idiot and unless you are personally offended by the "blasphemes" Rushdie commited how can you judge his comments. Furthermore he is a better man than you, a far better author (obviously, you work for brothersjudd.com, hah!), and one of the top English novelists alive. He has proven that time and again and I believe any degrading commentary from "BrothersJudd.com" is a complete joke and most nearly a blashpeme in its own!
- Eric "Salman Rushdie Fan" Schrager
- May-12-2004, 17:19
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