How the Mullahs Won: Salman Rushdie’s artistic decline

Isaac Chotiner in The Atlantic:

Mag-article-largeBefore the fatwa, Salman Rushdie wrote two great books, Midnight’s Children (1980) and Shame (1983). Since the fatwa, he has not written any. Before the fatwa, Rushdie brilliantly exposed the corrupt dynasties and pathologies of two sundered societies (India and Pakistan). Since the fatwa, Rushdie has allowed flamboyant language and narrative trickery to overshadow biting political satire and acute characterization. Before the fatwa, Rushdie lived a relatively modest life in London. Now, as Joseph Anton drearily attests, Rushdie has become a New York socialite obsessed with name-dropping every celebrity he meets, lauding his own work with shameless abandon, and pointlessly denigrating his ex-wives. Joseph Anton shows both the resolve with which Rushdie confronted the threats to his life, and the sad degree to which the unhinged words of a demented ayatollah helped ruin a superb writer.

In this time of protests at American embassies and consulates around the Muslim world, it is helpful to be reminded of the things one dimly remembers—namely, the utter gutlessness and disgrace that characterized so many of the initial responses to the fatwa. Rushdie recounts the reaction of Margaret Thatcher’s British government and much of Fleet Street, with high-ranking officials and columnists complaining about the cost to taxpayers of Rushdie’s security, as well as the reaction of religious leaders (and not only Muslim ones) who seemed more sympathetic to book-burning mobs than to the oh-so-quaint idea of free expression. Many brave independent bookstores, as well as a number of writers, did rally to Rushdie’s cause. But those who didn’t—from Hugh Trevor-Roper (“I would not shed a tear if some British Muslims, deploring his manners, should waylay him in a dark street and seek to improve them”) to John le Carré—come in for well-earned drubbings.

More here.