Bruce Fudge in Aeon:
Nobody would have the balls today to write The Satanic Verses, let alone publish it,’ the writer Hanif Kureishi told a journalist in 2009. Salman Rushdie’s notorious novel, like Kureishi’s figure of speech, is indeed looking like a relic of a bygone time. When it was published 31 years ago, the global furore was unprecedented. There were protests, book-burnings and riots. Iran’s leader Ayatollah Khomeini called on Muslims to kill Rushdie, a bounty was placed on his head, and there were murders, attempted and successful, of supporters, publishers and translators. The author spent years in hiding.
Three decades later, the novel remains in print, widely available, and the author walks about a largely free man. But if the skirmish over The Satanic Verses was won, a larger battle might have been lost. Who now would dare to write a provocative fiction exploring the origins of Islam? The social and political aspects of the Rushdie affair obscured one of the key ideas at stake: can someone from a Muslim background take material from the life of the prophet Muhammad to compose an innovative, irreverent and resolutely godless work of fiction?
Subsequent experience suggests not.