26th September 2008 marked the twentieth anniversary of the beginning of The Satanic Verses controversy – a controversy that in many ways became paradigmatic for the following two decades. Taking as its starting-point the opening two years of the controversy, Paul Weller’s book uses the events and arguments of those years as a lens through which to view what later developed, both in relation to the controversy itself, but also its wider entails, and the incidents and issues through which aspects of the original controversy were reprised.
The anniversary of the controversy presents a good opportunity to review the incidents, issues and debates of the time in some historical perspective, while also connecting them with subsequent incidents that have reprised some of the key themes, such as the ‘cartoons’ controversy, the terror attacks of 9/11 and 7/7, and the killing of the Dutch filmmaker, Theo Van Gogh.
The book holds up a mirror for our times that will be of interest to academics, politicians, students, and religious believers, as well as to all who are engaged with the twenty-first century challenges posed by living with radical difference, freedom of expression, and mutual respect, with exploring the relationship between religion and secularity, and with overcoming the threats posed by religiously informed violence.
Paul Weller is Professor of Inter-Religious Relations at the University of Derby and Vice-Chair of Trustees of the Multi-Faith Centre at the University of Derby, as well as a Visiting Fellow in the Centre for Oxford Centre for Christianity and Culture, based at Regent’s Park College, the Baptist Permanent Private Hall in the University of Oxford.
Paul Weller monitored the development of the controversy around Salman Rushdie’s book, The Satanic Verses (Viking Penguin, London) from its publication in September 1998 onwards, quickly forming the view that the developing controversy was likely to become a “lightening rod” and “magnifying glass” for many of the issues of religion, plurality and public life in the UK that were beginning to emerge towards the end of the 1980s. Because of this, he undertook his doctoral research in relation to the emerging controversy, leading to a (1996) thesis on The Salman Rushdie Controversy, Religious Plurality and Established Religion in England, University of Leeds.
In work undertaken since then, Professor Weller has published widely in relation to aspects of diversity, inclusion, discrimination and human rights in the UK relevant to The Satanic Verses controversy. This includes:
- P. Weller (1990), “The Rushdie Controversy and Inter-Faith Relations”, in D. Cohn-Sherbok (ed), The Salman Rushdie Affair in Interreligious Perspective, Edwin Mellen Press, Lampeter, pp.37-57
- P. Weller (2006), ” ‘Human Rights’, ‘Religion’ and the ‘Secular’: Variant Configurations of Religion(s), State(s) and Society(ies)”, in Religion and Human Rights: An International Journal, Volume 1, No. 1, pp. 17-39
- P. Weller (2006), “Addressing Religious Discrimination and Islamophobia: Muslims and Liberal Democracies. The Case of the United Kingdom”, in The Journal of Islamic Studies, Volume 17, No. 3, September, pp. 295-325.
Dr Abdelwahab El-Affendi, FRSA is a Reader in Politics and Co-ordinator of the Democracy and Islam Programme at the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminister.
Dr Sara Silvestri is a Lecturer in International Politics with a focus on the role of religion, especially Islam, in International Relations at City University and a Research Associate at the Centre for the Study of Faith in Society and Politics and International Studies Department at Cambridge University.