June 19, 2021
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'An Old Fashioned Revolution'

'An Old Fashioned Revolution'

Salman Rushdie speaks at Emory University where he is a Distinguished Writer-in-Residence:

Rushed transcript:

One thing I would like to say about the question of religious fundamentalism is that I think we live in an extraordinary moment and I think it might just be worth saying a little bit about what's going on in the Arab world right now. Because, I think, at its most optimistic (I know what is happening in Libya is terrible and there may be a lot more bloodshed before it is done) but it feels to me that this could be the moment at which the Islamic world moves beyond Islamism, moves beyond the politics of religion. 

Because if you look at what is happening in every single one of these countries, this is not a religious war: nobody is talking about Islam. In Tunisia or Egypt or Yemen or Jordon or Libya or Bahrain or wherever else it is happening... nobody has said that it is an Islamic revolution. It's actually rather an old fashioned revolution. It's about wanting a better economic life for their wife and their children and wanting more personal liberty. It is about democracy, freedom and jobs. And so it seems to me that this could be the moment at which these states which have been crippled by tyrants and religious fanatics begin to be able to reinvent themselves as modern states. 

And, you know, the West talks a great deal about freedom. Here are people trying to get their freedom. You know, they are not being given it by American tanks, they are really getting it for themselves. And I really hope we can support it, instead of worrying about the Muslim Brotherhood or this or that fanatic or bogeyman who is going to rise up to do terrible things. What we see is across the world people asking for freedom, fighting for it and are prepared to give up their lives for it. 

The religious fundamentalism thing is interesting because, you know, the Al Qaeda was born in the torture chambers of Mubarak. Ayman al-Zawahiri is Egyptian. He has spent the last 30 years demanding the fall of Mubarak, demanding an Islamic uprising to overthrow the Egyptian despot. Have we heard from Ayman al-Zawahiri? Haven't heard a peep out of him. This is the revolution he has been asking for 30 years and it happens and he's got nothing to say because it is not his revolution. This not a religious revolution, it is a secular revolution. And so he is a disappointed man. The tyrant he wanted to overthrow is overthrown, and he's not happy. 

And I think actually what this is showing a whole generation of Muslim youth is that Al Qaeda is bankrupt. You don't have to go down the path of terrorism. You don't have to strap suicide belts on and kill people and kidnap people and terrorise people. You can get a better life for yourselves like this, you know by the exercise ... Who would have thought that Mubarak, overthrown by People Power. Qaddafi almost toppled by People Power. Across the world, these crown-heads quaking in their boots, because the people have lost their fears. 

After that who needs terrorism? You don't need terrorism. People have discovered that they have the power to change their lives. And I think this could be -- I mean, what I experienced was one moment of Islamic radicalism, you know.. This could be the moment as important as the fall of communism--the moment at which these countries begin to construct modern states. And I think it will be difficult and I am not denying the difficulties of the problems but I think it is an extraordinary moment.

Copyright: Emory University

Hat tip for link to Salil Tripathi on twitter

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