Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Satanic Verses and the Cultural Complex

     Some thirteen hundred and fifty years after the fact, a single moment in the Prophet’s career was fictionalized in 1988, by Salman Rushdie, the contemporary Kashmiri-British novelist, in his controversial novel Satanic Verses. This fantasy novel, in the genre of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, was at the epicenter of a major controversy, drawing angry protests from Muslims in several countries in Dar al–Islam. Some of these protests turned violent. Death threats were issued to Rushdie, including a fatwa declared against him by Ayatollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1989. As was mentioned in the last chapter, the fatwa may itself have violated shari’a law.
     The original controversy surrounded the fact that the Prophet of Islam unconsciously mistook the words he had recited to a group of pagans for the words of God. These words were music to the ears of his audience. They had all heard the Prophet recite the names of three imaginal feminine figures, Al–Lat, Al–Uzza, and Manat, who were, according to the footnotes in Muhammad Asad’s translation of Q 53:19–20, the three Goddesses, considered in the pagan pantheon as the daughters of Allah. French scholar of Islam Maxime Rodinson makes the point in his critical biography, Muhammad, that this was the unconscious at play:
Obviously (Tabari’s account as good as says so in fairly clear words) Muhammad’s unconscious had suggested to him a formula which provided a practical road to unanimity. It did not appear to conflict with his henotheism, since these ‘great birds’ were, like angels and jinns, conceived of as subordinate to Allah. Elsewhere they were called the ‘daughters of Allah’. On the other hand this provided a clear indication that the new sect honoured the city’s divinities, respected their shrines and recognized their cult as a legitimate one. (2002, p. 107)     

   Both these events, the cultural unconscious of the Prophet of Islam and the declaration of the fatwa by the Supreme Leader of Iran, are the perfect doorway into the Garden of Paradise fed by the river of honey. From an integral perspective, this Garden is in the lower–left quadrant, the domain of the Cultural Psychology of Islam, as Wilber defines it in Integral Psychology: “The Lower Left represents the inside of the collective, or the values, meanings, world–views, and ethics that are shared by any group of individuals” (2000, p. 63). It is also the domain of the collective unconscious.
     It is not astonishing at all to accept that the Prophet expressed himself in a way that reflected the consciousness of his pagan audience, if we fully appreciate the premise of the cultural complex proposed by Singer and Kimbles in The Cultural Complex:
As personal complexes emerge out of the level of the personal unconscious in their interaction with deeper levels of the psyche and early parental/familial relationships, cultural complexes can be thought of arising out [of] the cultural unconscious as it interacts with both the archetypal and personal realms of the psyche and the broader outer world arena of schools, communities, media, and all the other forms of cultural and group life. (2004, p. 4) 

     The premodern perspective was that Satan had spoken these words through the Prophet; words that the Angel Gabriel later advised him he would have to retract and rectify. The notion that these words could have come from the cultural complex constellated by the Prophet’s encounter with his pagan audience would have been a complex idea to understand in his day. Satan was an easier figure to grasp for the evolving umma. What it does tell us is that the cultural or collective unconscious is perhaps a more powerful force than the Prophet himself could have realized. For a moment, his personal consciousness was swallowed up by the collective unconscious.
     What was even more astounding was the emotional reaction of the Ayatollah Khomeini to the publication of the novel and the violent protests which it brought in its wake. In The New Orientalists: Postmodern Representations of Islam from Foucault to Baudrillard, Ian Almond’s essay titled “The Many Islams of Salman Rushdie” well summarizes Rushdie’s consistent critique of Islam: “Islam, in other words, is old: its built–in obsolescence stifles the new and attempts to halt and even reverse history” (2007, p. 98). Khomeini’s declaration of capital punishment for blasphemy and apostasy, without a trial, only reinforced the very archaic reality about the limits on literary license that a novelist could ever hope to take in the new Islamic era that Khomeini was ushering in. Khomeini’s own cultural complex prevented him from examining the validity of the spontaneous extension of his own powers, while violating the very shari’a laws he was duty bound to protect as the Supreme Leader. On the contrary, he only helped to make the point that Rushdie was articulating through his fiction: Islam is old and obsolete. There was zero tolerance for literary license almost ten years into the Islamic revolution in Iran. But what is less well known was reported by Afary and Anderson in Foucault and the Iranian Revolution:
Within weeks, Abdullah al–Ahdal, a Muslim cleric in Belgium who had opposed Khomeini’s fatwa as inapplicable outside the Islamic world, was shot to death. Then, in July 1991, Hitoshi Igarashi, who had translated The Satanic Verses into Japanese, was stabbed to death. (Afary, Anderson, & Foucault, 2005, p. 164)

It turns out that the book’s Italian translator also survived a similar attack the same month. The culture of violence, which was so much a part of early Islam during the defensive wars fought by the Prophet and the martyrs who fell by his side, is still with us to this day. These forms of cultural branding seem incontrovertible, to the point that even if you could make the case that Islam is essentially a peaceful religion, that position would be turned on its head by the reality of the collective unconscious. The same can be said for the martyr complex and martyrdom operations in Dar al–Islam.

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