I am rather disappointed by this book. It is an important testimony on extreme terrorism that condemns someone to death for what that someone thinks or writes, or whatever they may express as for ideas or ideologies that contradict those of the terrorists. The book targets Iran and its criminal fundamentalism that called on every single Muslim in the world to kill, for hefty sums of money, a writer who was declared by some religious higher up clerics to be a blasphemous unbeliever. To have the testimony of the victim of this long unbearable and unacceptable situation is absolutely outstanding.
And yet I am disappointed by the book. It is the testimony of a man who had to be protected by the English government against this menace, who was protected by the English police, and yet became a victim of strict limitations of his freedom of movement and freedom of expression under the authority and by decision of one or two police officers. That protection resembled a loss of freedom not to say secret-underground-home-imprisonment too much. To have that testimony is essential to understand and eventually sympathize or support the author who was the victim of such an unbearable situation.
And yet I am disappointed by the book. There are two essential reasons why I am disappointed.
The first one is that it is by far too long, with by far too many details that are piling up and not building, constructing an argumentation, or simply a structured testimony, in a way it seems to be a pile of sand more than a protective, defensive or vindicating wall. Most of the facts are isolated, without any perspective, mixing personal elements about the author’s wives and his son along with political or police elements without showing any real architecture. At this level the book does not read easily because we get lost from one dozen of pages to the next dozen of pages, at times even from one page to the next, among details that add nothing to the sad tale.
The second reason is that he explains rather well how he got trapped in getting into defensive religious declarations that were going against his main argument about the necessary freedom of artistic expression for an author. It was a mistake since an author is not his characters and he does not have to mix his own religious or non-religious beliefs and those of his characters. That kind of mistake is too often done by many critics, and even many authors, going as far as the caricatural sarcasm from Gustave Flaubert who once declared “Madame Bovary c’est moi.” (“Mrs. Bovary, that’s me,” or “I obviously am Mrs. Bovary”) It was all the more sarcastic since it was plagiarizing Louis XIV’s famous declaration “L’état c’est moi” (“I obviously am the state,” “The state that’s me,” with a strong provincial accent and emphasis on the French “moi” that could mean “me myself and I”). It is understandable that under stress and duress someone, an author or anyone else can make such a mistake. Unluckily there are too many details that lead to the impression that the author was not only under duress but was actually not clear in his mind about his being his character or not, and when we know his character is the Prophet of the Quran, there is a real problem that has nothing to do with religion but has to do with a loss of touch.
Then the mistake has to be repaired and once again too many details lose the reader into a loose sandy labyrinth of non-obvious procedures that once again pile up more than follow a logical line or plan. Maybe the author did not have a logical line, though it is not what he says then, but it definitely is what we feel and we get lost again. That’s a shame because there are quite a lot of moments when there is a real epiphany and revelation, like the accidental meeting with Margaret Thatcher, when she no longer was Prime Minister. This event is made trivial by the remark about her being a touchy-feely person, meaning that she established a physical contact with him, her hand on his fore-arm and then on his shoulder, which surprises him as a matter of fact, though it could be seen as rather banal in Great Britain.
If the book had been cut by half it would have been a lot more effective and a lot more dynamic. The flow of this river lacks momentum and power on a subject that should inspire the greatest number of people into defending man’s free soul, not only the free expression of writers. Here too I feel slightly betrayed. I do not want to provide the freedom of expression only to writers recognized (by whom?) as such. The freedom of expression is for everyone and no one can or should be freer than anyone else. At the same time, and the book completely neglects this side of things, everyone has the absolute right to be respected in their faith, beliefs, ideas, thinking whether other people identify or agree with these faith, beliefs, ideas, thinking or not. Salman Rushdie never set a line between his writing that does not menace anyone and for example the anti-Semite writing of let’s say Céline that has to be clearly wrapped up in some precautionary introduction to establish a distance between the work of fiction and Céline’s ideas that were unluckily going that way and have to be rejected. Even worse: the free expression of some openly racist person or group like the KKK in the US has to be rejected because of their ideology. Anyone who is insulted in his race or beliefs must have the right to say so, to sue if they want to and to be heard as victims by the courts that would deal with the complaint. Some publications publish such anti-Muslim ideas under the cover of freedom of expression of artists with the only aim of making money by selling great numbers of copies that are not clean enough to be respected. There used to be a time when public toilets were built against churches in France. I know one in Bordeaux, except if it was pulled down, and another in Saint Anthème and that one was still standing when I last visited the village.
The book then has a rather dull taste because it does not fulfill its promises, and I thought it was the freedom of expression for everyone.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU