Fiction vs. fictionalization

By Moin and Shahnaz Khan

After watching the violent protests against the publication of Salman Rushdie’s book Satanic Verses, we are compelled to question the validity of creative writing. What was creative in the new book? We believe it does not contain any creativity, except destruction of fragile trust among Moslems, Christians and Jews.

Creative writing receives support because it spawns fictions. And fictions can inspire people to transcend the set horizons. Rushdie claims that his novel is a fiction.

Fiction is the creation of IMAGINARY PLOTS AND CHARACTERS. But, he did not create an imaginary plot. On the contrary, he created false dialogue, mannerisms, thoughts, beliefs, and actions for REAL PEOPLE. Undoubtedly, it is fictionalization.

Fictionalization is a tort, casting a person in a false light. Media people can easily distinguish between fiction and fictionalization.

Like Satanic Verses, author Gwen Davis Mitchell’s popular novel Touching was also supposed to be a work of fiction, but in fact, it was a fictionalization of real events. In Bindrim v. Mitchell (1979), the plantiff won $75,000 in damages from the author for fabricated plot and dialogue.

In the case of Cantrell v. Forest City Publishing Co. (1974), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the exaggeration of a situation and the fabrication of quotes are equivalent to fictionalization. In the Time, Inc. v. Hill (1967) case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that fictionalizing does not have to be negative to cast a person in false light.

ushdie cast Prophet Mohammed, a real person born in Arabia, in a negative false light.

Ironically, Rushdie is casting the Prophet in a false light and getting applause from anti-Moslem quarters. Meanwhile, media are casting the entire Moslem population in a false light. HOW?

The lead of an Associated Press story announces: “Moslem fundamentalists around the world demand that Salman Rushdie’s novel be banned as blasphemy against Islam.”

Do non-fundamentalist Moslems believe that Rushdie’s novel is not blasphemy against Islam? Do the liberal Moslems believe that the Prophet’s wives were prostitutes?

If Rushdie writes another book on Jesus Christ, depicting him as a child abuser, will only Christian fundamentalists call it a blasphemy against Christianity? And will the liberal Christians call it the Bible of the 21st century? The bias of the lead is evident.

Leave the media aside. Let us decide if Rushdie wrote the novel with actual malice. Rushdie was born as a Moslem. Later on, he converted to another religion. Converters generally like to show their enthusiasm to new faith by criticizing their previous faith. People can determine Rushdie’s real intention.

On his appearance at ABC’s Nightline, Rushdie made it clear that in his controversial novel he wanted to illustrate the fight between secular forces and fanatic forces. It means he wanted to play the role of a religious reformer of Islam. To reform an institution, the reformer has to show compassion and empathy for the institution, and not desecrate it.

Desecration is not guaranteed under freedom of expression. The First Amendment that guarantees freedom of expression also provides for freedom of religion. A graceful balance should be developed.

Without proper balance, freedom of expression can become a tool of crackers, rumormongers and jerks. See, some jerks from Chicago Art Schools are desecrating the American flag in the name of freedom of expression. Can veterans of foreign wars or any patriotic American tolerate such type of freedom of expression?

Fiery criticism attracts violent backlash. And violent backlash is common in those societies that are not used to pluralistic values. Besides, every society reacts in its own way. And one cannot admonish only reactions; one has to censure the provocations too.

owever, while censuring the provocateur, we do not support the censor of the book. Nor do we support any death penalty to any dissident. A prior restraint stifles the creativity. But in the name of creativity, a neophyte should not be allowed to tarnish the image of others’ faiths.

Creativity should be used to strengthen the mutual trust among different religions. To reduce his crime against humanity, Rushdie should write another novel, entitled Verses of Friendship Among Different Religions.

Moin Khan is a graduate student in journalism at NIU and a former reporter for The Northern Star.