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A brief history of blasphemy


  
Liberalism's holy war
 

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Reconsidering the Rushdie affair

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The dark mirror of Islam

A Brief History of Blasphemy

Liberalism, Censorship and ‘The Satanic Verses’

by RICHARD WEBSTER

 


The Orwell Press,

1990, pp. 152; 15 black and white illustrations           

A PAPERBACK ORIGINAL


This study of the Rushdie affair surveys the history of blasphemy and goes on to examine in detail the conflict which arose over The Satanic Verses. What is revealed is not a battle between authoritarianism and freedom but a clash between two forms of rigidity, two kinds of fundamentalism.

 

In the resulting Holy War neither side has understood the destructive role which has been played throughout history by obscene blasphemies directed against other people‘s religious faith. At the same time liberal intellectuals have frequently failed to understand the history of Puritanism and the repressive origins of their own doctrines of freedom.

 

 

Remarkable, bold and vigorously written. . .worthy of the age of Burke indeed. . .grave and sensible.’
BERNARD CRICK, Political Quarterly



‘Treads an exceptionally fair-minded and intellectually rigorous path between the orthodoxies and illiberalisms on both sides.’
RICHARD HOGGART



‘I was immensely impressed by it, and by its resistance to cant, and above all by its humanity and essential tolerance.’
JOHN LE CARRÉ



‘Webster's feel for political psychology is sure. Islam now fills the niche in the national subsconscious once occupied by Catholics or Communists or Jews, and he offers his analysis to preclude the fixation having tragic consequences.’
JULIAN BELL, Times Literary Supplement



‘Instructive, elegantly argued and full of startling and important ideas.’
RANA KABBANI



‘A Brief History of Blasphemy is suffused by an even-handed sensitivity, an intelligent insight and a deeply felt concern that raise it many levels higher than almost all that has been written about this sorry episode.’
MICHAEL DUMMETT, The Tablet


 

‘. . . a truly brilliant study . . .’  

             ZIAUDDIN SARDAR, Muslim World Book Review
 


‘Although Webster insists he is not a disciple of Orwell, or anyone else for that matter, he shares Orwell's readiness to contest the received ideas of the intellectual establishment.
RICHARD WEST, The Times


‘Richard Webster, in his immensely intelligent and independent essay on the Rushdie affair, observes that absolute freedom of speech is not in fact either a possible or a desirable state of political affairs. The fact is that ‘in the real political world which we all perforce inhabit, words do wound, insults do hurt, and abuse – especially extreme and obscene abuse – does provoke both anger and violence . . . Webster – who is not a religious believer of any kind – offers some extraordinary examples of “liberal” aggression and ignorant bigotry in his account of the reactions in 1989 and 1990 to the furore over the fatwa against Rushdie.’
ROWAN WILLIAMS, Archbishop of Canterbury

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