NOTE: This was written in response to a column by Salman Rushdie in The
Globe and Mail, Canada's so-called "national newspaper." The Globe can
dish out anything it wants, no holds barred, but it won't accept
criticism; the response was not published.
-----------
Salman Rushdie's rush to judgment

by Marjaleena Repo

Salman Rushdie had barely been able to surface from underground where he
was forced to hide for years because of death threats against him by
those he had offended by his Satanic verses, when he declares a fellow
writer, Austrian playwright and novelist Peter Handke as the
"International Moron of the Year." Rushdies calls him an "apologist for
the genocidal regime of Slobodan Milosevic," refers to his writings as
"idiocies," "half-crazy, half-cynical fellow-travelling with the evil"
and accusing Handke personally being "complicit with evil on a grand
scale."(Globe and Mail, May 7, "For services rendered - to the cause of
folly")

What is Handke's crime? It is to dissent from the pack mentality in the
media (and among many of the Western literati to which Rushdie now
belongs) that has declared Serbia and all Serbians to be genocidal mass
murderers, deserving to be removed from the face of the earth by NATO
bombs. Peter Handke, back in 1996, published a book titled A Journey to
the Rivers: Justice for Serbia (Viking). For this he was attacked by
European journalists and intellectuals as if he had committed treason -
or at least blasphemy, the latter a charge Rushdie should be painfully
familiar with. (Handke recently returned his literary awards to the
German government as a protest of that country's participation in the
war and resigned from the Catholic church because the church's refusal
to condemn the war.)

In his attack on Handke, Rushdie utterly misses the point: Handke's
writings about Yugoslavia dealt exactly with the kind of thinking that
Rushdie now exhibits, where the recently persecuted author becomes the
judge, jury, and yes, the executioner of the Serbs, no questions asked.

Handke, however, is asking the question Rushdie doesn't want to hear:
What is the other side of the story? Is it possible that there is more
to the "genocide" story than meets the eye? Could it be that Serbia has
been falsely accused and therefore profoundly wronged?

Handke explains: "It was principally because of the war that I wanted to
go to Serbia, into the country of the so-called aggressors. But I was
also drawn simply to see the country that of all the countries of
Yugoslavia was least known to me and, perhaps because of the news
reports and opinions about it, had come to attract me most strongly (not
least because of the alienating rumours). Nearly all the photographs and
reports of the last four years came from one side of the fronts or
borders. When they occasionally came from the other side they seemed to
me increasingly to be simple mirrorings of the usual co-ordinated
perspectives - distorted reflections in the very cells of our eyes and
not eyewitnessbaccounts. I felt the need to go behind the mirror; I felt
the need to travel into the Serbia that had become, with every article,
every commentary, every analysis, less recognizable and more worthy of
study, more worthy, simply, of being seen. And whoever is thinking now:
Aha! pro-Serbia! or Aha! Yugophile - need read no further."

I don't believe that Rushdie has actually read Handke's extraordinary
writings and interviews on Serbia  or if he did, he hasn't grasped
their essence as a scathing critique of the Western media's one-sided
and flawed reporting on the conflict in Yugoslavia. He has taken the
easy way out and has joined the pack by calling for Handke's  and
Serbia's - blood (how else do you deal with those who personify evil, as
Rushdie claims?) Salman Rushdie has joined the morality of his own
would-be executioners. He has become them.

May 13, 1999, Toronto
-----
Marjaleena Repo is a free lance writer on justice issues and a founding
member of the Ad Hoc Committee to Stop Canada's Participation in the War
on Yugoslavia.

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