By John Di Leonardo
Indian-born British-American novelist Salman Rushdie, wrote a satirical novel entitled, “The Satanic Verses,” simultaneously garnering critical acclaim from the general public as well as harsh criticism and even death threats from portions of the Islamic community for passages charged as “blasphemy”. A year later, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini even called for Rushdie’s execution and a $3 million reward was offered to anyone who killed him. While many Muslims have defended Salman’s right to free speech in the years that followed, Khomeini’s hit finally caught up with Rushdie, now 75, who received multiple stab wounds at a lecture in New York last week, resulting in ventilator assistance and the likelihood of losing one of his eyes. It is with this event that I recall the Jain doctrine of Anekantavada, or non-one-sidedness.
Anekantavada teaches that truth and reality are non-absolute and always have multiple aspects that cannot be entirely conveyed or even understood. No one thought, word, or deed is beyond reproach, including both Rushdie’s novels and Khomeini’s fatwa, or religious decree. All should be considered with an open mind, discussed, and even criticized, however, ahimsa, or non-violence, should never be disregarded. Even Rushdie himself wrote of his book a year after its publication: “As the author of ‘The Satanic Verses,’ I recognize that Muslims in many parts of the world are genuinely distressed by the publication of my novel. I profoundly regret the distress that publication has occasioned to sincere followers of Islam. Living as we do in a world of many faiths, this experience has served to remind us that we must all be conscious of the sensibilities of others.” It is unfortunate that his opposition has not expressed similar regret, even in the wake of this tragedy.
We must not be so attached to an idea, a word, or even an action, that we commit violence in its defense. For this week’s Anuvrat, I encourage you to practice both Anekantavada and Ahimsa and display kindness even when you are most offended. Think not about how you are offended, but why are you offended and why did the offender offend you in the first place? Understanding is integral to kindness but even in absence of understanding, we must not let anger let us forget Lord Mahavira’s wise words: “Kindness is the greatest religion.”
John Di Leonardo is the founding director of Humane Long Island. He was previously the Senior Manager of Grassroots Campaigns and Animals in Entertainment Campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). He has a Master’s degree in Anthrozoology from Canisius College. He also earned a graduate certificate in Jain Studies from the International School of Jain Studies (ISJS) in India. John can be reached at [email protected].