Salman Rushdie and the Conflict Between Creative Expression and Blasphemy

Christiane Amanpour, Mary-Rose Abraham, Nick Poppy & Brian Fudge
Around the World

In the last week, violent protests spread across Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and countries across the Middle East and Asia, targeting U.S. diplomatic missions.  The provocation: a 14-minute trailer posted on YouTube for "Innocence of Muslims," a low-budget film depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a degenerate, a womanizer and a pedophile.

It all raises very uncomfortable questions about the fine line between defending the freedom of creative expression and inciting religious hatred.

While the violence, the injuries and even the deaths were inexcusable, these tensions come at a time when the Muslim world feels itself under cultural siege by the United States and the West.

In 2005, a Danish newspaper printed cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that many Muslims called insulting. Dozens of people were killed in violent protests and Danish missions were targeted in the Middle East.

The Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was assassinated in 2004 after his film "Submission" took a critical look at the treatment of Muslim women. More than 170 attacks on churches and mosques followed his killing.

More recently, a fringe Florida pastor, Terry Jones, organized "Burn a Quran Day." Last year, the online video of that ceremony triggered protests across Afghanistan, including one attack that killed seven foreigners at a United Nations compound.

This past February, U.S. soldiers burned more than 300 copies of the Quran and other religious materials at a prison in Afghanistan. The United States said it was not intentional, but dozens of protests and attacks ensued which left six Americans and more than 30 Afghans dead.

While Muslims have reacted very strongly to what they say is blasphemy against their prophet and their religion, there's no doubt that extremist provocateurs in the West such as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who posted the YouTube movie trailer, simply play into the hands of extremist provocateurs in the Muslim world as well.

This week Christiane Amanpour discusses the conflict between creative expression and blasphemy with author Salman Rushdie. In 1989, his book "The Satanic Verses" sparked a fatwa, a religious edict against him by Iran's spiritual leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini. Khomeini said the novel had blasphemed Islam. Now, 23 years later, Rushdie has written a memoir, "Joseph Anton," about his nine years in hiding.