Armchair philosophy : Pearls b4 swine n Gems of Wisdom

You know, you gotta have an armchair, and a roof over your head, for which you aren’t liable to pay a monthly sum, princely or paltry, for possessing that roof, even if leaky and fragile,  not to speak of the floor, carpeted or otherwise, for your feet to tread on, to be able to convey your philosophy of existence, however mundane or exalted it may be, for the opinion expressed to be considered of any consequence, irrespective of the label of religion or nationality, acquired by birth or incidence…

In 1994, I found myself working for Qatar Airways, not a privilege by itself, to  boast of, I mean, but in the very first flight that landed in Chennai, I had a Ms. Pat O’Toole confronting me on a bleary November morning that year, stating that in the very inaugural flight,  of that august airline, come a long way since then, that her baggage had not arrived, and that she had nothing more with her than what she wore.  Notwithstanding all my frailties, given the thumb-rule that the personal and professional should not mix, I did ask her whether she was in any way related to the great actor Peter O’Toole ( just barely managed not to mention the prefix,  Sir ), whose role in Sir David Lean’s movie Lawrence of Arabia, the role and movie still ranked among the greatest of all time, and she replied in the positive. I did say that it was an honour and privilege to meet her, and she retorted that it was neither honour nor privilege for her to meet me, given the circumstances.

It’s one movie that both the public and critics rave about, half a century later; and among the many features that makes it great, is the script and screenplay, which in several scenes is sheer poetry in prose form.  While scouring the net, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was not alone, in the whole wide world, to appreciate this.

In one sequence mid-way, there is a classic exchange between Arab Chief Auda ( Anthony Quinn ) and Colonel Brighton ( Anthony Quayle ) , with Lawrence in between:

Auda Abu Tayi / Anthony Quinn                    Colonel Brighton / Anthony Quayle


It goes like this:


          Yes, the year is running out, 
          Brighton. I must find something 
          Now, you may blow up my train.
          And what will you do now?
          Oh, now I go home. They will carry my
          toys. They will carry my toys, too, 
          do you see?
          Major Lawrence will campaign this 
          winter, but you've got what you 
          wanted so you're going home. Is that it?
          Of course! When Aurens has got what 
          he wants, he will go home. When you 
          have got what you want, you will go 
          Oh, no, I shan't, Auda.
          Then you are a fool.
          Maybe. I am not a deserter.
      Give thanks to God, Brighton, that when
      he made you a fool, he gave you a fool's
          You are an impudent rascal!
          I must go, Aurens, before I soil 
          myself with a fool's blood.
        It's like talking to a brick wall. So,
          what'll you do now? What can you do?
That verbal exchange may well be the closest 
two people could go to, without getting into 
the physical. And it did not get into the 

nuances or semantics that makes the English 
 language go head and shoulders above the rest. 
And scribes of today would do well to have a look at the following excerpt from Pickwick Papers, which has Dickens' insight coming through as clear as his take on the legal system in the book. Would do well to recall, that the two young men with surgical knives, Mr. Bob Sawyer and Mr. Ben Allen, were professionally termed "saw-bones", and thanks to modern-day advancement in medical sciences, called surgeons.   
This excerpt is on a chance meeting of two "gentlemen" of the fourth estate, from rival newspapers. Read on, please: full credit to Dickens, the master story-teller.   


Now although Mr. Pickwick feigned to stand aghast at this disclosure, he was so little versed in local politics that he was unable to form anadequate comprehension of the importance of thedire conspiracy it referred to;observing which Mr. Pott, drawing forth the last number of the EatanswillGazette, and referring to the same, 
 delivered himself of the following paragraph:—  
Hole–And–Corner Buffery.
‘A reptile contemporary has recently sweltered forth his black venom in the vain and hopeless attempt of sullying the fair name of our distinguished and excellent representative, the Honourable Mr. Slumkey—that Slumkey whom we, long before he gained his present noble and exalted position, predicted would one day be, as he now is, at once his country’s brightest honour, and her proudest boast: alike her bold defender and her honest pride—our reptile contemporary, we say, has made himself merry, at the expense of a superbly embossed plated coal–scuttle, which has been presented to that glorious man by his enraptured constituents, and towards the purchase of which, the nameless wretch insinuates, the Honourable Mr. Slumkey himself contributed, through a confidential friend of his butler’s, more than three–fourths of the whole sum subscribed. Why, does not the crawling creature see, that even if this be the fact, the Honourable Mr. Slumkey only appears in a still more amiable and radiant light than before, if that be possible? Does not even his obtuseness perceive that this amiable and touching desire to carry out the wishes of the constituent body, must for ever endear him to the hearts and souls of such of his fellow townsmen as are not worse than swine; or, in other words, who are not as debased as our contemporary himself? But such is the wretched trickery of hole–and–corner Buffery! These are not its only artifices. Treason is abroad. We boldly state, now that we are goaded to the disclosure, and we throw ourselves on the country and its constables for protection—we boldly state that secret preparations are at this moment in progress for a Buff ball; which is to be held in a Buff town, in the very heart and centre of a Buff population; which is to be conducted by a Buff master of the ceremonies; which is to be attended by four ultra Buff members of Parliament, and the admission to which, is to be by Buff tickets! Does our fiendish contemporary wince? Let him writhe, in impotent malice, as we pen the words, we will be there.’
‘There, Sir,’ said Pott, folding up the paper quite exhausted, ‘that is the state of the case!’
The landlord and waiter entering at the moment with dinner, caused Mr. Pott to lay his finger on his lips, in token that he considered his life in Mr. Pickwick’s hands, and depended on his secrecy. Messrs. Bob Sawyer and Benjamin Allen, who had irreverently fallen asleep during the reading of the quotation from the Eatanswill Gazette, and the discussion which followed it, were roused by the mere whispering of the talismanic word ‘Dinner’ in their ears; and to dinner they went with good digestion waiting on appetite, and health on both, and a waiter on all three.
In the course of the dinner and the sitting which succeeded it, Mr. Pott descending, for a few moments, to domestic topics, informed Mr. Pickwick that the air of Eatanswill not agreeing with his lady, she was then engaged in making a tour of different fashionable watering–places with a view to the recovery of her wonted health and spirits; this was a delicate veiling of the fact that Mrs. Pott, acting upon her often–repeated threat of separation, had, in virtue of an arrangement negotiated by her brother, the lieutenant, and concluded by Mr. Pott, permanently retired with the faithful bodyguard upon one moiety or half part of the annual income and profits arising from the editorship and sale of the Eatanswill Gazette.
While the great Mr. Pott was dwelling upon this and other matters, enlivening the conversation from time to time with various extracts from his own lucubrations, a stern stranger, calling from the window of a stage–coach, outward bound, which halted at the inn to deliver packages, requested to know whether if he stopped short on his journey and remained there for the night, he could be furnished with the necessary accommodation of a bed and bedstead.
‘Certainly, sir,’ replied the landlord.
‘I can, can I?’ inquired the stranger, who seemed habitually suspicious in look and manner.
‘No doubt of it, Sir,’ replied the landlord.
‘Good,’ said the stranger. ‘Coachman, I get down here. Guard, my carpet–bag!’
Bidding the other passengers good–night, in a rather snappish manner, the stranger alighted. He was a shortish gentleman, with very stiff black hair cut in the porcupine or blacking–brush style, and standing stiff and straight all over his head; his aspect was pompous and threatening; his manner was peremptory; his eyes were sharp and restless; and his whole bearing bespoke a feeling of great confidence in himself, and a consciousness of immeasurable superiority over all other people.
This gentleman was shown into the room originally assigned to the patriotic Mr. Pott; and the waiter remarked, in dumb astonishment at the singular coincidence, that he had no sooner lighted the candles than the gentleman, diving into his hat, drew forth a newspaper, and began to read it with the very same expression of indignant scorn, which, upon the majestic features of Pott, had paralysed his energies an hour before. The man observed too, that, whereas Mr. Pott’s scorn had been roused by a newspaper headed the Eatanswill Independent, this gentleman’s withering contempt was awakened by a newspaper entitled the Eatanswill Gazette.
‘Send the landlord,’ said the stranger.
‘Yes, sir,’ rejoined the waiter.
The landlord was sent, and came.
‘Are you the landlord?’ inquired the gentleman.
‘I am sir,’ replied the landlord.
‘My name is Slurk,’ said the gentleman.
The landlord slightly inclined his head.
‘Slurk, sir,’ repeated the gentleman haughtily. ‘Do you know me now, man?’
The landlord scratched his head, looked at the ceiling, and at the stranger, and smiled feebly.
‘Do you know me, man?’ inquired the stranger angrily.
The landlord made a strong effort, and at length replied,
‘Well, Sir, I do not know you.’
‘Great Heaven!’ said the stranger, dashing his clenched fist upon the table. ‘And this is popularity!’
The landlord took a step or two towards the door; the stranger fixing his eyes upon him, resumed.
‘This,’ said the stranger—‘this is gratitude for years of labour and study in behalf of the masses. I alight wet and weary; no enthusiastic crowds press forward to greet their champion; the church bells are silent; the very name elicits no responsive feeling in their torpid bosoms. It is enough,’ said the agitated Mr. Slurk, pacing to and fro, ‘to curdle the ink in one’s pen, and induce one to abandon their cause for ever.’
‘Did you say brandy–and–water, Sir?’ said the landlord, venturing a hint.
‘Rum,’ said Mr. Slurk, turning fiercely upon him. ‘Have you got a fire anywhere?’
‘We can light one directly, Sir,’ said the landlord.
‘Which will throw out no heat until it is bed–time,’ interrupted Mr. Slurk. ‘Is there anybody in the kitchen?’
Not a soul. There was a beautiful fire. Everybody had gone, and the house door was closed for the night.
‘I will drink my rum–and–water,’ said Mr. Slurk, ‘by the kitchen fire.’ So, gathering up his hat and newspaper, he stalked solemnly behind the landlord to that humble apartment, and throwing himself on a settle by the fireside, resumed his countenance of scorn, and began to read and drink in silent dignity.
Now, some demon of discord, flying over the Saracen’s Head at that moment, on casting down his eyes in mere idle curiosity, happened to behold Slurk established comfortably by the kitchen fire, and Pott slightly elevated with wine in another room; upon which the malicious demon, darting down into the last–mentioned apartment with inconceivable rapidity, passed at once into the head of Mr. Bob Sawyer, and prompted him for his (the demon’s) own evil purpose to speak as follows:—
‘I say, we’ve let the fire out. It’s uncommonly cold after the rain, isn’t it?’
‘It really is,’ replied Mr. Pickwick, shivering.
‘It wouldn’t be a bad notion to have a cigar by the kitchen fire, would it?’ said Bob Sawyer, still prompted by the demon aforesaid.
‘It would be particularly comfortable, I think,’ replied Mr. Pickwick. ‘Mr. Pott, what do you say?’
Mr. Pott yielded a ready assent; and all four travellers, each with his glass in his hand, at once betook themselves to the kitchen, with Sam Weller heading the procession to show them the way.
The stranger was still reading; he looked up and started. Mr. Pott started.
‘What’s the matter?’ whispered Mr. Pickwick.
‘That reptile!’ replied Pott.
‘What reptile?’ said Mr. Pickwick, looking about him for fear he should tread on some overgrown black beetle, or dropsical spider.
‘That reptile,’ whispered Pott, catching Mr. Pickwick by the arm, and pointing towards the stranger. ‘That reptile Slurk, of the Independent!’
‘Perhaps we had better retire,’ whispered Mr. Pickwick.
‘Never, Sir,’ rejoined Pott, pot–valiant in a double sense—‘never.’ With these words, Mr. Pott took up his position on an opposite settle, and selecting one from a little bundle of newspapers, began to read against his enemy.
Mr. Pott, of course read the Independent, and Mr. Slurk, of course, read the Gazette; and each gentleman audibly expressed his contempt at the other’s compositions by bitter laughs and sarcastic sniffs; whence they proceeded to more open expressions of opinion, such as ‘absurd,’ ‘wretched,’ ‘atrocity,’ ‘humbug,’ ‘knavery’, ‘dirt,’ ‘filth,’ ‘slime,’ ‘ditch–water,’ and other critical remarks of the like nature.
Both Mr. Bob Sawyer and Mr. Ben Allen had beheld these symptoms of rivalry and hatred, with a degree of delight which imparted great additional relish to the cigars at which they were puffing most vigorously. The moment they began to flag, the mischievous Mr. Bob Sawyer, addressing Slurk with great politeness, said—
‘Will you allow me to look at your paper, Sir, when you have quite done with it?’
‘You will find very little to repay you for your trouble in this contemptible thing, sir,’ replied Slurk, bestowing a Satanic frown on Pott.
‘You shall have this presently,’ said Pott, looking up, pale with rage, and quivering in his speech, from the same cause. ‘Ha! ha! you will be amused with this fellow’S audacity.’
Terrible emphasis was laid upon ‘thing’ and ‘fellow’; and the faces of both editors began to glow with defiance.
‘The ribaldry of this miserable man is despicably disgusting,’ said Pott, pretending to address Bob Sawyer, and scowling upon Slurk. Here, Mr. Slurk laughed very heartily, and folding up the paper so as to get at a fresh column conveniently, said, that the blockhead really amused him.
‘What an impudent blunderer this fellow is,’ said Pott, turning from pink to crimson.
‘Did you ever read any of this man’s foolery, Sir?’ inquired Slurk of Bob Sawyer.
‘Never,’ replied Bob; ‘is it very bad?’
‘Oh, shocking! shocking!’ rejoined Slurk.
‘Really! Dear me, this is too atrocious!’ exclaimed Pott, at this juncture; still feigning to be absorbed in his reading.
‘If you can wade through a few sentences of malice, meanness, falsehood, perjury, treachery, and cant,’ said Slurk, handing the paper to Bob, ‘you will, perhaps, be somewhat repaid by a laugh at the style of this ungrammatical twaddler.’
‘What’s that you said, Sir?’ inquired Mr. Pott, looking up, trembling all over with passion.
‘What’s that to you, sir?’ replied Slurk.
‘Ungrammatical twaddler, was it, sir?’ said Pott.
‘Yes, sir, it was,’ replied Slurk; ‘and blue bore, Sir, if you like that better; ha! ha!’
Mr. Pott retorted not a word at this jocose insult, but deliberately folded up his copy of the Independent, flattened it carefully down, crushed it beneath his boot, spat upon it with great ceremony, and flung it into the fire.
‘There, sir,’ said Pott, retreating from the stove, ‘and that’s the way I would serve the viper who produces it, if I were not, fortunately for him, restrained by the laws of my country.’
‘Serve him so, sir!’ cried Slurk, starting up. ‘Those laws shall never be appealed to by him, sir, in such a case. Serve him so, sir!’
‘Hear! hear!’ said Bob Sawyer.
‘Nothing can be fairer,’ observed Mr. Ben Allen.
‘Serve him so, sir!’ reiterated Slurk, in a loud voice.
Mr. Pott darted a look of contempt, which might have withered an anchor.
‘Serve him so, sir!’ reiterated Slurk, in a louder voice than before.
‘I will not, sir,’ rejoined Pott.
‘Oh, you won’t, won’t you, sir?’ said Mr. Slurk, in a taunting manner; ‘you hear this, gentlemen! He won’t; not that he’s afraid—, oh, no! he won’t. Ha! ha!’
‘I consider you, sir,’ said Mr. Pott, moved by this sarcasm, ‘I consider you a viper. I look upon you, sir, as a man who has placed himself beyond the pale of society, by his most audacious, disgraceful, and abominable public conduct. I view you, sir, personally and politically, in no other light than as a most unparalleled and unmitigated viper.’
The indignant Independent did not wait to hear the end of this personal denunciation; for, catching up his carpet–bag, which was well stuffed with movables, he swung it in the air as Pott turned away, and, letting it fall with a circular sweep on his head, just at that particular angle of the bag where a good thick hairbrush happened to be packed, caused a sharp crash to be heard throughout the kitchen, and brought him at once to the ground.
‘Gentlemen,’ cried Mr. Pickwick, as Pott started up and seized the fire–shovel—‘gentlemen! Consider, for Heaven’s sake—help—Sam—here—pray, gentlemen—interfere, somebody.’
Uttering these incoherent exclamations, Mr. Pickwick rushed between the infuriated combatants just in time to receive the carpet–bag on one side of his body, and the fire–shovel on the other. Whether the representatives of the public feeling of Eatanswill were blinded by animosity, or (being both acute reasoners) saw the advantage of having a third party between them to bear all the blows, certain it is that they paid not the slightest attention to Mr. Pickwick, but defying each other with great spirit, plied the carpet–bag and the fire–shovel most fearlessly. Mr. Pickwick would unquestionably have suffered severely for his humane interference, if Mr. Weller, attracted by his master’s cries, had not rushed in at the moment, and, snatching up a meal—sack, effectually stopped the conflict by drawing it over the head and shoulders of the mighty Pott, and clasping him tight round the shoulders.
‘Take away that ‘ere bag from the t’other madman,’ said Sam to Ben Allen and Bob Sawyer, who had done nothing but dodge round the group, each with a tortoise–shell lancet in his hand, ready to bleed the first man stunned. ‘Give it up, you wretched little creetur, or I’ll smother you in it.’
Awed by these threats, and quite out of breath, the Independent suffered himself to be disarmed; and Mr. Weller, removing the extinguisher from Pott, set him free with a caution.
‘You take yourselves off to bed quietly,’ said Sam, ‘or I’ll put you both in it, and let you fight it out vith the mouth tied, as I vould a dozen sich, if they played these games. And you have the goodness to come this here way, sir, if you please.’
Thus addressing his master, Sam took him by the arm, and led him off, while the rival editors were severally removed to their beds by the landlord, under the inspection of Mr. Bob Sawyer and Mr. Benjamin Allen; breathing, as they went away, many sanguinary threats, and making vague appointments for mortal combat next day.
When they came to think it over, however, it occurred to them that they could do it much better in print, so they recommenced deadly hostilities without delay; and all Eatanswill rung with their boldness—on paper.
They had taken themselves off in separate coaches, early next morning, before the other travellers were stirring; and the weather having now cleared up, the chaise companions once more turned their faces to London.


There is a readership that, if not actually mourns, at least feels a void about the absence of such literates being at loggerheads, which English particularly seems to facilitate. In India, in living memory, only Karanjia’s Blitz, and the weekly tabloid Current, now both defunct, provided a source of delight, representing the far Left and the far Right.

But such head-on verbal conflagration, reached a zenith, when my two favourite writers, John le Carre and Salman Rushdie, crossed swords.

It is probably le Carre who started it, by criticising that Rushdie was ” not propah ” in denigrating a ” great religion ” , in this case, Islam.  Having read quite a bit of Rushdie’s books and articles, all I can say is, while le Carre may be right in his view, in all fairness, Rushdie is poking fun in different measures,  at various faiths, both prevalent and extinct, from time to time, in his writing, but why deny a writer’s prerogative ?  I have enjoyed reading Rushdie, and certainly can’t claim to be exalted enough to cast a stone at him, whether it be first or last, or any in between. And a pusillanimous Rushdie , had to see a movie where he was represented as a villain of the piece, in a full burqa, but even in the enlightened UK, he did not press charges on the movie-makers for libel, no doubt grateful too, that there was a government to provide him protection at the tax-payers’ expense.

But now to the exchange between the two literary heavy-weights, with a preliminary review, by Mr. Warren Hoge:

London Journal: All Is Not Lost: Art of Insult Survives ‘New Britain’


LONDON, Nov. 26 — Just when people nostalgic for a pricklier Britain were lamenting that the country was losing its touch for the wounding insult, two of the country’s best-known writers have come to the rescue with a cascade of abusive comments about one another.

In a week of correspondence of growing vituperativeness, Salman Rushdie has called John le Carre ”an illiterate pompous ass,” and Mr. le Carre has replied that Mr. Rushdie is ”self-canonizing” and ”arrogant,” blinded by the pursuit of increased royalties for himself from the physical danger that sales of his book posed to others.

The exchanges have taken place in a time-honored arena for mudslinging in Britain, the letters page of a newspaper, The Guardian. While other parts of the paper were covering the continuing push in high places to have Britain portrayed as a sensitive, caring, compassionate nation, Mr. le Carre and Mr. Rushdie were striking blows in the letters columns for the tradition of literary invective.

The feud began when Mr. le Carre complained that he had become the victim of a witch hunt by zealots of ”political correctness” in the United States aimed at portraying him as anti-Semitic.

When he learned of the comment, Mr. Rushdie said he wished Mr. le Carre had had the same concern for him when he became the target of the fatwa declared by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran. That directive called on Muslims to kill Mr. Rushdie because of his perceived slighting of Islam in his book ”The Satanic Verses.”

Mr. le Carre made his observations in a speech to the Anglo-Israel Association this month, an extract of which was published in The Guardian on Nov. 15. He said the issue first arose in a 1996 New York Times review of his book ”The Tailor of Panama” that said his portrayal of his principal character, a Judas figure, suggested a preoccupation with the notion of the Jew as traitor.

The current battle was joined a week ago when Mr. Rushdie wrote a letter for publication saying he couldn’t sympathize with the complaint because Mr. le Carre had been ”so ready to join in an earlier campaign of vilification against a fellow writer.”

The campaign he alluded to was an effort by Mr. le Carre and others to persuade Mr. Rushdie to halt distribution of paperback versions of his book because of the threat of harm aimed at people selling it.

”In 1989,” Mr. Rushdie said, ”during the worst days of the Islamic attack on ‘The Satanic Verses,’ le Carre wrote an article in which he eagerly and rather pompously joined forces with my assailants.”

He suggested it would be ”gracious” of Mr. le Carre to ”admit that he understands the nature of the Thought Police a little better now that, at least in his own opinion, he’s the one in the firing line.”

The next day Mr. le Carre responded with a letter calling Mr. Rushdie ”arrogant,” ”colonialist” and ”self-righteous,” saying: ”Rushdie’s way with the truth is as self-serving as ever. I never joined his assailants. Nor did I take the easy path of proclaiming Rushdie to be a shining innocent. My position was that there is no law in life or nature that says that great religions may be insulted with impunity.”

He went on to say that in recommending a halt in distribution of the paperback version he was ”more concerned about the girl in Penguin Books who might get her hands blown off in the mail room than I was about Rushdie’s royalties.”

The next day it was Mr. Rushdie’s epistolary turn. ”I’m grateful to John le Carre for refreshing all our memories about exactly how pompous an ass he can be,” the letter began. He said he had examined the ”lofty formulation” put forward by Mr. le Carre and concluded that ”it suggests that anyone who displeases philistine, reductionist, radical Islamist folk loses his right to live in safety.”

Mr. Rushdie’s letter was ”vile,” shot back Mr. le Carre, an edict from his ”throne” proclaiming that ”our cause is absolute, it brooks no dissent or qualification; whoever questions it is by definition an ignorant pompous, semi-literate unperson.” The letter, he said, should be required reading for all British high school students as an example of ”cultural intolerance masquerading as free speech.”

Mr. Rushdie responded: ”John le Carre appears to believe I would prefer him not to go on abusing me. Let me assure him that I am of precisely the contrary opinion. Every time he opens his mouth, he digs himself into a deeper hole. Keep digging, John, keep digging. Me, I’m going back to work.”

Some historical footnotes have emerged that may account for the high levels of vitriol. In October 1989, Mr. Rushdie was asked by The Independent on Sunday to critique Mr. le Carre’s ”Russia House.” From his hideaway, Mr. Rushdie sent in a review that mocked Mr. le Carre’s pretension to be considered more than a successful popular writer, concluding, ”Close, but — this time anyway — no cigar.”

In his Nov. 15 article Mr. le Carre said he was warned by friends of the futility of responding to the Times review that appeared on Oct. 20, 1996, which he contended ”smeared” him as an anti-Semite. The review, by Norman Rush, a novelist, praised the book as a ”tour de force” but faulted it for portraying the principal character, a Jew, as ”yet another literary avatar of Judas.” Mr. Rush said the association, ”however little Mr. le Carre intended it,” left him with a feeling of ”unease.”

Mr. le Carre described his reaction in the article, saying, ”I realized that we were dealing not with offbeat accusations of anti-Semitism so much as the whole oppressive weight of political correctness, a kind of McCarthyite movement in reverse.” He said he wished he had ignored his friends’ advice and gone ahead and written to The Times.

But in fact he did. The Times published his letter complaining that he had been ”tarred with the anti-Semitic brush.” on Nov. 3, 1996, along with a response from Mr. Rush denying the contention. ”I have not said or implied that Mr. le Carre is an anti-Semite, and I do not think it,” Mr. Rush wrote.

Mr. le Carre and Mr. Rushdie now appear to have vacated the ring, but others have leaped in. William Shawcross, an author and journalist who is a declared friend of both men, said he felt Mr. Rushdie’s claims were ”outrageous” and carried the ”stink of triumphalist self-righteousness.”

Asked if there was any more to come, Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, said today that he had asked Mr. Rushdie if he cared to respond to Mr. Shawcross and that the writer’s answer was: ”If le Carre wants to get his friends to do a little proxy whinging, that’s his business. I’ve said what I have to say.”

An additional comment, notable for its equitable abusiveness, was contributed by a past master of the art of ”slanging,” Richard Ingrams, the former editor of the satirical weekly Private Eye. He said: ”As I have a low opinion of both of them and can’t bear to read either of their works, I must say I think they are both as bad as each other. Perhaps the solution is they should both sit down and write a book together.”

This is an exchange of letters to the editor by authors Salman Rushdie, John le Carré, and Christopher Hitchens in the British daily The Guardian. Rushdie wrote his initial letter to a speech by le Carré, excerpted in the November 15, 1997, issue of the The Guardian, in which le Carré complains of having been unfairly labeled an anti-Semite the previous fall in The New York Times Book Review. Rushdie, who lives under sentence of death by the Iranian government since early 1989, upbraids le Carré for sympathizing with the Islamic fundamentalists who would seek to murder him.


November 18, 1997,

John le Carré complains that he has been branded an anti-Semite as a result of a politically correct witch-hunt and declares himself innocent of the charge. It would be easier to sympathize with him had he not been so ready to join in an earlier campaign of vilification against a fellow writer.

In 1989, during the worst days of the Islamic attack on The Satanic Verses, le Carré wrote an article (also, if memory serves, in The Guardian) in which he eagerly, and rather pompously, joined forces with my assailants.

It would be gracious if he were to admit that he understands the nature of the Thought Police a little better now that, at least in his own opinion, he’s the one in the line of fire.

Salman Rushdie


Novemer 19, 1997

Rushdie’s way with the truth is as self-serving as ever. I never joined his assailants. Nor did I take the easy path of proclaiming him to be a shining innocent. My position was that there is no law in life or nature that says great religions may be insulted with impunity.

I wrote that there is no absolute standard of free speech in any society. I wrote that tolerance does not come at the same time, and in the same form, to all religions and cultures, and that Christian society too, until very recently, defined the limits of freedom by what was sacred. I wrote, and would write again today, that when it came to the further exploitation of Rushdie’s work in paperback form, I was more concerned about the girl at Penguin books who might get her hands blown off in the mailroom than I was about Rushdie’s royalties. Anyone who had wished to read the book by then had ample access to it.

My purpose was not to justify the persecution of Rushdie, which, like any decent person, I deplore, but to sound less arrogant, less colonialist, and less self-righteous note than we were hearing from the safety of his admirers’ camp.

John le Carré


November 20, 1997,

I’m grateful to John le Carré for refreshing all our memories about exactly how pompous an ass he can be. He claims not to have joined in the attack against me but also states that “there is no law in life or nature that says great religions may be insulted with impunity.”

A cursory examination of this lofty formulation reveals that (1) it takes the philistine, reductionist, radical Islamist line that The Satanic Verses was no more than an “insult,” and (2) it suggests that anyone who displeases philistine, reductionist, radical Islamist folk loses his right to live in safety.

So, if John le Carré upsets Jews, all he needs to do is fill a page of The Guardian with his muddled bombast, but if I am accused of thought crimes, John le Carré will demand that I suppress my paperback edition. He says that he is more interested in safeguarding publishing staff than in my royalties. But it is precisely these people, my novel’s publishers in some thirty countries, together with the staff of bookshops, who have most passionately supported and defended my right to publish. It is ignoble of le Carré to use them as an argument for censorship when they have so courageously stood up for freedom.

John le Carré is right to say that free speech isn’t absolute. We have the freedoms we fight for, and we lose those we don’t defend. I’d always thought George Smiley knew that. His creator appears to have forgotten.

Salman Rushdie


November 20, 1997

John le Carré’s conduct in your pages is like nothing so much as that of a man who, having relieved himself in his own hat, makes haste to clamp the brimming chapeau on his head. He used to be evasive and euphemistic about the open solicitation of murder, for bounty, on the grounds that ayatollahs had feelings, too. Now he tells us that his prime concern was the safety of the girls in the mailroom. For good measure, he arbitrarily counterposes their security against Rushdie’s royalties.

May we take it, then, that he would have had no objection if The Satanic Verses had been written and published for free and distributed gratis from unattended stalls? This might have at least satisfied those who appear to believe that the defense of free expression should be free of cost and free of risk.

As it happens, no mailroom girls have been injured in the course of eight years’ defiance of the fatwah. And when the nervous book chains of North America briefly did withdraw The Satanic Verses on dubious grounds of “security,” it was their staff unions who protested and who volunteered to stand next to plate-glass windows in upholding the reader’s right to buy and peruse any book. In le Carré’s eyes, their brave decision was taken in “safety” and was moreover blasphemous towards a great religion! Could we not have been spared this revelation of the contents of his hat – I mean head?

Christopher Hitchens


November 21, 1997

Anyone reading yesterday’s letters from Salman Rushdie and Christopher Hitchens might well ask himself into whose hands the great cause of free speech he has fallen. Whether from Rushdie’s throne on Hitchens’s gutter, the message is the same: “Our cause is absolute, it brooks no dissent or qualification; whoever questions it is by definition an ignorant, pompous, semi-literate unperson.”

Rushdie sneers at my language and trashes a thoughtful and well-received speech I made to the Anglo-Israel Association, and which The Guardian saw fit to reprint. Hitchens portrays me as a buffoon who pours his own urine on his head. Two rabid ayatollahs could not have done a better job. But will the friendship last? I am amazed that Hitchen’s has put up with Rushdie’s self-canonization for so long. Rushdie, so far as I can make out, does not deny the fact that he insulted a great religion. Instead he accuses me – note his preposterous language for a change – of taking the philistine reductionist radical Islamist line. I didn’t know I was so clever.

What I do know is, Rushdie took on a known enemy and screamed “foul” when it acted in character. The pain he has had to endure is appalling, but it doesn’t make a martyr of him, nor – much as he would like it to – does it sweep away all argument about the ambiguities of his participation in his own downfall.

John le Carré


November 22, 1997

If he wants to win an argument, John le Carré could begin by learning how to read. It’s true I did call him a pompous ass, which I thought pretty mild in the circumstances. “Ignorant” and “semi-literate” are dunces’ caps he has skillfully fitted on his own head. I wouldn’t dream of removing them. Le Carré’s habit of giving himself good reviews (“my thoughtful and well-received speech”) was no doubt developed because, well, somebody has to write them. He accuses me of not having done the same for myself. “Rushdie,” says the dunce, “does not deny he insulted a great world religion.” I have no intention of repeating yet again my many explications of The Satanic Verses, a novel of which I remain extremely proud. A novel, Mr. le Carré, not a gibe. You know what a novel is, don’t you, John?

Salman Rushdie


Now may I have the last word on this, if you will :

May God grant, like to yours truly, a long life to both John and Salman ( got on first-name terms with the stalwarts because of the above exchange ) , and death to both these gentlemen purely due to natural causes and old-age related ailments and infirmities.  Yet, John would do well to venture into the sub-continent, and give the benefit of his experience and skills as one of the most eminent authors in the world, which Salman was foolhardy enough, albeit phenomenally successful, with his Midnight’s Children.

Should get the inimitable John the knighthood he no doubt very richly deserves. Not that that alone should motivate, given that worldwide, speaking for Mother Earth, the change has been indeed made for a different world, since the time that John began to put pen on paper. And brooding types may wonder, perhaps, if it is yet  meaningful  to say ” plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose ” (The more things change, the more they remain the same)

Please be up to it, Sir !

Or if you would have it that, the book I wait to get my hands on, Our kind of Traitor <  Gaddaar, ( as they say in Urdu, rather strong implications, that )>  is your final denouement and swan-song,  so be it !