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The Poet Versus the Prophet: On Standing Up to Totalitarian Islam

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Posted on May 15 2010 6:13 pm
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by Mark Goldblatt

I got to know the poet Allen Ginsberg towards the end of his life. Not very well, just a nodding acquaintance, but after he died I attended a memorial in his honor at the City University Graduate School. At that service, his personal assistant related a story about Ginsberg’s reaction to the death sentence pronounced on the novelist Salman Rushdie by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. Rushdie’s “crime,” you’ll recall, was writing a provocative, perhaps even blasphemous novel inspired by the life of Muhammad called The Satanic Verses.

Though I might be screwing up a few details, the gist of the story was as follows: Soon after news of the fatwa broke, Ginsberg and his assistant climbed into the back seat of a taxi in Manhattan. After a glance at the cab driver’s name, Ginsberg politely inquired if he was a Muslim. When the cabbie replied that he was, Ginsberg asked him what he thought about the death sentence on Rushdie. The cabbie answered that he thought that Rushdie’s book was disrespectful of Islam, and that the Ayatollah had every right to do what he had done. At this point, according to his assistant, Ginsberg, one of the gentlest men ever to walk the planet, flew into a rage, screaming at the cabbie as he continued to drive, “Then I shit on your religion! Do you hear me? I shit on Islam! I shit on Muhammad! Do you hear? I shit on Muhammad!” Ginsberg demanded that the cabbie pull over. The cabbie complied, and, without paying the fare, Ginsberg and his assistant climbed out. He was still screaming at the cabbie as the car drove off.

Read the rest at Reason Magazine.

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