Jihad: a War Journal by Ari Sitas



In The Ground Beneath her Feet (1)we read about the invisible membrane that separates the Rest from the West- a membrane that is difficult to cross as it stretches everywhere to keep the pilgrims of these crossings within the emotional worlds it demarcates. Rushdie's book is a celebration of his tearing through, his breaking on through to the other side: to America, to New York, to the site of rubble now devastated by the Boeings made to fly and crash in the service of first Ajihad" of the new Christian millennium. He must be staring at the tatters of the membrane with awe. Yesterday's Rushdie, the author still caught in the membrane was the jihad's seismographer. The new Rushdie has left all that behind. He is more concerned with the earthquakes of love and rebirth. The carnage in New York though, demands yesterday's author.

Rushdie, before the breakthrough, had become emblematic: martyr, transgressor, Ashaitan", genius. His work, Athe" book, Satanic Verses, (2) stands still as the most tortured testament of three currents at emotional war with each other. - a testimony to the stretch-marks of the membrane.

The cruel passions of the new age were all there: the preoccupations of postmodern western elites, the plight of emigre intellectuals from the imputed Athird world" searching for meaning and Adifference" in Europe and the US and, the expansive modernising projects of Islamic intelligentsias.

The book attempted to define the criss-cross of these passions that have led, outside its covers, to the framing of this tragic text for a gallery of horrors and that have for a while wrecked its author's life. The aesthetic and moral judgements of the 21st century have to start from somewhere there: within the book's covers and within the force-fields that surround it.

Rushdie had tried to break through the membrane again and again but even in the Moor's Last Sigh where the narrator asserts that Athere is nothing holding me to Bombay, no longer special, no longer the city of mixed-up, mongrel joy" as the aeroplane departs from the smoke of the Acommunal" violence that engulfed it. He is on the search for the AElsewhere": perhaps his lost home, his resting-place, his Jerusalem. (3) Instead he discovers that he was Aa nobody from nowhere, like no-one, belonging to nothing. All my ties had loosened. I had reached an anti-Jerusalem, not a home, but an away. A place that did not bind, but dissolved"(4) He is left with Athat most profound of our needs, to our need for flowing together, for putting an end to frontiers, for the dropping of the boundaries of the self." (5) But the membrane held until the Ground Beneath her Feet.

From the ruins of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, the call for a Crusade of the Acivilised world" against the Enemy is applauded, re-inventing the past. This time it is not the Yankee from Connecticut but Cowboy Dow Jones from Texas that defines the limits of the membrane. During the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein responded through personifying Saladin; for the moment Osama Bin Laden has not done so, but most probably he will.

Pace e.e cummings, Bufallo Bill is not defunct, Mister Death (6)