Salman Rushdie

June 19

Salman Rushdie (1947)

It was on this date, June 19, 1947, that novelist Salman Rushdie was born in Bombay, India. Rushdie was born into a Muslim family but on 14 February 1989 his book The Satanic Verses earned him a fatwa or decision from Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, who proclaimed the book to be an insult to the Islamic religion, and rewarding any Muslim for killing Rushdie. In a 6 February 1990 lecture, Rushdie said of the fatwa, "The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to turn other ideas — uncertainty, progress, change — into crimes."

On 27 June 1990, in spite of the Iranian death sentence against him, Rushdie contributed $8,600 to help earthquake victims in Iran. On September 25, 1998, the Iranian government finally ended the fatwa and Rushdie became more public — even appearing as himself in the 2001 film Bridget Jones's Diary.

"God, Satan, Paradise, and Hell all vanished one day in my fifteenth year, when I quite abruptly lost my faith," he wrote in his 1985 essay, In God We Trust, "and afterwards, to prove my new-found atheism, I bought myself a rather tasteless ham sandwich, and so partook for the first time of the forbidden flesh of the swine. No thunderbolt arrived to strike me down. ... From that day to this I have thought of myself as a wholly secular person." Salman Rushdie lately describes himself as a "secular Muslim."

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Jose Rizal

José Rizal (1861)

Also on this date, June 19, 1861, José Rizal was born on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. His family was wealthy enough to provide Rizal with a first-class education, beginning under Jesuit-run, then Dominican-run, institutions. He studied medicine and liberal arts at the University of Madrid. From there he studied at universities in Paris, Heidelberg, Leipzig and Berlin. He began writing novels and returned to the Philippines to practice medicine.

At the time, Spain ruled the Philippines. Educational works in Tagalog, the Filipino language, were strictly suppressed in favor of Spanish, so Rizal's book on the Tagalog language was a bold publication in 1889. Rizal showed, in such works as Noli Me Tangere, literally, Don't Touch Me (1887), and El Filibusterismo (Subversion, 1891) not only the oppression of Filipinos, but the corruption of Spanish priests and monks — who exacted heavy taxes, stole ancestral lands (including Rizal's own), and sexually violated the women in their parishes. The Spanish government was not pleased to be thus criticized; the churches were outraged at their exposure.

Although Rizal believed in peaceful reform — as well as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to a fair trial — he was banished several times for his reform efforts. And although he advocated reform of Spanish rule over revolution, while on his way to aid Cuba during a yellow fever epidemic, he was arrested for sedition, and killed by firing squad, on 30 December 1896. But his "Ultimo Adios," or "Last Farewell," was a poem penned shortly before the shots, reiterating both his love for his country and his disgust at the Spanish politicians and priesthood:

...Farewell, adored country; I leave my all with thee,
Beloved Philippines, whose soil my feet have trod,
I leave with thee my life's love deep; I go where all are free;
I go where there are no torturers, where the oppressor's power shall be
Destroyed, where faith kills not, where he who reigns is God. ...
Rizal died an anti-clerical Catholic. The Spaniards and the priests cheered his execution, but his death sparked the Philippine Revolution that they had hoped to crush — part of it led by his wife. Rizal was declared a national hero.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.
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