A conversation with Sir Salman Rushdie

Beowulf Sheehan

Queens University’s Learning Society continues to help shape intellectual dialogue in Charlotte by hosting Sir Salman Rushdie Thursday evening.

The British-Kashmiri Indian novelist – whose novels include “The Satanic Verses,” “The Moor’s Last Sigh” and “Shame” – was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2007 for his services to literature. Rushdie won the prestigious Booker Prize and later, the Best of the Booker for his masterwork of magic realism, “Midnight’s Children.”

Rushdie spoke to the Observer recently about magical realism, the Muslim faith and his most recent novel, “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights,” which was published in September.

Q. Why is magical realism fertile ground for you?

I think that magical realism is one version of a kind of literature that is found all over the world. It is much older form with, in many ways, a richer tradition than the realist tradition.

These stories are very old. I just thought one of the things I like about the old stories is while they are full of flying carpets and ogres and dragons and things like that, they are completely realistic about human beings. The people you find in the stories are beautifully drawn.

My novel is about an ordinary world – most of the characters in it are ordinary people – faced with an extraordinary challenge. They find it within themselves to rise to the occasion and resist. They find resources within themselves which they didn’t know they possessed.

Q. What is the inspiration for the title of your novel?

I thought 1,001 nights gives people a useful reference point for the kind of book this is. It is about the present day – in the middle of which something extraordinary happened, and people have to learn how to deal with it.

It occurred to me when I was thinking about the book, 1,001 nights, what is that in English? And I started to kind of work it out, and then I was quite pleased to find that within this famous symmetrical number, 1,001, there was another shapely number of 2-8-28. Two years, eight months, 28 nights.

Q. Many argue the average American’s understanding of the Muslim faith is incomplete. What is your assessment?

I hope that what is slowly happening is in the aftermath of 9/11, people are beginning to be better informed. I think the problem is while one obviously doesn’t want to stigmatize millions of perfectly decent ordinary Muslims, there is something very problematic happening in the Muslim world. I describe this as sort of a mutation in the middle of Islam, which is creating this fanaticism.

It is worth saying the people first and most harshly oppressed by Islamic fanaticism are Muslims. We need to not blame people who are also the victims of that fanaticism.

Q. What role does satire play in challenging hypocrisy and tyranny?

Satire is the classic weapon that artists have always had against hypocrisy and tyranny. Poking fun at the monster is a way of bringing the monster down to size. It is very important to retain the freedom to do that.

I worry a little bit there is a political correctness that exists which wants to ring fence religion as something one should not poke fun at. Whereas I think precisely because religion has become so important in public discourse, it must be examined both seriously and through comedy.

A Conversation with Sir Salman Rusdie

When: 7 p.m. Thursday.

Where: Dana Auditorium at Queens University of Charlotte, 1900 Selwyn Ave.

Tickets: $40.

Details: 704-688-2838;