Rushdie vs Greer

He says she's a 'double racist' over stance on Monica Ali's 'Brick Lane' movie. She wants a public debate

Jonathan Thompson
Sunday 30 July 2006 00:00 BST

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Louise Thomas

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The author and journalist Salman Rushdie has launched an outspoken attack on fellow literary heavyweight Germaine Greer.

The row, sparked by the controversial filming of Monica Ali's Brick Lane in east London, erupted yesterday when, in a letter in The Guardian, Rushdie attacked Greer over her support for those trying to block the project. Rushdie described Greer's stance as "philistine, sanctimonious and disgraceful, but not unexpected".

He accused the celebrated feminist of "double racism", and then attacked her over her refusal to sign a petition defending Rushdie at the height of the storm over his The Satanic Verses in the early 1990s. "As I well remember, she has done this before," he wrote. "At the height of the assault against The Satanic Verses, Germaine Greer stated, 'I refuse to sign petitions for this book of his, which was about his own troubles.' She went on to describe me as 'a megalomaniac, an Englishman with dark skin'. Now it's Monica Ali's turn to be deracinated by Germaine."

Greer provoked heated debate last week when she defended Bangladeshi activists who threatened to take to the streets to stop filming of Ali's novel in the area where much of it is set. Her stance drew the scathing riposte from Rushdie, whose 1989 novel gave rise to a fatwah on his life.

In an echo of those protests, some activists in east London have indicated that they would be willing to see copies of Brick Lane burnt. "She [Ali] has the right to freedom of speech; we have the right to burn books," a protester said last week.

Some Bangladeshis, mainly from the Sylhet area in north-eastern Bangladesh, claim the novel portrays them as uneducated and "dirty".

Writing in The Guardian herself last week, Greer attacked Ali for ignoring the feelings of people in the Sylhet community. "As British people know little and care less about the Bangladeshi people in their midst," wrote Greer, "their first appearance as characters in an English novel had the force of a defining caricature."

On Thursday the film's production company, Ruby Films, announced that on police advice it would shoot the remaining scenes at sites away from Brick Lane. However, a demonstration is still due to take place today.

Last night, Greer refused to be riled by Rushdie's words. She told the IoS: "Salman may go on about this as much as he likes. But I believe there should be a public debate on the subject."

Brick Lane, shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2003, follows a Bangladeshi woman as she moves to London, marries a Bengali man, and has two children. The book made Ali, 38, an overnight literary sensation.

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