The Satanic Verses

The Satanic Verses The Satanic Verses and Immigration

There has been much research about the role of Islam in The Satanic Verses. However, religion is not the only hot-button issue that this novel explores. It also addresses the politics and mechanics of immigration from East to West – specifically, from India to the United Kingdom. To fully understand the role that immigration plays in the novel, it is necessary to know the political context in which The Satanic Verses was written.

When Rushdie published The Satanic Verses in 1988, the United Kingdom's political climate was more conservative than it had been in decades (or would be for years afterwards). In 1979, the Conservative Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister, and with the help of a like-minded Parliament, she designed many conservative policies that would eventually take full effect.

Immigration was an especially important issue to Thatcher; in a 1978 television interview, she claimed that British "people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture." (This despite the fact that Great Britain was over 90% white until 2001.) In 1981, the British government tightened control over immigration by passing the British Nationality Act, which stipulated that only citizens of the UK were guaranteed the right to live there. No longer could citizens of Britain's dependent countries and former colonies take citizenship for granted, as have previously been the case. Immigration subsequently dropped, and the UK also accepted fewer Asian refugees during this period than it had before Thatcher's tenure in office.

Hostility towards immigrants was not limited to official policy. Thatcher's comments about the country being "swamped" with newcomers may have been controversial, but they did reflect the views of some white English people. According to a recent study by the Unviersity of Exeter, racially-motivated hate crimes increased during this period, as did support for the far-right National Front party. This helps explain why the immigrants in The Satanic Verses' London plot feel persecuted not only by the police but also by white Londoners in general.