August 15, 2022

Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie, the acclaimed author who was stabbed repeatedly at a public appearance in New York state on Friday, 33 years after Iran's then-supreme leader called for him to be killed, is off a ventilator and his health is improving, his agent and a son said on Sunday.” Reuters

All sides condemn the attack as an assault on freedom of speech:

“It’s a bitter irony that Salman Rushdie was about to discuss the need to protect persecuted writers when he was brutally assaulted in Western New York Friday. The symbolic nature of the tragic event comes into even sharper relief because of the assault’s exact location: the Chautauqua Institution. Founded in 1874 as an educational experiment, Chautauqua is a nonprofit organization and a summer resort. It has a rich and unique history of hosting open discussion as well as championing diversity of thought, religious pluralism and free expression…

“But much like so many other ghosts from the past that have returned in recent time—from a land war in Europe to the rising threat of autocracy in Western democracies—the assault reminds us that the threat to free speech is both old and new again.”
Almar Latour, Wall Street Journal

“The shocking attack on Rushdie comes at a time of intensifying and protean attacks on free expression worldwide. PEN America’s annual Freedom to Write Index tracks the cases of individual writers in prison worldwide. Our research has documented a significant jump in the number of writers, academics, and public intellectuals detained globally over the last few years. Authoritarian governments throwing writers in jail is one potent form of repression of free expression, silencing those targeted and casting a chill over all others who might dare broach controversial topics or buck orthodoxies… As we tell the story of the attack on Salman Rushdie, we must elucidate its larger lessons.”
Suzanne Nossel, The Guardian

“‘The most rudimentary thing about literature—it is here that one’s study of it begins—is that words are not deeds.’ Those were the words of the Soviet dissident author Andrei Sinyavsky as he tried to explain to his equally deaf judges just what a novel is, shortly before being sentenced to a labor camp. Literature exists in the realm of the hypothetical, the suppositional, the improbable, the imaginary. We relish books for their exploration of the implausible which sometimes defines a new possible for the rest of us. Our commitment to that belief—to what is quaintly called freedom of speech and liberty of expression—must be as close to absolute as humanly possible…

“The idea—which has sprung to dangerous new life in America as much on the progressive as on the theocratic side of the argument—that words are equal to actions reflects the most primitive form of word magic… An insult to an ideology is not the same as a threat made to a people. It is the opposite of a threat made to a person. To assume the criticism of ideas as assaults on people is the end of the liberal civilization. The idea that we should be free to do our work and offer our views without extending a frightened veto to those who threaten to harm us isn’t just part of what we mean by free expression—it is close to the whole of what we mean by civilized life.”
Adam Gopnik, New Yorker

“The argument that ideas offensive to religious groups is akin to ‘punching down’ on the weak and marginalized, and thus an unworthy exercise of free speech, is deeply at odds with reality. Those persecuted for blasphemy are almost by definition vulnerable minorities, and those persecuting blasphemers are those with power. And no power relation is more unequal when those using pens are confronted with knives or guns

“It is a sign of deep arrogance and lack of empathy to assume that Muslims would not benefit from free speech and should enjoy special protection from taboos that have long been shattered to the benefit of all other groups and the values of freedom and equality in liberal democracies. Such victim-blaming is based on the bigotry of lower expectations which assumes that all Muslims are offended by ‘blasphemous’ ideas, when in fact many Muslims face great danger and show enormous courage by fighting back against the religious extremists who try to monopolize their faith.”
Jacob Mchangama, New York Daily News

“Apart from willing, wishing or praying for Rushdie’s recovery, the only other thing that can be done now is to display that civic courage that [author Susan] Sontag called for three decades ago. The Satanic Verses is a complex but brilliant novel. It includes an hilarious and devastating reimagining of the origins of the Qur’an. I hope that people will read it, and read from it, more than ever. Because what happened in New York today cannot be allowed to win. The illiterate cannot be allowed to dictate the rules of literature. The enemies of free expression cannot be allowed to quash it.”
Douglas Murray, Spectator World

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