Would They Defend Salman Rushdie’s ‘Verses’ today?

If Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses were first released today (assuming even that is possible), would the literary world defend Rushdie as they did in 1989? He doesn’t think they would.

“Instead of realizing that we need to oppose these attacks on freedom of expression, we thought that we need to placate them with compromise and renunciation,” he said.

When the PEN American Center moved to honor Charlie Hebdo with a freedom of expression award, over 200 writers signed a letter of protest. Rushdie reached out to one of them, who replied to say he would defend Satanic Verses and that Hebdo was a different situation. They were accused of racism, but Rushdie was accused of blasphemy.

“It’s exactly the same thing,” Rushdie said. “I’ve since had the feeling that, if the attacks against The Satanic Verses had taken place today, these people would not have defended me, and would have used the same arguments against me, accusing me of insulting an ethnic and cultural minority.”

In a 1991 talk, Rushdie said, “Throughout the Muslim world today, progressive ideas are in retreat. Actually Existing Islam reigns supreme, and just as the recently destroyed Actually Existing Socialism of the Soviet terror-state was horrifically unlike the utopia of peace and equality of which democratic socialists have dreamed, so also is Actually Existing Islam a force to which I have never given in, to which I cannot submit. There is a point beyond which conciliation looks like capitulation. I do not believe I passed that point, but others have thought otherwise.”

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