Defending Rushdie So Free Speech Can “Shape the World”

(p. 19) Perhaps the most appreciative response from the crowd gathered at the New York Public Library in support of Salman Rushdie on Friday came when the writer Hari Kunzru read aloud from Mr. Rushdie’s acclaimed, and infamous, novel “The Satanic Verses.” The book’s publication, in 1988, put a target on its author’s back and led to book bans, violent demonstrations and killings after Iran’s leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for his death.

It might have seemed daring, even provocative, to read openly from such a book, in such a setting, at such a time, just a week after Mr. Rushdie was attacked — stabbed multiple times by a man who rushed onto the stage at an arts festival in Western New York. But leaving it out might have seemed counter to Mr. Rushdie’s own uncompromising views on such things.

As he said in 1996, as part of a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors that was read aloud by Tina Brown on Friday: “I want to suggest to you that citizens of free societies, democracies, do not preserve their freedom by pussyfooting around their fellow-citizens’ opinions.”

. . .

Kiran Desai, who read from Mr. Rushdie’s book “Quichotte,” spoke directly to the author. “This past week so many of us realized that we had been counting on you to hold up the sky,” she said. “We hope you know that you can count on us, too. We are here for you, and we’re here for the long haul.”

Before he read the opening passage from “The Satanic Verses,” Mr. Kunzru quoted a line from another part of the book, when the irreverent poet Baal defines a poet’s purpose. That definition extends to other sorts of writers, too.

“Salman once wrote that the role of the writer is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it from going to sleep,” Mr. Kunzru said. “And that’s why we’re here, because we owe it to him to stay awake and to use our words to shape the world.”

For the full story, see:

Sarah Lyall. “Voicing Rushdie’s Words to Defend Free Speech and Hope for His Recovery.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, August 21, 2022): 19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 20, 2022, and has the title “Writers Gather to Read Salman Rushdie and Support Free Speech.” Where there is a minor difference between the online and print versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

A would-be assassin seriously injured Salman Rushdie because of his words in:

Rushdie, Salman. The Satanic Verses. New York: The Viking Press, 1989.

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