Salman Rushdie, Booker Prize winner, has spoken about the importance of free speech following the terrorist attack at Charlie Hebdo. Salman Rushdie defends free speech and doing so, he joins thousands of people all over the world who have been showing support for the French nation and the caricaturists at Charlie Hebdo.
Rushdie himself is no stranger to controversy. His 1988 book The Satanic Verses which details a legend concerning Muhammad sparked a massive wave of controversy. The book was banned in 12 countries where Islam is predominant, including India, Kenya, Thailand, Indonesia, Venezuela and Pakistan and in Iran a fatwa was issued that required the author’s execution. The fatwa was issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, which was the spiritual leader of Iran at the time.
Rushdie’s book caused many riots around the world, where people were injured and even killed. Bookstores were firebombed and the United Kingdom and Iran even broke all diplomatic relations over the issue. Although Iran’s government went on record to claim that it does not support nor encourage Salman Rushdie’s execution, in 2005, the current spiritual leader of Iran reaffirmed the fatwa.
On Wednesday, Salman Rushdie gave a speech at the University of Vermont in Burlington. Among other things, he talked about the killings of 12 people last week at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine headquarters. He expressed anger at the fact that so many people have blamed the victims for the horrendous crime.
The French satirical tradition has always been very pointed and very harsh, and still is, you know. The thing that I really resent is the way in which these, our dead comrades … who died using the same implement that I use, which is a pen or pencil, have been almost immediately vilified and called racists and I don’t know what else.
Salman Rushdie defends free speech by claiming that it should be free, but it should also try not to go too far. He reminded the audience of the phrase freedom is invisible and said that the hatred towards Charlie Hebdo should have nothing to do with the magazine’s right to speak whatever they wanted.
Security at the Vermont event was heavy. Rushdie didn’t speak of his years spend in fear and under threat, but he did say that the writings of people who offend other people more powerful than them usually outlive the criticism even in unfortunate cases when the artists do not survive. He also said that art’s role is to expand minds and go to the edge, which is not always easy to do.
Image Source: Slant Magazine