Bloodied pen

Mukul Kesavan on Salman Rushdie and the violence on free thought

NB: In case we forget what’s happened in India between 2013 and 2017:

Four Indian intellectuals who were murdered for their ideas (2013-2017)

In the decades since Khomeini’s fatwa overset Salman Rushdie’s life, his critics have sometimes suggested that he isn’t really a free speech icon because he was protected by the British State in the aftermath of the fatwa while others, like his Japanese translator, suffered or died for the cause. Rushdie’s subsequent championing of free expression, his work with PEN, his insistence that writers and cartoonists had the right to offend were criticised as insensitive and tone-deaf, as the posturing of a coddled Western writer removed by distance and celebrity from the people whose beliefs he challenged and mocked.

As the news of the savage attack on Rushdie at a speaking event in New York state trickled in, I wondered what difference, if any, this violence would make to these critics. Would Rushdie’s injuries make his commitment to writerly freedom more authentic? Or would this attack be seen as the appropriate full stop to a cautionary tale?

I imagine most of Rushdie’s liberal critics would be indignant at the suggestion that they felt he had it coming and they would be right. They didn’t want any harm done to him; they were making the point that embedded as he was in the Western metropolis, he was punching down. They disliked the writers he ran with — Christopher Hitchens, Martin Amis, the New Atheists, the literary vanguard of the War Against Terror — and they felt he was tainted by association.

They were just wrong. To stand up for a writer when a fanatical theocrat in charge of a nation state puts out a death sentence is not to punch down. To be frightened for his life, as Rushdie was in the face of this monstrous license to kill, was human. Sometimes the asymmetry of power between the West and the rest is a distraction from the principle that’s being fought over. ….

Four Indian intellectuals who were murdered for their ideas (2013-2017)

Salman Rushdie: how Cervantes and Shakespeare wrote the modern literary rule book

Mukul Kesavan: Against forgetting

Mukul Kesavan – Right not rabid: Respectable conservatism in the time of Trump

Naeem Akhtar: The aftermath of Pulwama marks the retreat of political engagement with Kashmir // Mukul Kesavan:The road to ruin