May 13, 2009

Dangerous books


Twenty years ago when controversy broke out over Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, Rushdie responded that “It’s absurd to think that books can cause riots.” Oh, how wrong he was. Rusdie would eventually be the victim of a fatwa and would spend ten years in hiding. His publishers and translators around the world were targeted, some attacked and killed.

Today, it’s not at all unusual for us to assume that books can lead to violence, according to Kenan Malik, the author of a new book about the Rushdie affair, From Fatwa to Jihad, just released in the UK. According to Malik, “We’ve come to accept that books do indeed cause riots…. The pre-Rusdie age seems like a different world.” In the below clip, Malik eloquently make this argument. But it isn’t just that we know the implications of books and cartoons and other writing, he says. The bigger implication is that the Rushdie affair has changed the publishing industry, and made publishers overly cautious about publishing works that might be considered “offensive.”

Kelly Burdick is the former executive editor of Melville House.