July 28, 2015
Salman Rushdie, Booker Prize winner, Knight of The Realm, keeps calling people wussies and says they wouldn’t like his books if they were published today, because they are such cowards
by Simon Reichley
Salman Rushdie just cannot get over that PEN America award. As reported by the Telegraph, in comments given to the French magazine L’Express Rushdie again hammered the critics of PEN America’s recognition of Charlie Hebdo, which received the organization’s prestigious award for courage in publishing earlier this year. In his latest flurry, Rushdie claims that westerners “have learnt the wrong lessons” and that “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.”
These comments come in the wake of an earlier spat between Rushdie and Teju Cole, one of the signatories of the original letter of protest, during which Rushdie accused Cole and his cohort of willfully ignoring the threat of radical Islam, and ideologies like it, in service of limp-wristed, decadent pluralism. Or something like that. Cole, for his part was forceful and outspoken in his critique of Charlie Hebdo as having a bullyingly racist agenda. And, while Cole was careful to make his own case against the PEN award in contradistinction to l’affaire Rushdie—making clear the difference between the racism and insensitivity of Hebdo‘s regular publications and the blasphemous novel which got Rushdie into so much hot water with the Ayatollah—the two continue to find themselves at loggerheads, and the cantankerous knight remains unmoved.
“It’s exactly the same thing,” he told L’Express. “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.”
The novelist added: “We are living in the darkest time I have ever known.”
He called for an end to the taboo against “supposed Islamophobia”, adding that writers and satirists had become too apologetic about poking fun at Islam.
On the one hand, it is not difficult to imagine that the reception of The Satanic Verses, and our collective response to the fatwa issued against Mr. Rushdie as a result of its publication, might be different today than it was in the late ’80s early ’90s. It is also quite possible that no such fatwa would be issued today against a popular literary writer. There is a long, self-searching, and wide-reaching conversation to be had on the effects and causes of Islamophobia and radicalized Islam. Some people are having this conversation. The problem with Rushdie is not that he is, necessarily, wrong; it is that he does not engage in a conversation about the real and often violent struggles happening within and around contemporary Islamic thought and politics. He reduces a broad and problematic field to the imagined reception of a book published almost 30 years ago. Which I suppose is not surprising, because Salman Rushdie is the author of that book.
Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.