After the assassination of Salman Rushdie, Great Britain discussed intensively how freedom of opinion and publication is currently in the country. And how great the threat of Islamist terrorism is, not least under the impression of the murder of MP David Amess, who was stabbed to death by an extremist in 2021. The media and politicians agree that you shouldn’t retreat an inch from extremists. Intellectuals, on the other hand, are skeptical.
The news of the knife attack in Chautauqua was only a few hours old when the head of government, who had hardly been in public recently, spoke up from his vacation. Rushdie, 75, has always “exercised a right that we must not stop defending,” Boris Johnson said. Labor opposition leader Keir Starmer a day later condemned the “cowardly attack on someone who embodies the struggle for freedom”.
One of the candidates for Johnson’s successor, ex-Finance Minister Rishi Sunak, used the opportunity to send a foreign policy signal: Since the Iranian regime has not withdrawn the death threats against Rushie and everyone involved in the publication of his book, sanctions must be imposed on Tehran’s Revolutionary Guards . In the US, they are considered a terrorist organization.
The conservative “Sunday Times” pointed to the widespread feeling in the literary scene that authors and publishers shy away from controversy in anticipatory obedience or give in to self-proclaimed moral guardians all too quickly. The Japanese-born British Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro laments a “climate of fear” that encourages young authors to self-censor for fear of an “anonymous lynch mob”.
Rushdie’s friend Hanif Kureishi assesses the mood on the island in a similar way: A novel like “Satanic Verses” would no longer be written today, according to the bitter conclusion of the Englishman who comes from Pakistan. And if someone did write a similar book, former UK PEN Club president Lisa Appignanesi continues the argument, “it wouldn’t be published”. Author Kenan Malik is also pessimistic about the mood in the literary world. Rushdie’s critics lost the battle but won the war: “Freedom of expression has much narrower limits today, partly in response to the Rushdie affair.”
Rushdie and his novel have been the subject of controversy since 1989, including in 2007 after Rushdie was knighted by the Queen. Boris Johnson, then cultural policy spokesman for his conservative faction, denied the novel’s “literary value”. The mullahs’ regime protested against the “offensive, suspicious and indecent actions” and even summoned the ambassador.
But the country, which has repeatedly been plagued by Islamist assassination attempts, is now clearly in focus: The actions of the fanatics against Rushdie, his translators and publishers – the Japanese Hitoshi Igarashi was stabbed, the Italian Ettore Capriolo seriously injured, in Norway publishing boss William Nygaard barely escaped one Assassination attempt – was comparable to the first crow in the Hitchcock film “The Birds”, i.e. the first sign of that storm of fundamentalism that has the world in suspense to this day.
One can, Rushdie always said, “draw a direct line” from the attacks against him on 9/11 and the terror in London on July 7, 2005. Now the line stretches all the way to Chautauqua – 34 years after the publication of the “Satanic Verses”. .