Douglas Murray has written two pieces about yesterday’s attack on Salmon Rushdie, one for the Telegraph, another for the Spectator.
In the Telegraph, he urges the British Government not to equivocate in its support for the novelist – no ‘On the one hand…’ type of response in which condemnation of the attack is quickly followed by an acknowledgment that some Muslims find The Satanic Verses deeply offensive.
The attack in New York on Salman Rushdie has brought back sharply into focus the fact that the Booker-winning novelist has been a target for Islamists for over three decades, ever since the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses in 1988. After that novel’s publication the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa against Rushdie. Encouraged by British Muslims, the Iranian leader accused Rushdie of blasphemy and put a bounty on his head. For many years Rushdie lived in hiding, protected by the British state.
Rushdie described those bewildering, terrifying, heroic years living in hiding in his 2012 memoir Joseph Anton. It is quite a work, detailing every demoralising corner of the affair. It includes accounts of the politicians of both left and right who failed to support the novelist, as well as the writers, artists and other public figures who pretended that the Ayatollah had committed an offence, but so had the author of the novel. And of course the crowds of Muslims in Bradford and other cities who burned copies of the book and were allowed to call for Rushdie´s murder on British streets and television.
Let us not have a repetition of the caviling, caveating and cowardice we saw from some quarters in 1989. No ifs. No buts. No “on the one hand, on the other”. A British author has been attacked. This time, let his country be fully behind him.
In the Spectator, he’s more emollient, praising the efforts of Susan Sontag and others who stood by the beleaguered author:
In his 2012 memoir – Joseph Anton – Rushdie wrote about the fatwa years. The book is a detailed chronicle of all the people who let him down: the MPs who promised support and then whipped up mobs; the political figures of left and right who said that while the Ayatollah may have caused an offence so had the novelist; the authorities who allowed Muslims in Bradford and others on television to call for a British subject’s murder with impunity.
But it is also a chronicle of the people who supported him, the friends who stood by him and the public figures who stood up for him. One of them was the American writer Susan Sontag, who helped organise a public reading of Rushdie’s work in New York. As Sontag said, the moment called for some basic ‘civic courage’. It is striking how much of that civic courage has evaporated in recent years. Today no one would be able to write – much less get published – a novel like The Satanic Verses. Perhaps nobody has tried. From novels to cartoons a de facto Islamic blasphemy law settled across the West in the wake of the Rushdie affair. The attack today will doubtless exacerbate that.
Worth reading in full.