Raising their voices against known enemies

Salman Rushdie talked to Der Spiegel about his memoir of the fatwa years.

Some senior cops didn’t approve of him much.

I wasn’t like the others, those who deserved protection because they had done something for the country. I was someone who received protection because he had made trouble. In their view, it was my own fault that the Muslims were after me. Some members of the police, not all of them, didn’t understand how anyone could be willing to cause such a fuss for such an far-off issue. At least if my book had been about England …

SPIEGEL: The criticism wasn’t just coming from the police and Muslims, but increasingly from colleagues and intellectuals. Perhaps your sharpest critic, John le Carré, accused you of having attacked a known enemy, one that reacted as was to be expected, to which you cried “foul.”

Rushdie: I think he would probably regret having said these things, because it is a way of saying all intellectuals who have ever stood up against tyrants deserved what they get. García Lorca knew how brutal Franco was. Osip Mandelstam knew what to expect from Stalin. Should they just have kept their mouth shut? Raising their voices against known enemies is precisely what writers have done honorably throughout the history of literature. For le Carré to say that’s their own stupid fault is naïve at best. It dishonored the history of literature.

Exactly. We know what to expect, and we think it’s bad. Because we think it’s bad we think we should say it’s bad. We realize that when we say it’s bad, there will be reactions, bad reactions. That’s the very thing we think is bad! So it’s hardly a moral argument to say we shouldn’t say it’s bad because we know what to expect. The Mafia does bad things. Everybody knows that. That doesn’t make it morally wrong to resist them, but the contrary.

SPIEGEL: But perhaps attacking a religion isn’t the same thing as criticizing a dictatorship.

Religion is worse! Dictators come and go, but religion persists.


  1. iknklast says

    This sounds suspiciously like you know what to expect if you go into bars, girls, so just stay safely at home.

    No one ever challenges the status quo, the status quo stays happy. Occupy should have stayed home, because they knew the police would spray them with pepper spray. The people who fought the keystone pipeline should have just stayed home, because they knew they would be arrested. Rosa Parks should have just stayed in the back of the bus, because she should have known it would start riots. And so on. Never fight for what you believe in – if you wait long enough, the powers that be will give it to you. Yeah, right. Well, some people are tired of waiting.

  2. sharoncrawford says

    Lots of people behaved badly toward Salman Rushdie and I hope they all live to regret it.

    Standing up to dictators is all very well and good when there’s no risk to YOU. Rushdie is a hero — or should be — to anyone who cares about the most basic freedom, freedom to speak.

  3. says

    Wherever there there is a dictatorship, there is a religion of one kind or another backing it up: Stalinised Marxism in Soviet Russia, Catholicism in Franco’s Spain, voodoo in Papa Doc’s Haiti…

    To attack one is to attack the other, though the religion is usually on firmer social ground.

  4. phill says

    Rushdie is indeed a hero. Perhaps the UK government could give him a peerage (Lord Rushdie) and then he can sit alongside the 26 bishops in the House of Lords. The juxtaposition would be exquisite.

  5. StevoR says

    Yes. To quote / paraphrase Firefly Rushdie is a big damn hero and attacking him for speaking his mind and instead of the Muslims for wanting to kill him for it is victim blaming – pure and simple – and wrong.

  6. says

    There is a poltroons’ gallery of those who thought Rushdie had brought it on himself by outraging religious sensibilities.

    Besides John le Carre:-

    “the brute hostility of American and British conservatives (Charles Krauthammer, Hugh Trevor-Roper, and Paul Johnson) joined forces with the appeasement politics of sections of the Western left, and both sides began to offer sympathetic analyses of the assault, his outrage grew. In the eyes of the right, I was a cultural “traitor” and, in Christopher’s words, an “uppity wog,” and in the opinion of the left, the People could never be wrong, and the cause of the Oppressed People, a category into which the Islamist opponents of my novel fell, was doubly justified. Voices as diverse as the Pope, the archbishop of New York, the British chief rabbi, John Berger, Jimmy Carter, and Germaine Greer “understood the insult” and failed to be outraged”

    Now the Iranian government has upped the bounty, I do wish some journalist would call every last one in the poltroons’ gallery and asked if they were still sympathetic to the fatwa-deliverers, or if they have changed their minds, and why.

  7. says

    Now the Iranian government has upped the bounty, I do wish some journalist would call every last one in the poltroons’ gallery and asked if they were still sympathetic to the fatwa-deliverers, or if they have changed their minds, and why.

    All seconded…

    But seriously, it would surprise me not at all to hear any number of them still using constructions of the ‘of course/however’ variety recently reviewed by Ms. B.

    It’s this wanting your cake and to eat it, too impulse. Yes, yes, honestly we think freedom of speech and conscience are important…

    …but can’t everyone please at the same time avoid offending potentially violent or destructive or just inconveniently noisy people, regardless of how odious might be the ideas that thus escape criticism? Regardless of the fact that this effectively gives them a veto with which they can silence whatever they might wish to demand never be said?

    What? We said we thought free expression was important… What more did you want? Actually to use it for something useful? Let’s not be jejune, now…

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