Prose v Rushdie on social media, as told by The Guardian. Drama, deep rifts, clickbait, etc etc etc.
Rushdie, who has been vehement in his support of PEN’s choice and who tweeted earlier this week that “the award will be given. PEN is holding firm. Just 6 pussies. Six Authors in Search of a bit of Character”, responded to Prose’s post, pointing to his already-stated regret in using the word “pussies”.
But he made it clear he wasn’t backing down on another allegation, made in a letter to PEN earlier this week, in which he described Prose and the five other authors to have withdrawn as “the fellow travellers” of “fanatical Islam, which is highly organised, well funded, and which seeks to terrify us all, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, into a cowed silence”.
I don’t think they intend to be fellow travelers, which makes that not quite the right term for them. I don’t think they realize the extent to which they’re buying into the most theocratic brand of Islam at the expense of the more liberal brands.
His Facebook post repeated the allegation: “‘Fellow travellers’, yes. No question of that. As for ‘fine distinctions’, here’s what I see. Our fellow artists were murdered for their ideas and you won’t stand up for them. I’m very sorry to see that. I think you’ll find the vast majority of the PEN membership will be sorry, too.”
Prose said the phrase had “attained great currency during the Army-McCarthy hearings, when it was used to smear and ruin the lives of many innocent people by suggesting a relation with the communists plotting to bring down our country”, and that while she “sympathise[s] with the dead cartoonists … if I am going to stand up, I feel that my time is more usefully spent standing up for the living: the journalists throughout Latin America and the Middle East risking their lives to tell the truth about the world we live in”.
Describing himself as “immensely saddened” by the situation, Rushdie told Prose he used the phrase knowingly, because Prose, Carey, Ondaatje, Cole, Kushner and Selasi had chosen to “make a political ACT”, by pulling out of the gala.
“What the act says is that you judge CH as being at fault. And by making that public judgment, the act, not any words you say, places you in the enemy camp. It just does,” he wrote.
“In politics you can’t both be for and against. Your act says you are against. And that makes you (plural) fellow travellers of the fanatics. I wish it were not so, but it is, and when Peter Carey asks if it’s even a free speech issue, and calls PEN self-righteous for taking it up, and then attacks the entire nation of France for its arrogance; and when Teju Cole says that Israel is the cause of anti-semitism; then you have some very unfortunate bedfellows indeed. I hope that our long alliance can survive this. But I fear some old friendships will break on this wheel.”
It makes them at least supporters of the fanatics.
I hope the fellow traveling strange bedfellows don’t persuade many more to join them.