Layla on Salman Rushdie’s “Beautiful pieces of literature”

The news of Salman Rushdie’s stabbing at an event in upstate New York is profoundly shocking.

My first thoughts were with those police officers and a doctor in the audience who put themselves in harm’s way to help the author and no doubt give him the chance of survival. At the time of writing he is still in surgery and I know that everyone reading this will hope that he pulls through and our thoughts will be very much with his loved ones.

We don’t know the motivations for this particular attack, but we are well aware that Salman Rushdie had to spend a decade in hiding after the Iranian Government issued a fatwa against him in 1988 after they decided that his book, The Satanic Verses, was blasphemous.

Rushdie has had to live with this threat for decades for doing nothing other than challenging orthodoxy. For using his considerable creative talent to make us think.

Tonight, Layla Moran described how the threat to Rushdie encouraged her to read his books:

She said:

I remember as a child being told about the fatwah and as a result reading his books. Beautiful pieces of literature, especially Midnight’s Children. I learned art and thought can be dangerous in a good way – I hope he pulls through

It’s been a horrifying evening. Let’s hope for better news tomorrow.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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22 Comments

  • An awful tragedy to visit upon Salman Rushdie, as well as liberal society in general.

    Unfortunately this culture of religious censorship (which at its most extreme end manifests in violence towards those who do not bow to the censorship) has been brewing and getting stronger for years, a situation made worse by liberals being very quick to indulge the calls for censorship, or just ignoring the flash points when they emerge and in effect leave the principle of freedom of expression undefended.

    The Danish Cartoon controversy brought this to our attention on the international level, followed by the barbaric Charlie Hebdo massacres. Closer to home and more contemporary was the teacher at Batley Grammar last year hounded from his job, profession and home by a mob threatening violebce to the complete silence of the liberal establishment. This year the film Lady of Heaven was driven from cinema screens by loud and angry mobs also threatening violence.

    Censorious and theocratic forces have been emboldened by the sight of liberals folding against the pressure to censor, and this has not only made their demands more extensive, but made their sense of entitlement not to be offended much deeper (with more dramatic consequences when offence is encountered)

  • @James Pugh. You argue that ‘theocratic forces’ have been growing stronger in the face of a weak response. I would suggest the opposite. Those committing the acts of violence you refer to would love to think they have sparked a cultural war; validating that delusion simply plays into their hands – and encourages copy-cats. In fact they are just a tiny handful of damaged individuals acting out their own fantasies. They don’t represent the Muslim world, or the tenets of Islam. They are best dealt with by the justice system and then forgotten.

  • Helen Dudden 13th Aug '22 - 8:54am

    In a democracy we should be able to have an opinion, it’s not healthy to ration truth.
    The over reaction of some is worrying. To attack another human being in this way is against the law of the land.

  • @Andy Dear

    Authoritarian and theocratic forces can grow stronger in power even with relatively small numbers.

    It is relatively small numbers of people making the demands for theocratic censorship, but their power continues to grow as evidenced by their increasing success at censoring things and getting them banned, and creating a climate where people don’t even produce things that might offend in the first place (self-censorship).

    This happens in a climate where liberals don’t stand up unambiguously for the right to freedom of expression, or where liberals make excuses for the behaviour of authoritarians demanding censorship, or where liberals cave in to censoring demands, or (worst of all) where liberals start articulating ideas that attack or undermine the right to freedom of expression. Where authoritarians see weakness, they take advantage

  • “The moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible ”
    Salman Rushdie…

    Something the party should ponder on – given the ongoing debate across the media & beyond ..

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 13th Aug '22 - 11:09am

    @James Pugh: Where we agree is that nobody should be subject to harassment, violence or intimidation for expressing their views. Ever.

    Where we diverge is that you seem to think that it is absolutely fine to deliberately go out and provoke offence and disrespect people without any sensitivity and compassion. Like many examples of unpleasant behaviour, it shouldn’t be illegal, but it should certainly be viewed as insensitive and unacceptable.

    We all have to live together and that involves a bit of give and take. I looked up the incident you mentioned at Batley Grammar School where a teacher used the image of the Prophet Muhammad in a lesson on blasphemy. If that had happened in a class where my white, non religious child was being taught, I would have complained. That was such an unnecessary disrespect of the religion of many people in the class and I wouldn’t have stood for it.

    I am in no way in favour of blasphemy laws and consider religious ideas to be as up for discussion as others, but the way in which you have that discussion can divide or unite and I’d go for bringing people together as much as possible. I don’t see the problem as being one of censorship – after all, we can all say pretty much what we want. It’s of the discussion being dominated by the privileged, usually white men, who have no interest in seeing the point of view of the marginalised. And the media is full of such voices and so the echo chamber intensifies.

    The independent investigation in the Batley case found that the teacher in question hadn’t meant to cause offence and genuinely believed that this was an appropriate educational tool. I have to say I find it hard to believe that anyone teaching that subject would not be aware of those sensitivities. However, the report said that it was not appropriate to do so and I think that was right. Freedom of expression does not mean freedom from due process when lines are crossed. Similarly, freedom to protest does not mean freedom from consequences and due process if you cross the line into threatening someone’s personal safety. In that case you absolutely should face the consequences of the justice system.

  • Simon McGrath 13th Aug '22 - 2:03pm

    @Caron ” Where we diverge is that you seem to think that it is absolutely fine to deliberately go out and provoke offence and disrespect people without any sensitivity and compassion. Like many examples of unpleasant behaviour, it shouldn’t be illegal, but it should certainly be viewed as insensitive and unacceptable.”
    But that is exactly the argument used by those Muslims who have criticised Rushdie for his book. They say it ‘unacceptable ‘ to write about Mohammed in the way he has.

    Scientologists would argue books critiquing Ron Hubbard are unacceptable and in the past some Chritians would argue against books taking a theological position they disagree with.

  • Martin Gray 13th Aug '22 - 4:16pm

    @Caron …
    Who decides what those lines are ?
    Why should a certain religion be off bounds to any criticism or satire . In doing so – a small but vocal minority can orchestrate a situation, where only recently some cinemas caved in to that pressure ..
    It’s the complete opposite of what being liberal is about..

  • Shocked and angry by the attack on Salman Rushdie. I concur that legal free speech should not be censored as otherwise who gets to decide what is and isn’t acceptable?

    That said we should try to avoid the atmosphere that can follow tragic events where people who don’t performatively speak out against a problem are deemed to be “part of the problem” as that can be oppressive.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 13th Aug '22 - 6:58pm

    @ Simon McGrath If you genuinely want to bring people together, I think you do need to have these discussions quite sensitively. I have no issue with writing a book that criticises or scrutinises an idea, nor with encouraging analytical and critical thought from the earliest possible age. I did that with my child to my detriment when it now comes to winning arguments with him.

    I think that this particular instance involved putting children in a position where they were forced into doing something they had been taught was wrong, in fact one of the worst wrongs, from a very early age. That is not the way to teach them that they are valued and respected and I feel very strongly that it is this kind of right wing drum beat in the media that has done more to polarise than any false accusations of censorship.

    In summary, I don’t think that what they did at Batley Grammar School should be illegal, but I think it was insensitive, unkind and inflammatory. In the same way, much of the right wing “free speech” narrative targeted against all sorts of marginalised groups can’t be banned, but it is nonetheless incredibly harmful to our society.

  • Andrew Tampion 14th Aug '22 - 7:48am

    So Caron; you’re not in favour of censorship, just self censorship? There is no right to free speech without the right to cause offence.

  • Would also add that historically censorship has been a tool of the reactionary right to suppress the speech of minority and radical groups. There was Mccarthyism and Mary Whitehouse for example and you can go all the way back to Victorian purity laws.

    It is only really in the last couple of decades that free speech has been reimagined as white men wanting to say what they like etc.

  • @James Pugh. I concur. Let this be the moment when we come together and state without equivocation that the freedom to express political, social or cultural views without fear lies at the very heart of our democracy.
    And I agree with @Caron. Even when views expressed are insensitive and we personally find them objectionable, this should not be a matter for the law. I’m not sure we haven’t already moved beyond that point, regrettably.

  • Simon McGrath 14th Aug '22 - 4:26pm

    @Caron
    I can do no better than to quote Salman Rushdie:
    “What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”

  • @Caron

    Lots of things to unpack, so I can’t respond to all the problematic things written

    You do say that you agree that everyone has the right to say things that are disrespectful/provocative/insensitive/uncompassionate. But you don’t want them to. However what is considered disrespectful, etc is extremely subjective, and as such people who want something censored can just say “That’s disrespectful/provocative/etc” and thus coerce censorship that way.

    This coercive censorship is not new. It relies on a mixture of conformity, an eagerness to be seen as “nice”, and a fear of being labelled. It should have no traction with liberals.

    Regarding Bately. There is no specific Islamic prohibition of drawing Mohammad. The (very conservatively interpreted) Islamic prohibition is against drawing any living thing, which includes any person (including Mohammad) or animal. That is why in the most conservative of Islamic applications, all images of living things are forbidden. Why choose to appease this conservative tradition, and indeed only part of the spectrum of it?

    Many children are taught from a young age that being gay, trans, using contraception or having an abortion is very wrong. So it’s not okay for these children to be exposed to (“forced to participate in”) any sort of sex educatation? And any teacher that did, “crossed a line”? It seems the “line” is where something is done that results in an angry mob. Any sort of subjective “line” is an admission that one does not believe in freedom of expression.

  • Chris Moore 14th Aug '22 - 9:38pm

    The fact that some groups are exquisitely offendible and actually or potentially violent should never be a pretext for censorship of views they are unable to tolerate.

    I notice JKRowling has received yet more death threats, but this time for speaking out against Islamic radical violence.

  • As Liberals we should always read what JS Mill had to say in his treatise “On Liberty”. Basically he said that everyone should be able to say and do what they want unless it causes harm to someone else. In the UK we have made overt racism and some other isms subject to penalties. Sure that’s a limit on free speech, but it in in line with Mill. The problem with much of what is being discussed on this thread is deciding what constitutes harm. There are also contradictions with the law, with blasphemy being against the law but hate speech against other religious groups is not. I have no time whatsoever with those who threaten to kill or maim people who offend them. I am offended daily by the actions and words of the government, but accept that this is part of life. Tolerance must be the watchword for Liberals and there’s far too little of that about at the moment.

  • Jenny Barnes 15th Aug '22 - 10:59am

  • Jenny Barnes 15th Aug '22 - 11:00am

    apparently amazon has sold out of “the satanic verses” already!

  • Hello Mick,

    Blasphemy certainly isn’t against the law.

    Blasphemy regulations dating back to the middle ages were formally abolished in 2008 from memory. (Later in Scotland.) But had fallen into disuse a long time before.

  • Chris Moore 15th Aug '22 - 3:57pm

    The last incarceration for blasphemy was over a century ago in 1921.

  • @Mick Taylor

    Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ does not support the thesis that you propose, nor so I think Mill would support what you wrote, when you look at how he described the ‘harm principle’

    Regarding freedom and expression and the cause of harm, and what constitutes harm, this had been quite a settled issue for a very long time, mainly from Mill’s writings. Namely the freeest possible expression, constrained by libel, defamation and the direct incitement to crime.

    But in recent decades this subject has been reopened, and those hostile to the very idea of freedom of expression have been taking advantage of “benevolent” restrictions to freedom of expression that were implemented for more subjective and less consistent reasons. As well intentioned as it might be to introduce restrictions to the free expression of things such as racism, Holocaust denial, or 5G disinformation, it has unfortunately led to a slipperly slope, with the parameters shifting by the year, and freedom of expression not only in rapid recession, but also support for the very value of freedom of expression is also in decline. Liberals being wishy washy and ambiguous about this right to freedom of expression have played a role in this recession.

    The issue of non-crime hate incidents (where someone has committed no crime in law, but someone has been offended by what they have said or written, and get a record against their name) are ever present. The Online Safety Bill, with this vague “legal but harmful” prohibition is terrifying.

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