The brutal stabbing of Salman Rushdie in New York this weekend is another stark reminder of the importance of freedom of thought and expression.
As he remains in hospital with serious injuries, it was reported on Sunday that the author of The Satanic Verses had thankfully been taken off a ventilator and able to speak, a day after he was attacked as he stood was preparing to give a lecture.
The 75-year-old, who was born in India and has since lived in Britain and the US, suffered liver damage and severed nerves in an arm and eye and it is thought he could lose his eye hurt.
The award-winning author faced death threats for more than 30 years for The Satanic Verses, with many Muslims considering a dream sequence based on the life of the Prophet Muhammad to be blasphemy, among other objections. Rushdie’s book had already been banned and burned in India, Pakistan and elsewhere before Iranian Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death in 1989.
Khomeini died the same year but the fatwa remains in effect. Iran’s current supreme leader, Khamenei, has never issued a fatwa to revoke the edict. But Iran in recent years has not focused on the writer, and Rushdie has lived a relatively open life, which makes the attack even more shocking. It’s amazing to think that after all this time he was almost killed for writing a book.
Rushdie’s courage and longstanding defense of free speech, despite the risks to his own safety, won him worldwide praise and many people lined up to pay their respects after the attack.
Writer and longtime friend Ian McEwan called Rushdie “an inspiring advocate for persecuted writers and journalists around the world”.
Anthony Albanese was among world leaders offering his thoughts, calling the attack an assault on global freedom. “The terrible news of the sickening and cowardly attack on Salman Rushdie in New York,” the Prime Minister said.
“This senseless violence against a famous author is also an attack on global freedom of expression and deserves unequivocal condemnation.”
Joe Biden released a statement hailing the author as representing “essential and universal ideals”. “Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear,” the US President’s statement added of Rushdie. “These are the building blocks of any free and open society. And today, we reaffirm our commitment to these deeply American values in solidarity with Rushdie and all those who defend freedom of expression.
At The West Australian we will always fight for freedom of expression because it is truly the most sacred thing in society and it is also the very reason we can do our jobs every day.
As Rushdie once said, “A poem can’t stop a bullet. A novel cannot defuse a bomb.
“But we are not powerless…stories are at the heart of what is happening…we must work to reverse the bullies’ false narrative…by telling better stories.”
Responsibility for editorial commentary rests with WAN Editor-in-Chief Anthony De Ceglie