Agence France-Presse reports:
British author Salman Rushdie on Sunday accused Indian police of making up an underworld plot to assassinate him that forced him to pull out of a literary festival this weekend.
Rushdie withdrew from the event in Jaipur, the state capital of Rajasthan, after being warned by Indian officials that paid gunmen were heading to the city to kill him for his writing that is alleged to insult Muslims.
But Rushdie said that he now believed the supposed plot — apparently undertaken by Mumbai criminal gangs — had been invented to keep him away from the festival and to avoid controversy.
“I’ve investigated, & believe that I was indeed lied to. I am outraged and very angry,” Rushdie said on Twitter after newspaper reports that Rajasthan police had concocted the death threat.
Rushdie’s 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses”, which remains banned in India, is seen by many Muslims worldwide as a blasphemous work that insults their religion....
Writers Hari Kunzru and Amitava Kumar read out passages of “The Satanic Verses” from the stage in protest on Friday, angering some local Muslim groups who had welcomed Rushdie’s withdrawal from the programme.
The festival in Jaipur is a high-profile event, with the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Richard Dawkins in attendance. Bravo to those who protested the threats against Rushdie, and to the authors who read from his work there.
As disturbing as those who respond to disagreeable literature by threatening to kill the author are those who sympathize with them or say things like, "You don't have the right to offend other people's religion." Yes we damn well do. And I am not just talking about the United States, whose First Amendment protects freedom of speech and of the press in addition to the free exercise of religion. One of Europe's most renowned writers is Günter Grass, whose most famous novel, The Tin Drum has some astonishing blasphemous passages (which I, who was raised a Catholic, loved). In that case, the blasphemy related to Christianity. In 1989, during the furor over The Satanic Verses (which I have read and enjoyed, btw), I heard Islamic scholars insist that the West would never tolerate anti-Christian blasphemy. That claim was demonstrably, laughably false. Grass, incidentally, was one of the authors who guaranteed publication of the German translation of Rushdie's book.
As it happens, Rushdie is one of my favorite authors. I have had countless hours of enjoyment reading his imaginative, perceptive, vivid and witty work. My favorites among his books include The Moor's Last Sigh, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Shalimar the Clown, and The Enchantress of Florence all of which, incidentally, were written after Ayatollah Khoumeini issued the fatwa against him. Possibly his greatest work is Midnight's Children, which won Britain's Booker Prize and the Booker of Bookers. I do think that having read his work makes me more qualified to speak about it than people who condemn him without having bothered to read him. But those who oppose him, whether they are informed or not, are free to avoid reading him. They are also free to write books or articles or blogs criticizing him. They are not free, or should not be free, to suppress his work or to call for his death.
Incidentally, while it is not pertinent to the issue of defending his freedom as an author, Mr. Rushdie is a longtime pro-gay liberal. Besides the Ayatollah, one of the other real-life characters whom he lampooned in The Satanic Verses was Margaret Thatcher, whom he dubbed Maggie Torture. In contrast to the Ayatollah's reaction to the book, Mrs. Thatcher's government placed Rushdie, a British subject, under her government's protection. That nicely illustrates the difference between a free country and a theocracy.