DC Edit | It’s free speech vs hate

The life of a hermit was forced upon him for at least 10 years after a fatwa was put out in 1989 by late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini

The attack on the writer Salman Rushdie is an attack on the freedom of speech and expression. That freedom is cherished by democracies across the world, more so by the liberal democracies that define countries like the United States. To see freedom being challenged by a lone wolf acting on behalf of the haters is to have the very fundamentals of a democracy challenged.

The real world is, however, full of hate and of religious bigotry, which is what was reflected in an attacker sympathising with the cause of a particular religion. He found way to attack a renowned writer, even if he is one capable of pushing the boundaries of established opinion as the Mumbai-born Rushdie has proved to be in a remarkable career of literary accomplishments.

The life of a hermit was forced upon him for at least 10 years after a fatwa was put out in 1989 by the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini after which he stayed put in a fortified house in the UK. With self-deprecation, he once described the furore and fatwa that followed the publication of The Satanic Verses in 1988 as being “like a bad Salman Rushdie novel”, also comparing events to an overblown Indian movie.

Truth to tell, protecting an individual for life is an unpredictable exercise. The attacker in the Rushdie case chose a spiritual place that may have least expected violence. It had been a hallowed spiritual and cultural retreat for over 150 years, far removed from the divisiveness of the outside world where some faithful saw his novel as heretical. Scores of people, ranging from innocent victims in riots, including in India, to those who helped publish his Satanic Verses, were killed.

Idealists would like to believe terror has no religion. And yet defending against all terror, including that of the Islamist variety, is the price that the free world must pay with constant vigil. Copycat threats have already followed the attack on Rushdie with at least one targeting the writer J.K. Rowling. Unlike in Rushdie’s case when a fatwa was put out, today’s world is a more chaotic place, marked by the easy access that purveyors of hate get to social media.

Mercifully, the author most admired for Midnight’s Children, an allegorical tale which won the Booker Prize in 1981, is off the ventilator and cracking jokes. But it will be a while before he can resume what he does best — writing. The thing we can do to show solidarity with the right of free speech and expression is to go back to Midnight’s Children and read it again.

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