Canadian writers, publishers and literary figures took a stand for the right to freedom of thought and expression on Saturday, a day after an attack on award-winning author Salman Rushdie that left him hospitalized and on a ventilator.
Rushdie, whose 1988 novel The Satanic Verses sparked death threats from Iranian leaders in the 1980s, was stabbed in the neck and abdomen on Friday by a man who rushed onto the stage as the author was giving a lecture in western New York wanted to.
Salman Rushdie’s attack is ‘a blow to freedom of expression’: Trudeau
Louise Dennys, executive vice president and editor of Penguin Random House Canada, has published and edited Rushdie’s writing for over 30 years. She condemned the attack on her longtime friend and colleague as “cowardly” and “reprehensible in every way”.
“He is without a doubt one of the greatest advocates for freedom of thought and speech, and for debate and discussion in the world today,” Dennys said in a telephone interview. “I hope for his recovery. He’s a great warrior and fighter and I hope he fights back.”
Rushdie, an Indian by birth who has since lived in the UK and US, is known for his surreal and satirical prose style. “The Satanic Verses” was considered blasphemous by many Muslims, in part because of its dream sequence based on the life of Prophet Muhammad. The book had already been banned and burned in India, Pakistan and elsewhere before Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, in 1989 calling for Rushdie’s death.
‘People were screaming’: Salman Rushdie attacked on New York stage before lecture
Investigators worked to determine if the attacker, who was born a decade after The Satanic Verses was released, acted alone. Police said the motive for Friday’s attack was unclear.
Following the release of The Satanic Verses, protests against Rushdie, often violent, erupted across the Muslim world. At least 45 people have been killed in riots over the book, including 12 people in Rushdie’s hometown of Mumbai. In 1991, a Japanese translator of the book was stabbed and an Italian translator survived a knife attack. In 1993, the book’s Norwegian publisher was shot three times and survived.
The death threats prompted Rushdie to go into hiding under a UK government protection scheme, although he cautiously resumed public appearances after nine years of seclusion and maintained his outspoken criticism of religious extremism overall.
CONTINUE READING: Salman Rushdie attack: suspect charged with attempted murder, assault
“We all depend on the storytelling, power and imagination of writers. He came out of hiding because he realized he wanted to play a part in the world we live in and defend those rights,” Dennys said.
“He could not be silenced by fear and I think he will continue to make that point if, as we all hope, he survives,” she said.
Dennys said the attack was already having the opposite effect of his suspected intentions amid outpourings of support from the international literary community, as well as activists and government officials, who cited Rushdie’s courage in his longstanding commitment to free speech despite risks to his own safety.
“It brought everyone together to recognize how precious and fragile our freedoms are and how important it is to stand up for them,” Dennys said.
Attack on Salman Rushdie: Police name suspect, inform author’s condition
The president of PEN Canada, an organization that defends authors’ freedom of expression, condemned the “savage attack” on their “friend and colleague” Rushdie, who is a member.
Canadian writer John Ralston Saul, who has known Rushdie since the 1990s, said the author was always aware that someone might attack him, but chose to live publicly to speak out against those trying to to silence free speech and debate.
“[Rushdie’s]work and his whole life is a reminder of what the real life of the public writer is,” he said. “This would be the worst possible time to back down or to show the feeling that we need to be more careful with our words. We’re not really writers if we give in to that kind of threat.”
Rushdie’s alleged assailant, Hadi Matar, was arrested following the attack on the Chautauqua Institution, a nonprofit education and retreat center. Matar’s attorney pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault in a New York court on Saturday.
CONTINUE READING: Salman Rushdie: Author on ventilator after being stabbed on New York stage
After the attack, some longtime visitors to the center questioned why there wasn’t tightened security for the event, given the threats against Rushdie and a bounty of more than $3 million for anyone who killed him.
Saul, speaking at the Chautauqua Institution years before Rushdie’s attack, said she has an “open tradition” of debate, free speech and anti-violence that stretches back over 100 years.
“It’s one of the freest places to capitalize on our belief in freedom,” he said.
Toronto International Festival of Authors director Roland Gulliver tweeted Saturday that literary festivals and book events are “expression spaces to tell your stories in friendship, safety and respect.”
“To see this so violently broken is incredibly shocking,” he wrote.
Expressions of sympathy also came from politicians, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemning the attack as a “cowardly … blow to freedom of expression”.
“No one should be threatened or harmed because of what they have written,” read a statement posted on Trudeau’s official Twitter account. “I wish him a speedy recovery.”
Rushdie, 75, suffered liver damage, severed nerves in his arm and is likely to lose an eye as a result of the attack, Rushdie’s agent Andrew Wylie said Friday night.
A doctor who witnessed the attack and rushed to help described Rushdie’s wounds as “serious but curable.”
–With files from Associated Press.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 13, 2022.
© 2022 The Canadian Press
https://globalnews.ca/news/9058709/canadian-literary-figures-free-speech-salman-rushdie/ Salman Rushdie’s attack prompts Canadian literary figures to double down on free speech – National