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Salman Rushdie Condemns Charges Against Arundhati Roy and Calls for Defending Free Speech, Freedom of Expression

Salman Rushdie Condemns Charges Against Arundhati Roy and Calls for Defending Free Speech, Freedom of Expression

  • The acclaimed author made the remarks at a ceremony honoring him with the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.

Salman Rushdie has condemned the recent charges levied by the Indian government against novelist Arundhati Roy for a speech she made in 2010 about Kashmir. “She is one of the great writers of India and a person of enormous integrity and passion,” news agency Agence France-Presse reported. “The idea that she should be brought to court for expressing those values is disgraceful.”

Roy, a Booker Prize winner, was charged earlier this month, over public comments she made 13 years ago about the Kashmir region. She was charged along with Kashmiri law professor Sheikh Showkat Hussain, “under several sections of Indian law, including offenses related to provocative speech and the promotion of enmity between different groups,” according to The New York Times. It is“the latest step in an intensifying crackdown on free speech by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” the Times said. 

Rushdie’s remarks on Roy came at a press conference on Oct. 22, following a ceremony in St. Paul’s Church in Frankfurt, Germany, where he received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.  He was honored with the prestigious award for “continuing to write despite enduring decades of threats and violence,” according to Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, a trade association of the German publishing industry.

In his address at the awards ceremony, he highlighted the continued need to defend free speech and freedom of expression.  “We live in a time when I didn’t think I would have to experience, a time when freedom — especially freedom of expression, without which the world of books would not exist — would end.” 

Noting that “reactionary, authoritarian, populist, demagogic, semi-educated, narcissistic and careless voices are attacked on all sides,” Rushdie urged the audience to “ continue and with fresh vigor what we have always had to do: counter bad speech with better speech, counter false narratives better, respond to hate with love and not give up hope that truth can prevail even in a time of lies.” 

He highlighted the importance of defending free speech “even if it offends us, since otherwise we would not defend freedom of expression at all.”

Although “it’s easy in the present days to have a kind of tragic sense of life because the world is not in great shape,” he told the audience that he “always” found himself “to be almost unreasonably optimistic about the world.” 

Rushdie, who survived a knife attack while on stage in New York state in August 2022, will publish his latest book about the onstage attack on him at a literary event in Upstate New York last August. Titled — “Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder” the book will hit the shelves on April 16, his publisher Penguin Random House announced earlier this month. According to him, the book is “a way to take charge of what happened and to answer violence with art.”

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He was attacked onstage at the Chautauqua Institution, a summer arts community in New York, where he was scheduled to speak about the U.S. as a safe haven for exiled writers. As the event was about to begin, Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old New Jersey man jumped onstage and stabbed Rushdie repeatedly in the face and the abdomen before members of the audience pulled the assailant away. Matar, who has been charged with attempted second-degree murder and second-degree assault, has pleaded not guilty. Rushdie was gravely injured, placed temporarily on a ventilator and left blind in his right eye.

He spent about 10 years under police protection in Britain, living in hiding after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, called for his execution in 1989 because his novel “The Satanic Verses” was considered offensive to Islam. “The book was banned in India, and he was barred from the country for more than a decade,” The New York Times reported.  

(Photos, courtesy, Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels)

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