The Chilling Legacy of the Rushdie Affair


So let us grant Rushdie the right to his bygones. Yet let us also recognise that he is, in actual fact, a hero. With the exception of one brief and desperate faltering, Rushdie understood the principle he had been conscripted to represent, and he stood firm for it. 'What is freedom of expression?' he famously said. 'Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.' In 1995, still in hiding and under 24-hour guard, he surfaced to say this: 'If someone is trying to silence me, then I should find a way of speaking back with increased force. If someone is trying to subject me to an attack of what you might call hatred, then I should not return hatred for that hatred. I should try to return instead all the generosity and openness of heart that is possible through literature and art.' These are the words I hope - but do not expect - I might have the courage to say if I were ever tested.

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