The Chilling Legacy of the Rushdie Affair


The broader, less spectacular result of the Rushdie affair has been to chill thought and expression everywhere. 'For every exercise in free speech since 1989, such as the Danish Muhammad cartoons or the no-holds-barred studies of Islam published by Prometheus Books', Pipes wrote in 2010, 'uncountable legions of writers, publishers, and illustrators have shied away from expressing themselves'. Today, we know that the Rushdie affair, though unique, debuted a quite successful business model. Rushdie may be free, but the shadow of the fatwa lingers. Do we, as individuals, and as a society, stand with Rushdie and the right to offend? Or are we finding exceptions, making excuses, calling out, piling on? Thirty years on, the question remains open.

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