Salman Rushdie awarded the 2014 PEN/ Pinter Prize

Salman Rushdie has been awarded the 2014 PEN/Pinter Prize. It will be presented at a public event at the British Library on Thursday 9 October, at which Rushdie will deliver an address

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The PEN/Pinter Prize was established in 2009 by English PEN in memory of Nobel-Laureate playwright Harold Pinter. The prize is awarded annually to a British writer or writer resident in Britain of outstanding literary merit, who, in the words of Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize in Literature speech, casts an “unflinching, unswerving” gaze upon the world and shows a “fierce intellectual determination…to define the real truth of our lives and our societies’’.

Salman Rushdie was chosen by this year’s judges Michael Billington, Antonia Fraser, Simon Jenkins, Kamila Shamsie and President of English PEN and Chair of Judges, Maureen Freely.

Maureen Freely said: “This prize is English PEN’s way of thanking Salman Rushdie not just for his books and his many years of speaking out for freedom of expression, but also for his countless private acts of kindness.  When he sees writers unjustly vilified, prosecuted, or forced into exile, he takes a personal interest. I think he would be the first to say that it was Harold Pinter who set the example in this regard: the engaged writer never sleeps.”

Salman Rushdie said:”It’s very moving to receive an award named after my friend Harold Pinter, whose literary genius was matched by his passion for social justice, and to follow in the distinguished footsteps of the previous recipients, Tony Harrison, Hanif Kureishi, David Hare, Carol Ann Duffy and Tom Stoppard. As a matter of fact, many years ago, I first met Harold and Antonia through English PEN, and of course they, and PEN, were later active in my defence when I needed it. The work of PEN, both in promoting the best of world literature and in opposing abuses of freedom, continues to be vitally important, and I’m proud to have been a part of that effort in England as well as the United States.”

Antonia Fraser, Harold Pinter’s widow, welcomed the award of the PEN/Pinter Prize to Salman Rushdie and commented: “Harold admired Salman Rushdie’s work profoundly long before he met him. When we did all meet, a friendship grew up which was very important to Harold; he was honoured to deliver Salman’s own lecture at the Institute of Contemporary Arts shortly after the fatwa. This award would have meant a great deal to Harold who respected Salman twice over, both for his work and his great personal courage.”

Salman Rushdie’s prize will be shared with an International Writer of Courage selected by him in association with English PEN’s Writers at Risk Committee.  The recipient will be a writer who has been intimidated for speaking out about their beliefs. The co-winner will be announced at the event at the British Library on 9 October where they will accept their prize alongside Salman Rushdie.

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Basil Venitis

India used to be the land of gup, which meant talk, arguments, conversations, and debates. Babble and noise, that’s what gup is. But it is fast becoming the land of chup, of sepulchral silence, where people must think twice before they say what they feel. The hushed silence that chup demands is not the respectful silence of a library, but the silence of acquiescence; the people demanding the silence are the sort to burn or ban books.

In Rushdie’s novel, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, the Prince of Silence and the Foe of Speech is called Khattam-Shud, and he rules a land called Chup, which has a cult that promotes muteness. It is a land at peace, in harmony. But that outward stability conceals inner fragility. Such societies force their citizens to live a lie: that their contrived cheer and forced harmony are superior. Open societies appear brittle and frail because outwardly they are cacophonous, where everyone can contradict everyone else, and where nothing is sacred. But there is inner strength.

Rushdie points out all those arguments and debates, all that openness, had created powerful bonds of fellowship between them. The Chupwalas, those from the silent land, turned out to be a disunited rabble, suspicious and distrustful of one another. The land of Gup is bathed in endless sunshine, while over in Chup, it is always the middle of the night. We watch as India hovers over that precipice; it must decide what kind of society it wishes to be — where the mind is without fear, or where words are swallowed, lest they offend somebody.

Despite such growth, India has struggled to strike a balance between its security concerns and online freedom. India has been known to censor online content, typically under the guise of national security or obscenity. Though the country’s constitution guarantees the right to freedom of expression, the State is given the right to impose reasonable restrictions in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offence.

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