Salman Rushdie ready to fight proposed legislation on religious hatred

“Democracy is not a tea-party”.
– Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie

With the renowned author Salman Rushdie as the main speaker, English PEN launched its OFFENCE campaign  (Free Expression Is No Offence) to lobby against the government’s proposed Offence of ‘incitement of religious hatred’ in the Serious and Organised Crime and Police Bill. Lisa Appignanesi, Deputy President of English PEN and member of the Writers in Prison Committee introduced the author.

Rushdie whole-heartedly supported the campaign initiated by English PEN, even urging the members to deliberately break the proposed legislation, if it ever becomes law. – The way you challenge the law is to force it into the law courts. But it’s going to need dozens of us, perhaps hundreds, he said, to the applause of the gathered English PEN members. Rushdie was afraid the Enlightenment battle for freedom of thought and speech, was about to be un-won if the Home Office got its way.

The author asserted that the government would tell you privately that this law is proposed to please the Muslims. – But which Muslims, when and on what day? Rushdie was tired of the constructed concept called “The Muslims”. He considered it to be at least arguable that there even exists any kind of “The Muslims” who, on top of it all, would be pleased by having their free speech removed.

– It is entirely possible, Rushdie said, that this law will be used against Muslims, before it’s used against anyone else. Because there are perfectly identifiable racist and rightwing groups in this country which would argue that Muslims are the ones inciting religious hatred, and these groups will use, or try to use, this law.

PEN members, during Rushdies talk

PEN members, during Rushdie’s talk

Rushdie added that he learned something when studying at Cambridge, that he has remembered ever since. A method of argument which said that you never personalise, but still, you have absolutely no respect for people’s opinions. In other words, never be rude to a person, but be savagely rude about what the person thinks. – And that seems to me to be an absolutely crucial distinction: you must protect people from discrimination by virtue of who they are, whether that’s race or whatever but you cannot ring-fence their ideas.

– Democracy is not a tea party. Democracy is not a place where people sit around making polite conversation with each other.

Salman Rushdie is also the current President of American PEN.

Click here for the transcript of Rushdie’s talk. The transcript was also printed as a commentary article in The Independent some days after the event (22.01.05).

Report by Hadia Tajik

Originally posted with the url:

About English PEN staff

This content is published by the English PEN staff.

View all posts by English PEN staff →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *