What writers are saying about Salman Rushdie

To read International PEN’s statement on this issue, please click here.


On Friday June 15, Salman Rushdie was awarded a knighthood. The following week, the Pakistan National Assembly called for the knighthood to be revoked. Here, writers from around the world explain why they believe Rushdie deserves this honour:


Nadeem Aslam: ‘There is no writer in Britain
none – who matches Salman Rushdie’s imaginative boldness in this
book [The Satanic Verses] or others. I often find myself thinking of the beautiful
braiding together of the various storylines: this coming together of
various worlds was present in books by other authors before 1988, but not in
the context of the the Subcontinental immigrant experience. The world left
behind –
India, Pakistan, Bangladesh – and the world arrived at – Britain
always seemed compartmentalised; a ghost from
India could not
appear in


But Rushdie’s book literally broke
down the barriers: I was astonished as a young first-year university
student to read about Rekha Merchant’s spirit appearing in
London. I cannot
emphasize this enough: I hadn’t encountered this kind of mingling in
literature about my experiences before The Satanic Verses. 


I love thinking about the opening sequence
of this book (one of the great episodes in contemporary literature); the
two teenage girls of the Bengali restaurant owner; the sad man in the
mansion by the river; the girl who eats butterflies and leads a village
into the sea…       


And so it is that I watch the current
situation unfold with anxiety – a thing loved by me is being
attacked. When I see the riots I wonder if it could all simmer down
by next week: I know how easy it is organise a riot in certain places, in
certain cities. Perhaps as few as ten phone calls are all that’s needed to
bring a mob together.  


But then I also know what mobs are capable
of. Adrenalin can ignite. And at times even the authorities are
helpless. The Sunday before Rushdie’s knighthood was announced,
the CCPO (Capital City Police Officer) of
Lahore, Inspector
General Malik Muhammad Iqbal said publicly that in many cases people
with religious sentiments pressure police into lodging blasphemy cases. He said
that ‘no doubt people have been taking advantage of the blasphemy law.’

From 9 May to 9 June 2007, three
incidents of such misuse were reported in the Pakistani press – people wishing
to grab someone’s property had simply accused them of having said
something disrespectful about Allah or Muhammad. The police had had no choice
but to arrest the alleged blasphemer. The accused would probably be beaten
by other inmates; there have been cases where such prisoners have
been murdered in their cells during the night. I mustn’t forget
the time when, as a child, I got into trouble at the mosque for refusing
to say I loved Allah and Muhammad ‘more than my parents’. The other
children around me seemed to have no trouble saying it and my reluctance was
seen as something contemptible by everyone.


So I express here my complete
solidarity with Salman Rushdie, and with the many people who are being
persecuted in the name of religion across the globe.’

Lisa Appignanesi: ‘It is hardly unexpected, yet nonetheless bizarre, that the Queen’s recognition of Salman Rushdie’s achievement by honouring him with a knighthood should raise such a storm of controversy. Judged purely in cultural rather than in political terms, after all, Rushdie is undeniably amongst the greats of British literature. He is the Dickens of our times. A visionary realist, his superbly inventive, grandly comic stories chart the great social transitions of our globalising, post-colonial world, with its migrations, its teeming hybrid cities, its clash of unlikenesses, its extremes of love and violence. They do so with a richness of language and narrative which is unsurpassed. For Iran’s Foreign Ministry to wade into our honours system and portray the decision to honour Rushdie as ‘an orchestrated act of aggression directed against Islamic societies’ is to repeat the mistake which began with their Ayatollah Khomeini’s Fatwa. That killing review chose utterly to misunderstand the place  fiction occupies in the west and subject it to a fundamentalist jurisdiction which essentially recognizes only one book, and that one holy. The journalists,  writers and academics who languish in Iran‘s prisons are a mark of that regime’s intolerance of any form of dissent. This is hardly the Islam that most Muslims in Britain would wish to support.’

Linda Grant: ‘We honour Salman Rushdie for his huge gifts as a writer. Writing gives
offence, that is part of its role. I am enraged by the campaign to threaten
Britain for honouring one of its greatest writers.’

Hari Kunzru: ‘Salman Rushdie’s knighthood is a recognition by Britain of his importance to the global cultural scene, and the pathways he has opened, not just for English literature, but the English language. The idea that it is some kind of calculated insult is an absurdity. The real insult – to the intelligence and decency of “the world’s 1.5 billion muslims”, for whom people such as Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq, religious affairs minister of Pakistan, presume to speak – comes from the ignorance and paranoia of leaders who feel so threatened by a novelist that they’ll call for him to be killed.’

David Mitchell: ‘Salman Rushdie is a major figure in English literature, and deserves not only
this honour, but also the support of anyone who believes in the freedoms of
speech, religion and thought.’

Kathy Lette: ‘On Saturday Salman Rushdie was awarded a knighthood. Being Australian, of course, I’m slightly allergic to royal anointing of any kind. (Although one reason to accept a Knighthood would be the fun it would give you being able to describe all future casual romantic liaisons as ‘a one knight stand.’) But I am definitely in favour of celebrating the achievements  of writers. And I’m particularly in favour of celebrating the achievements of Salman Rushdie, who deserves to win every accolade imaginable for his creative gifts, but also for his immense bravery.’

Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/news/_1632

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