rushdie avedon

When he was a child Salman Rushdie’s father read to him ‘the great wonder tales of the East’ – the stories of Scheherazade from the Thousand and One Nights; the animal fables of the ancient Indian Panchatantra; ‘the marvels that poured like a waterfall from the Kathasaritsagara’, the famous 11th-century Sanskrit collection of myths; the ‘tales of the mighty heroes collected in the Hamzanama’ that tell of the legendary exploits of Amir Hamza, uncle to the Prophet Mohammed; and the ancient Persian classic, The Adventures of Hatim Tai. Rushdie’s father ‘told them and retold them and remade them and reinvented them in his own way’.

To grow up ‘steeped in these tellings’, Rushdie writes in his memoir Joseph Anton, ‘was to learn two unforgettable lessons’. First, that ‘stories were not true… but by being untrue they could make him feel and know truths that the truth could not tell him’.  And, second, that all stories ‘belonged to him, just as they belonged to his father, Anis, and to everyone else’.  Most of all, the young Rushdie learnt that ‘Man was a storytelling animal, the only creature on earth that told itself stories to understand what kind of creature it was. The story was his birthright, and nobody could take it away’.

Except that by the time Rushdie was old enough to read these stories to his own son that was exactly what many people wanted to do. And to take away not just his birthright but his life too.

It is exactly 25 years ago today, on Valentine’s Day 1989, that the Ayotollah Khomeini issued his fatwa on Rushdie, for the ‘blasphemies’ of his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses. ‘I inform all zealous Muslims of the world’, proclaimed Iran’s spiritual leader, ‘that the author of the book entitled The Satanic Verses – which has been compiled, printed and published in opposition to Islam, the Prophet and the Qur’an – and all those involved in its publication who were aware of its contents are sentenced to death.’ Rushdie had in effect been sentenced to death for writing a story. Many were to be killed for translating and publishing that story. Bookshops were bombed for stocking it. It is a measure of the strangeness of the world in which we now live that storytelling can be such a hazardous craft. It is a world far stranger than any imagined in Rushdie’s tales.

tsv cover

Cloaked as it is in the shadow of the fatwa, The Satanic Verses has come to be seen purely as a novel about Islam. Rushdie wrote it, in fact, as a novel about the migrant experience that ‘could explore the joining-ups and also disjointednesses of here and therethen and now, reality and dreams’. Rushdie has always seen himself as a man inhabiting a world ‘in-between’ three cultures – those of India, Pakistan and England. What he wanted to know was how to ‘connect the different worlds from which he had come’, by exploring ‘how the world joined up, not only how the East flowed into the West and the West into the East, but how the past shaped the present while the present changed the understanding of the past.’

It was a hugely ambitious task.  Yet it was also one that spoke to the moment. The 1980s was a decade that saw the beginnings of the breakdown of traditional boundaries, physical, political, moral, and a sense of world rendered new, a world for which there was no map or compass.  ‘How does newness enter the world?’, Rushdie asks in The Satanic Verses.  The significance of Rushdie’s great trilogy of the 1980s – Midnight’s ChildrenShame and The Satanic Verses – is that not only did he pose that question, but he also found a language through which to answer it.

Of all Rushdie’s novels, The Satanic Verses is probably the one that most deeply inhabits the world ‘in between’, that most truly explores ‘how the world joined up’, that reveals most imaginatively ‘how the East flowed into the West and the West into the East’, that excavates most sharply how ‘the past shaped the present while the present changed the understanding of the past’. It is a novel as much about Vilayet (the Hindi word for ‘foreign place’ that Rushdie uses as a label for Britain) as it is about Jahilia, (the city of sand, that represents Mecca); a novel as much about racism and imperialism as it is about Islam and theocracy. That is one of the ironies of the Muslim response to the novel. As Hanif Kureishi was later to remark of the campaign against The Satanic Verses,  ‘I was flabbergasted. How could a community that I identified with turn against a writer who was one of its most articulate voices?’

But ‘when a book leaves its author’s desk’, Rushdie observes in Joseph Anton, ‘it changes’. It becomes ‘a book that can be read, that no longer belongs to its maker. It has acquired, in a sense, free will… The book has gone out into the world and the world has remade it.’ When The Satanic Verses left its author’s desk it became not a means of making sense of the migrant experience but a weapon to be wielded by Islamists in their wars with each other, with secularists and with the West.

Satanic Verses burning

Thanks to the Ayatollah Khoemini’s fatwa, the Rushdie affair became the most important free speech controversy of modern times. It also became a watershed in our attitudes to freedom of expression. Rushdie’s critics lost the battle – The Satanic Verses continues to be published. But they won the war. The argument at the heart of the anti-Rushdie case – that it is morally unacceptable to cause offence to other cultures – is now widely accepted.

In 1989 not even a fatwa could stop the publication of The Satanic Verses. Rushdie was forced into hiding for almost a decade. Translators and publishers were assaulted and even murdered. In July 1991, Hitoshi Igarashi, a Japanese professor of literature and translator of The Satanic Verses, was knifed to death on the campus of Tsukuba University. That same month another translator of Rushdie’s novel, the Italian Ettore Capriolo, was beaten up and stabbed in his Milan apartment. In October 1993 William Nygaard, the Norwegian publisher of The Satanic Verses, was shot three times and left for dead outside his home in Oslo. None of the assailants were ever caught. Bookshops were firebombed for stocking the novel.

Peter Mayer was the CEO of Penguin at the time. He was subject to a vicious campaign of hatred and intimidation.  ‘I had letters delivered to me written in blood’, he remembered in an interview he gave for my book From Fatwa to Jihad, the first time that he had talked publicly about those events of 1989. ‘I had telephone calls in the middle of the night, saying not just that they would kill me but that they take my daughter and smash her head against a concrete wall. Vile stuff.’ Yet neither Mayer nor Penguin countenanced backing down. ‘I told the [Penguin] board, “You have to take the long view. Any climbdown now will only encourage future terrorist attacks by individuals or groups offended for whatever reason by other books that we or any publisher might publish.”’ What was at stake, Mayer recognized, was ‘much more than simply the fate of this one book.  How we responded to the controversy over The Satanic Verses would affect the future of free inquiry, without which there would be no publishing as we knew it, but also, by extension, no civil society as we knew it.’

It is an attitude that seems to belong to a different age. Contrast Mayer’s courage in 1989 with Penguin’s decision this week to withdraw all copies of Wendy Doniger’s controversial book The Hindus: An Alternative History. Doniger is the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School, and one of the foremost authorities on Hinduism. Her book, first published in 2009, has won many accolades; it has also angered many hardline Hindu groups. In 2011 a New Delhi-based group called Shiksha Bachao Andolan brought a court case against the book claiming that it consisted of a ‘shocking and appalling series of anecdotes which denigrate, distort and misrepresent Hinduism and the history of India and Hindus’.

The Satanic Verses itself was banned in India even before it was published. But in 1989, Penguin continued to fight for the right to free expression. Today, in the case of Doniger’s book, there is no state ban, only private litigation. And the publisher has crumbled in the face of groups shouting ‘offence’.

doniger hindus cover

Mayer and the old Penguin belonged to a world in which the defence of free speech was seen as an irrevocable duty. ‘We all came to agree’, he told me,  ‘that all we could do, as individuals or as a company, was to uphold the principles that underlay our profession and which, since the invention of movable type, have brought it respect. We were publishers. I thought that meant something. We all did.’ He took his cue from Baal, the irreverent, satirical poet in The Satanic Verses. ‘A poet’s work’, Baal observes, ‘To name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world and stop it from going to sleep.’

Today’s Penguin, like many publishers, like many liberals, takes Baal’s observation to be not self-evident but shockingly offensive. To such an extent has the Rushdie affair transformed the landscape of free speech that what many fear today is precisely the starting of arguments. What they most want is for the world to go to sleep.

Twenty five years ago not even death threats, bombings and murders could not stop the publication of The Satanic Verses. Today, all it takes is for one person to shout ‘offence’ for liberals to haul out the metaphorical burqa to protect our sensitivities. Penguin’s pulping of Doniger’s book (or British broadcasters’refusal to show a Jesus and Mo cartoon) reveals how deeply the fatwa has become internalized.

‘Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties’, wrote the English poet John Milton in Areopagitica, his famous 1644 ‘speech for the liberty of unlicenc’d printing’, adding that ‘He who destroys a good book destroys reason itself’. For the next three centuries all progressive political strands were wedded to the principle of free speech as the necessary condition for social and political advance.

Of course, the liberal defence of free speech was shot through with hypocrisy. Milton himself opposed the extension of free speech to Catholics on the grounds that the Catholic Church was undeserving of  freedom and liberty. A whole host of harms – from the incitement to hatred to threats to national security, from the promotion of blasphemy to the spread of slander – have been cited as reasons to curtail speech. Yet, however hypocritical liberal arguments may sometimes have seemed, and notwithstanding the fact that most free speech advocates accepted that the line had to be drawn somewhere, there was nevertheless an acknowledgement that speech was an inherent good, the fullest extension of which was a necessary condition for the elucidation of truth, the expression of moral autonomy, the maintenance of social progress and the development of other liberties. Restrictions on free speech were seen as the exception rather than as the norm. Radicals recognized that the way to challenge the hypocrisy was not by restricting free speech further but by extending it to all.

It is this idea of speech as a fundamental good that has been transformed. Today, free speech is as likely to be seen as a threat to liberty as its shield. By its very nature, many argue, speech damages basic freedoms. Hate speech undermines the freedom to live free from fear. The giving of offence diminishes the freedom to have one’s beliefs and values recognized and respected. In the post-Rushdie world speech has come to be seen not as intrinsically good but as inherently a problem. Speech, therefore, has to be restrained, not in exceptional circumstances, but all the time and everywhere, especially in diverse societies with a variety of deeply held views and beliefs. Censorship (and self-censorship) has to become the norm. ‘Self-censorship’, as the Muslim philosopher and spokesman for the Bradford Council of Mosques Shabbir Akhtar put it at the height of the Rushdie affair, ‘is a meaningful demand in a world of varied and passionately held convictions. What Rushdie publishes about Islam is not just his business. It is everyone’s – not least every Muslim’s – business.’

British author Salman Rushdie poses for photographers during a photocall before his news conference at Asia house in Barcelona

Increasingly politicians and policy makers, publishers and directors, liberals and conservatives, in the East and in the West, have come to agree. Whatever may be right in principle, many now argue, in practice one must appease religious and cultural sensibilities because such sensibilities are so deeply felt. We live in a world, so the argument runs, in which there are deep-seated conflicts between cultures embodying different values, many of which are incommensurate but all of which are valid in their own context. The controversy over The Satanic Verses was one such conflict. For such diverse societies to function and to be fair, we need to show respect for other peoples, cultures, and viewpoints.  Social justice requires not just that individuals are treated as political equals, but also that their cultural beliefs are given equal recognition and respect. The avoidance of cultural pain has therefore come to be regarded as more important than the right to free expression.  As the British sociologist Tariq Modood has put it, ‘If people are to occupy the same political space without conflict, they mutually have to limit the extent to which they subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism.’

The consequence has been the creation not of a less conflicted world, but of one that is more sectarian, fragmented and tribal.  As the novelist Monica Ali has put it, ‘If you set up a marketplace of outrage you have to expect everyone to enter it. Everyone now wants to say, “My feelings are more hurt than yours”.’ The more that policy makers give licence for people to be offended, the more that people will seize the opportunity to feel offended. It leads to the encouragement of interest groups and the growth of sectarian conflict.

Ironically, there are few novelists who have better addressed the issue of cultural conflict than Rushdie himself. His writings helped transform the very  concept. Cultures, he insisted, are always conflictual because they are never authentic or fixed but ever churning and changing, forcing ideas, and memories, and thoughts and histories to clash with each other. Conflict was an inevitable part of facing up to the world.In forcing ideas and memories and thoughts and histories to clash with each other in the imagined worlds of his novels, Rushdie allowed the imagination to illuminate the real world too.

In reframing cultural conflict in this fashion, Rushdie spoke not just to the migrant experience but also to the experience of a world now becoming unstitched. If the 1980s was a decade that saw the beginnings of the breakdown of traditional boundaries, and the creation of new social terrains, then Rushdie’s novels began to chart those terrains. The experience of a world unravelling, he suggested, was akin to the experience of migration and of the disruption and dislocation it created.

The breakdown of the old boundaries that Rushdie addressed in his novels created in many a sense of disorientation and a yearning for fixed points of reference. One expression of this was the growing significance of ‘identity politics’: the understanding of political attachments and collective interests in terms not of belief systems, programmatic manifestos, or party affiliation, but of distinct constituencies and communities defined in terms of much narrower, fixed identities, and, increasingly, the rooting of such identities in faith.  As people began to cling ever more fiercely to particular cultural identities, so the symbols of such identities became ever more important and there developed inevitably resentment of, and hostility to, any attacks on such symbols. It is against this background that the ‘Rushdie affair’ emerged.  If The Satanic Verses was a product of the breakdown of old boundaries so, too, was the campaign against the novel. The roots of the campaign against The Satanic Verses are complex and as embedded in political strife as in religious belief. One way to understand it, however, is as the first great expression of fear of a mapless world, the first great contemporary confrontation over identity and the resources necessary for sustaining identity.

It is not just Salman Rushdie or The Satanic Verses that lives in the shadow of the fatwa. We all do. And that is why Shabbir Akhtar was right. What Salman Rushdie says is everybody’s business. So is what Wendy Doniger says. And what Jesus and Mo say. It is everybody’s business to ensure that no one is deprived of their right to say what they wish, even if it is deemed by some to be offensive. For in defending their right to do so, what we are truly defending is the necessity for a plural world, a world in which ‘the East can flow into the West and the West into the East’.  We are defending, too, the importance of a poet’s work, ‘To name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world and stop it from going to sleep.’



For the full story of the Rushdie affair and its legacy, see my book From Fatwa to Jihad.


The photos of Salman Rushdie are by Richard Avedon and Gustau Nacarino/Reuters. The photo of the Bradford burning of The Satanic Verses is by Garry Clarkson.


  1. Bob Waring

    A very eloquent expression of a necessary truth. Thank you for this and your long-standing and public defense of freedom of speech and ideas, and shame on the publishing house through which I achieved much of my self-education in the 1960s and 70s. Please keep up the good work for as long as it is needed (which sadly looks to be an indefinite period).

    Bob Waring

  2. The truly scary thing isn’t that many liberals haven’t so much buckled under threat of violence but that they have accepted the argument that to support free speech in the face of opposition is Western imperialism.

    They don’t think they are cowards because – really – they aren’t. Not in the sense that they fear for their lives. They’re just moral cowards because they won’t follow through on the right to free speech they’d demand if the opposition belonged to the same ethnic group as themselves

  3. bruce madeiros

    Great article and I am reminded of Penguin’s controversial removal of Wendy Doniger’s book the Hindus from circulation in India, a withdrawal which has been described as an “egregious violation of free speech” and “deplorable” by the international literary community.

  4. Aloevera

    Thank you for this piece which, in addition to stating the case for free speech very well, offers an excellent analytical summary of the significance of Rushdie’s writings.

    But–it seems to me (writing from the US) that we (you) are dealing here not only with an “idea problem” but with a “social”, and possibly “political” problem. I recently watched a Youtube clip of a talk given in London by a Muslim scholar in the wake of the publication of the Satanic Verses. The impression I was left with from both the lecture and the question-and-answer-session which followed (all questioners being Muslims, as well) was that they do not *understand* the whole point of freedom of speech, including the workings (and independence) of Western democratic institutions. And further–that they do *not care to understand* these, in any context, including the place of free speech in the nexus of the historic development of personal freedom, toleration, liberal legitimacy of the criticism of authority, or the workings of Western art (which, among other things, ironically, allows them to meet in the open and talk in terms that are very subversive to the society they are in)–and with no concern on their part (except derision) for the culture and desires of people in the rest of the society they have chosen to live in–along with the notion that in the event of any discomfort, it is others who must adjust to them, and not vice versa.

    On audience member, asking for advice from the speaker on how to proceed with regard to Rushdie and his book, actually complained that British society was “tolerant” (thus wondering, how could they, the Muslims in Britain, deal adequately with Rushdie?)–(The clip is here):

    I understand that there is likely a social and political play likely going on here–(pushing to promote one’s interests; flexing muscle for power; getting “back” at former oppressors; attaining respect on one’s own terms, etc). But unless these people involved in attacking Rushdie and his book were being disingenuous, then they really do not understand the cultural trappings of the place they have chosen to live in. And this widens the problem from one of simply standing up for freedom of speech and for adherence to UK laws on the part of the rest of the UK population–but includes the problem of how the wider society can address “deep” misunderstandings and “deep” cultural differences among people who have now become fellow citizens–by which I do not mean “appeasement” to the desires of these certain Muslims in the video clip, but how to orient them–socially and politically–towards accommodating themselves to the laws and customs of the place in which they choose to live.

    • This is not a ‘Muslim problem’ or an ‘immigration problem’. Muslims are no more opposed to free speech or democracy than non-Muslims are. Nor are Muslims alone in seeking redress for ‘offence’; the point of my piece was to show how the idea that one must not give offence has become part of mainstream culture in the West. And, as I pointed out in a previous essay on the Jesus and Mo cartoon controversy, it is precisely the view that Muslims are reactionary, and don’t understand free speech or liberal values, that so often creates the problem:

      Some Muslims find the Jesus and Mo cartoons offensive. Other Muslims – Maajid Nawaz among them – do not. Some found The Satanic Verses offensive. Others did not. Some Sikhs found Behzti offensive. Others did not. It is because what is often called ‘offence to a community’ is in reality a ‘debate within a community’ that so many of the flashpoints over offensiveness have been over works produced by minority artists – Salman Rushdie, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Hanif Kuresihi, Monica Ali, Sooreh Hera, Taslima Nasrin, MF Hussain, and so on.


      The trouble is, that every time one of these controversies comes along only the conservative, reactionary figures are seen as the authentic voices of minority communities. So the critics of The Satanic Verses were seen as authenitic Muslims, but not Salman Rushdie. The campaigners against Behzti were seen as authentic Sikhs, but not Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti. And so on. Salman Rushdie and Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti (and Maajid Nawaz) are regarded as too Westernized, secular or progressive to be truly of their community. To be a proper Muslim, in other words, is to be offended by the Jesus and Mo cartoons or The Satanic Verses, to be a proper Sikh is to be offended by Behzti. The argument that offensive talk should be restrained is, then, both rooted in a stereotype of what it is to be an authentic Muslim or a Sikh and helps reinforce that stereotype. It plays into the racist view of minority communities.

      What the anti-Muslim or anti-immigration argument does, as I suggested in another recent post, is to confuse peoples and values:

      People of North African or South Asian parentage, critics of immigration claim, will inevitably cleave to a different set of values than those of European ancestry. But why should they? Being born to European parents is not a passport to Enlightenment beliefs. So why should we imagine that having Bangladeshi or Moroccan ancestry makes one automatically believe in sharia? Secularism and fundamentalism are not ideas stitched into people’s DNA. They are, like all values, absorbed, accepted, rejected. A generation ago there were strong secular movements in Muslim communities and fundamentalism was a marginal force. Today secularism is much weaker, and Islamism much stronger. This shift has been propelled not by demographic changes but by political developments – the abandonment by the left of universalist values for particularist beliefs, the rise of identity politics, the imposition of multicultural policies, the collapse of broader sovial movements, and so on. And political developments can also help reverse the trend.

      The real problem, in other words, is not that Muslims but that liberals ‘do not *understand* the whole point of freedom of speech, including the workings (and independence) of Western democratic institutions’.

      • Aloevera

        Dear Mr Malik–

        Sorry if I gave the impression that I consider the free speech problem to be a “Muslim problem” or an “immigration problem” in some facile way. I am well aware that people from all backgrounds do appreciate and support the freedom of speech. (My own family were once immigrants from a non-Western place, and a great change took place between my immigrant grandparents generation, and my own, in New York City). In my comments above, I was careful to say “people involved in attacking Rushdie” –that is who I meant (not “all Muslims”) as my reference point, in this instance (–the detailed commentary in the video I referenced was of interest to me, at least, as an anthropologist–as I am always curious to see how people express their varied sorts of “logic”. In this case, they were certain interpreters of Islam).

        Perhaps we are talking past one another. There are many pieces and parts to what makes up “Liberalism the philosophy” (ranging from support of individual freedom and autonomy to support for equality, support for relative state neutrality with reference to “the good”, and the appreciation of the separation of peoples and values, as you note.

        But–there are many people who are called “Liberals” in different, even contradictory, ways–often derisively, with reference to their politics (and not philosophically). Thus the label “Liberal” becomes an epithet hurled by people on the more radical Left against those deemed too tepid, regarding such matters as capitalism or imperialism;–or as an epithet hurled by those on the Right against anyone to the Left of them. Very often, in the latter case, “Liberals” are understood as blindly supporting identity politics (and by extension, supporting immigration).

        If I understand you correctly here, you are taking neither of those epithet-throwing positions, but are suggesting that people who consider themselves “Liberal” (philosophically) betray their own professed values by not being supportive enough of such notions as the separation of values from people–or of blaming immigration for all ills. If so–then I am in agreement with you–again, possibly not clear from my previous comment.

        But what concerns me in terms of political action is the *practical* matter of communicating the values inherent in free speech (and related freedoms) and getting across the benefits and advantages of this to anyone who resists such things–and to reversing some of the unfortunate current trends you note in your opinion piece. I suppose the remedy for this problem is “more talk” in order to make one’s case. Yes, and I do try to do so in numerous private exchanges, as you do in public, But I am worried that it is not working very well, at this moment in “the age of globalization” –when frightened or defensive people are “tightening the screws” of their own identities or fears. There seem to me to be many people who do not want to understand–and I don’t know how to reach them to even begin the remedy of “more talk”. More often than not, one ends up preaching to the choir–and not even reaching contesting others.

  5. Roozbeh

    Hi Kenan, This is my little review of Rushdie’s Joseph Anton. Since I quoted you there, I thought I sent you this. The english needs to be polished,,, best wishes. R.

    In 1989 I was in the last year of high school in Tehran. After a break and before the “religion study” (of course), a student wrote in English “Satanic Verses” on the blackboard, since that was the news the night before, and since the phrase sounded cool. I still remember the handwriting. For weeks to come, he wet his pants why he did that. For entering university in Iran, you needed to be cleared by the school that you have pure thoughts and strong islamic belief (definitely not satanic).

    Fast forward to 1998, I was a student in Europe enjoying a scholarship to study Science. I started reading the Satanic Verses, just to find out why the grand Ayatollah and the Iranian regime is so keen to kill its author. It took me one non-interrupted year for the first reading (thanks to my full scholarship to do Science). For a science conference I needed to get a visa to Britain (having Iranian passport, you are only qualified to enter Heaven, but pretty much no place in Earth). I am sitting in the British consulate reading my book. I turned back and saw two Pakistanis with long beard (an old and a young guy) sitting behind me. The type who wanted to kill the author. I freaked out having the book Satanic Verses in my hand. I changed my seat so that they can’t see what I am reading. Then I realised the British behind the counter now can see an Iranian guy reading the book, wanting to enter the United Kingdom (and probably is familiarising himself with his target).

    That was my thought: if a student in Iran wetting his pants for just writing the name of the book and an average guy wetting his pants (both ways) by just having the book in his hand, what would the writer himself must go through?

    The book Joseph Anton answers that. It is a brutally honest account of 10 years of hiding. Rushdie writes of the confusion the event created “he realised,…, that he no longer understood his life”. He writes about his shame, “While all this and much more was happening (referring to publishers and bookshops bravely continuing the publication) the author of the Satanic Verses was crouching in shame behind a kitchen worktop to avoid being seen by a sheep farmer”. And here is why “…the working of Muslin ‘honour culture’ at the poles of whose moral axis were honour and shame, very different from Christian narrative of guilt and redemption. He came from that culture even though he was not religious, had been raised to care deeply about questions of pride. To skulk and hide was to lead to dishonourable life. He felt, very often in those years, profoundly ashamed. Both shamed and ashamed”.

    The book is an account of tremendous pressure and assault from all fronts. From his wife, from the British police, tabloids and not to mention the faithfuls and Iranian. “His biggest problem, he thought in his most bitter moments, was that he wasn’t dead…He was supposed to be dead, but he obviously hadn’t understood that. That was the headline everyone has set up, just waiting to run”… “two shots to the head and one to the chest”…

    But the book, 630 pages, is also an account of how he put on a fight. Along the way, how literature and his passion for literature kept him sane, “The greatest danger of the growing menace was that good men would commit intellectual suicide and call it peace. Good men would give in to fear and call it respect.”

    Throughout the work, Rushdie’s humour is present, something he always complained people missed in his work:
    A woman asking, “Mr. Rushdie, I have read your novel, Midnight’s Children. It’s a very long novel, but never mind, I read it through. And my question for you is this: Fundamentally, what’s your point?”. In a letter to his mother “…an imam wants to ban the ‘blasphemous’ Barbie doll. Would you ever have thought that poor Barbie and I would be guilty of the same offence?”

    The book is long and very detailed. This could become a bit frustrating as one feels giving too much details (nights with friends, going for take away food, etc) could hide the bigger picture. This was accurately noted in a review by Kenan Malik:

    “it is in exploring the wider issues of the Rushdie affair that Joseph Anton is, perhaps surprisingly, at its weakest. The memoir is extraordinarily rich in detail. It provides a blow-by-blow account of the meetings, the arguments, the feuds, the emotions. And yet that detail is rarely used to illuminate the big picture, to explore the bigger social, cultural, political and intellectual changes that the Rushdie affair has wrought, or at least symbolised. It was through the Rushdie affair that many of the issues that now dominate political debate – multiculturalism, free speech, radical Islam, terrorism – first came to the surface. It was also through the Rushdie affair that our thinking about these issues began to change. Few people are better placed than Rushdie himself to talk about these changes and to link the details to the historical shifts. Yet, that broader frame is largely missing in Joseph Anton. And without a frame the richness of detail can appear as a case of `one damn event after another’.”

    I enjoyed reading through the book. One thing is clear: This book is not in the same league as his masterpieces Midnight’s Children and the Satanic Verses. There one has a brilliant author who worked on each of the books for 5 years. There, one can feel each paragraph has been worked on, thought about, and researched.

    Despite that “he told his friends…his life has turn to a bad novel”, Rushdie manages to write a good book out of that!

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