World-famous author Salman Rushdie called for the unconditional defence of freedom of expression as he received the German Book Trade Peace Prize in Frankfurt on October 22.
The British author of Indian origin denounced the current situation as one in which freedom of speech is under attack from all sides “by reactionary, authoritarian, populist, demagogic, half-educated, narcissistic and careless voices”.
“We are living in a time I did not think I would have to live [in],” Rushdie continued. It is a time “when educational institutions and libraries face censorship and hostility” he said, adding, “when extremist religions and intolerant ideologies are beginning to penetrate areas of life where they have no business”.
“We live in a world of immorality, shamelessness, betrayal, and cunning, where the wicked have often prevailed everywhere,” Rushdie said.
Regarding freedom of speech, he said there was “a censorship that gives itself the appearance of virtue and that many people, especially young people, consider a virtue”.
He called for a strong defence of free speech. Instead of responding with censorship, “we should fight bad speech with better speech, counter false stories with better ones, respond to hate with love, and not give up hope that truth can prevail even in a time of lies”, he said.
Rushdie has been in constant danger since 1989 due to a “fatwa” calling for his murder over alleged blasphemy in his novel The Satanic Verses.
He was stabbed repeatedly on stage at a literary event in New York state in August 2022. As a result, he lost an eye and his left hand was damaged.
He wrote a book about this, to be released in April 2024, saying it was a way “to answer violence with art”.
Rushdie was honoured at the German literary event “for his resolve, his positive attitude to life and for the fact that he enriches the world with his pleasure in narrating”.
In his acknowledgements he made an apparent reference to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He referred to a war “not very far away” that was the result of “one man’s tyranny and greed for power and conquest – a sad narrative that will not be unfamiliar to a German audience”.
Using the conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip as an example, Rushdie stated that art and artists were a way to protect civilisation and “keep the barbarians at bay”.
Regarding peace, the author said: “However difficult it may be to find, however impossible it may seem, is one of our great values that must be passionately pursued.”
More than 100 prominent intellectuals and academics have written a collective statement, called the #WestminsterDeclaration, regarding threats against free speech.@jordanbpeterson | @JohnCleese | @KonstantinKisin | @ClarkeMicah | @yanisvaroufakis https://t.co/wXZea6n54k
— Brussels Signal (@brusselssignal) October 18, 2023