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Coward Attacks Literary Giant, Achieves Nothing

Famous author Salman Rushdie was assaulted in Chautauqua, New York, as he waited to deliver a lecture. He's is said to be in critical condition, according to latest reports

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A 75-year-old man was stabbed multiple times in New York and has been admitted to a hospital with serious injuries. It sounds like the usual news in our world, nothing special. Only, this incident took place at a literary event, not in a dark alleyway, and the old man in the hospital is Salman Rushdie.

The attacker did not ask Rushdie for his wallet and watch, as our Hollywood-addled brains might expect from a New York-style violent crime, nor is there any indication of personal enmity between the two men. Officially, the authorities have not yet made public any apparent motive behind the attack. We have, however, the context of the 1989 fatwa against Rushdie and in my personal opinion, it is safe to assume that the reason for this vicious attack will turn out to be a few words that Rushdie  wrote somewhere and his attacker decided were offensive enough to warrant a murder.

Already, there are reports of the pro-establishment people in Iran celebrating the attack and wishing for Rushdie’s death. There are proud tweets been made quoting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s 1989 remark about the author, “As I have already said, this is a bullet for which there is a target. It has been shot. It will one day sooner or later hit the target.”

On the other hand, there are the statements from appalled Americans. “It is hard to find words to express the emotions occasioned by today’s shocking attack on Salman Rushdie,” said Ayad Akhtar, President of PEN America.

Well, Americans may very well be shocked, but as someone living in India, the country where Rushdie was born, we cannot make the same claim. We are angry, yes, sad too and a little frightened, we must admit. But shocked? No, not at all. We are used to having our writers, artists, moviemakers and actors threatened with murder all the time here and these days we even seem to be becoming ever more tolerant towards the celebration of Nathuram Godse and his ilk.

We may even venture that we are all too familiar with Rushdie’s attacker because he is nothing special - he belongs to the same class of cowards across races, religions, castes, sexualities and nationalities who just can’t seem to wrap their petty little heads around a fact that has been repeated so many times as to almost make it a cliché:

Killing a man does not kill his ideas.

All these cowards, this one notwithstanding, seem to believe that attacking an artist will detract people from engaging with their art or discourage other artists from producing similar art. Newsflash: it doesn’t work that way.

You can go right ahead, stab Salman Rushdie, pray for his death, burn his books and you will still not make a dent in the impact of his work. On the contrary, he will be read more than ever before. People who would not have heard of him otherwise will see his name plastered across news platforms and social media sites, many of them will grow curious and do a quick Google search, some might even pick up one of his books or read a freely available essay. He may lose an eye, perhaps a lot more, but thousands of people everywhere will discover his writing all over again and, through it, entirely different ways of looking at the world around them - they will feel like someone has equipped them with a fresh pair of eyes just now.

Hate may help elections or justify genocides, but it is entirely ineffectual against writers. As someone for whom Rushdie’s voice has played a huge part in developing his own, that eventually he may not even be angry at the pathetic joke of a human being who stabbed him. He might merely shrug, make a wry joke or two about it and then go back to working on the next book. Meanwhile, as he recovers, it is our duty to carry on the good fight with our own stories and remember what he said in a recent speech at the PEN World Voices Festival:

“A poem cannot stop a bullet. A novel can’t defuse a bomb. But we are not helpless. We can sing the truth and name the liars.”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


AM Gautam

The author is an independent writer

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