Salman Rushdie gave a rare public speech in which he warned of ongoing attacks against freedom of expression in the West, nine months after being injured by an attacker on the internet. stage.
The British-Indian American novelist made his remarks in a video speech at the British Book Awards, where he was honored with the Freedom of Publication award.
The award is given to writers, publishers or booksellers who take an exceptional stand for free speech, “despite the ongoing threats they face.”
Rushdie, 75, spent years in hiding with police protection after Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, in 1989 calling for his death for blasphemy charges in his novel. The verses of Satan.
Last August, he went blind in one eye and damaged a nerve in his hand when he was attacked on stage at a New York State literary festival.
His alleged attacker, Hadi Matar, has pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and attempted murder.
In his speech, delivered on Monday, May 15, Rushdie warned that the right to freedom of expression was under the most serious threat of his life.
“I think we are living in a time where freedom of speech, freedom of publication has never been so threatened in my life in Western countries,” he said.
“Now that I am sitting here in the US, I have to watch the unusual attack on libraries and children’s books in schools. An attack on the ideas of the libraries themselves. It’s very alarming, and we need to be very aware of it, and do our utmost to combat it.”
Rushdie also criticized publishers for altering decades-old books to accommodate modern sensibilities, such as large-scale cuts and rewrites of works by children’s author Roald Dahl and James Bond author Ian Fleming.
Puffin UK recently changed the way Dahl’s children’s books were censored, whereby words like “fat” were removed and other passages were rewritten to remove language that publishers deemed offensive. .
However, following the extraordinary intervention of Queen Camilla, then Queen of Consort, Puffin UK said it would publish both censored and uncensored editions.
Rushdie said that publishers’ efforts to make Fleming’s books more politically correct were “almost comical”.
“I have to say it is alarming to see publishers looking to fabricate the work of the likes of Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming,” he said.
“The idea that James Bond could be politically correct is almost comical. I think that must be countered. Books must come to us from their time and their time, and if that’s hard to accept, don’t read them. Read another book, but don’t try to remake yesterday’s work in light of today’s attitudes.”
Additional reports from agencies