A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Salman Rushdie is “more than a literary giant,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday as the icon remained in critical condition after Friday’s stabbing attack. Rushdie “has consistently stood up for the universal rights of freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of the press,” Blinken said. “Specifically, Iranian state institutions have incited violence against Rushdie for generations, and state-affiliated media recently gloated about the attempt on his life. This is despicable.”
Blinken said Rushdie’s strength “steels our resolve and underscores the imperative of standing united as an international community against those who would challenge these universal rights.”
There has, indeed, been global outrage in the wake of the Rushdie attack. President Biden said the author stands for “the ability to share ideas without fear.” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called the attack “an assault on global freedom of expression.”
On Sunday, Rushdie’s son Zafar said that “though his life changing injuries are severe, his usual feisty & defiant sense of humor remains intact. We are so grateful to all the audience members who bravely leapt to his defense and administered first aid along with the police and doctors who have cared for him and for the outpouring of love and support from around the world.”
On “Reliable Sources,” I spoke with Henry Reese, who was on stage with Rushdie when the attack occurred. At first, he said, “it looked like a sort of bad prank, and it didn’t have any sense of reality. And then when there was blood behind him, it became real.”
Reese said he didn’t want to talk about the details, or his own injury (he had a bandage above his eye), but he definitely wanted to talk about the protection of writers. That’s what Friday’s planned event was all about. And that’s what Reese’s organization City of Asylum is about, too. Billed as the “largest residency program in the world for writers living in exile under threat of persecution,” the group defends the values Rushdie represents.
Reese said “we should all go out and buy a book by Salman Rushdie this week and read it.” And writers, he said, should “write to the full extent of truthfulness and their ability.” We should all recognize the importance of creative expression “and how it brings people to discuss important issues and to think about people other than themselves.”
>> Randy Boyagoda made a similar point in this new piece for The Atlantic titled “To Support Salman Rushdie, Just Read Him.”
“No comparable incident…”
Via CNN’s story: Press Freedom group PEN America said the organization “is reeling from shock and horror” after Friday’s attack. “We can think of no comparable incident of a public attack on a literary writer on American soil,” said CEO Suzanne Nossel. “Salman Rushdie has been targeted for his words for decades but has never flinched nor faltered,” Nossel said. “He has devoted tireless energy to assisting others who are vulnerable and menaced.” Nossel also said that hours before the attack Rushdie had emailed her asking for help in finding safe refuge for “Ukrainian writers in need of safe refuge from the grave perils they face…”
– “A man with a knife could not silence a man with a pen,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul told a crowd gathered at the Chautauqua Institution on Sunday.
– “The criticism voiced by some about a possible lapse of security at Chautauqua is at odds with Rushdie’s sense of his work and himself,” Boyagoda added. “He made the choice to put freedom of expression and freedom of movement before their fearful alternatives…”
– AP correspondent Joshua Goodman, who is based in Miami, happened to be at Chautauqua with his family on Friday. He expected “a peaceful week away from the news. Instead, the news found him…”
– “Top Chef” star and Rushdie’s former wife Padma Lakshmi said she’s “relieved” the author is “pulling through:” “Now hoping for swift healing…”