‘Strong Ideas Welcomed Dissent’: Quotes & Excerpts From Salman Rushdie’s Writing
Salman Rushdie was stabbed on August 12th, 2022, while giving a lecture in New York.
Salman Rushdie was stabbed on Friday, 12 August, while giving a lecture in New York. The suspected attacker, Hadi Matar, allegedly rushed on stage where Rushdie was beginning his lecture and stabbed him in the neck and abdomen.
Salman Rushdie is a world renowned India-born British-American novelist, especially known for his fourth book 'Satanic Verses', which sparked controversy across the world. The book is banned in several countries, including India, and has led to an increasing number of threats to Rushdie's life.
While 'Satanic Verses' is his most controversial work, he has written several other books, fictional and non-fictional, expressing his views on religion, politics and his experiences. Here are a few excerpts from some of his work:
On Religion: 'Strong Ideas Welcomed Dissent'
Rushdie wrote an autobiography called 'Joseph Anton: A Memoir', published in 2012, detailing his life and experiences, mostly about his time in hiding while he was in constant danger due to the fatwa. During this time, he used the pseudonym Joseph Anton for publishing his works.
“When...did it become irrational to dislike religion, any religion, even to dislike it vehemently? When did reason get redescribed as unreason? When were the fairy stories of the superstitious placed above criticism, beyond satire? A religion was not a race. It was an idea, and ideas stood (or fell) because they were strong enough (or too weak) to withstand criticism, not because they were shielded from it. Strong ideas welcomed dissent.”Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton: A Memoir
On Autocratic Regimes
His third novel, 'Shame', was published in 1983, just prior to the Satanic Verses. It draws attention to his views on the problem of 'artifical' country divisions and the problems of post-colonialism, specifically India and Pakistan's partition due to religious differences.
“So-called Islamic 'fundamentalism' does not spring, in Pakistan, from the people. It is imposed on them from above. Autocratic regimes find it useful to espouse the rhetoric of faith, because people respect that language, are reluctant to oppose it. This is how religions shore up dictators; by encircling them with words of power, words which the people are reluctant to see discredited, disenfranchised, mocked.Salman Rushdie, Shame
He goes on to say-
"But the ramming-down-the-throat point stands. In the end, you get sick of it, you lose faith in the faith, if not qua faith then certainly as basis for a state. And then the dictator falls, and it is discovered that he had brought God down with him, that the justifying myth of the nation has been unmade. This leaves only two options: disintegration, or a new dictatorship ... no, there is a third, and I shall not be so pessimistic as to deny its possibility. The third option is the substitution of a new myth for the old one. Here are three such myths, all available from stock at short notice: liberty; equality; fraternity. I recommend them highly.”Salman Rushdie, Shame
'The Fundamentalist Believes That We Believe in Nothing'
Rushdie also published a series of untold speeches as a collection in 2002. In this, he discusses a variety of different topics ranging from Wizard of Oz to Indian Writing to the death of Princess Diana. He also discusses his views on fundamentalism.
“United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that we should now define ourselves not only by what we are for but by what we are against. I would reverse that proposition, because in the present instance, what we are against is a no brainer. Suicidist assassins ram wide-bodied aircraft into the World Trade Center and Pentagon and kill thousands of people: um, I'm against that. But what are we for? What will we risk our lives to defend? Can we unanimously concur that all the items in the preceding list – yes, even the short skirts and the dancing – are worth dying for? The fundamentalist believes that we believe in nothing.Salman Rushdie, Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992-2002
He talks about the motives of the fundamentalist.
In his world-view, he has his absolute certainties, while we are sunk in sybaritic indulgences. To prove him wrong, we must first know that he is wrong. We must agree on what matters: kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches, disagreement, cutting-edge fashion, literature, generosity, water, a more equitable distribution of the world's resources, movies, music, freedom of thought, beauty, love. These will be our weapons. Not by making war but by the unafraid way we choose to live shall we defeat them. How to defeat terrorism? Don't be terrorized. Don't let fear rule your life. Even if you are scared.”Salman Rushdie, Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992-2002
1,000 Days 'Trapped Inside a Metaphor'
While being known for his literary prowess, Rushdie has also been invited to deliver a number of different speeches and lectures. One such unforgettable speech was delivered at Columbia University in December, 1991. The speech was adapted from his essay, 'A 1,000 Days Trapped Inside a Metaphor.'
"Sometimes I think that one day, Muslims will be ashamed of what Muslims did in these times, will find the "Rushdie affair" as improbable as the West now finds martyr-burning. One day, they may agree that – as the European Enlightenment demonstrated – freedom of thought is precisely freedom from religious control, freedom from accusations of blasphemy. Maybe they'll agree, too, that the row over "The Satanic Verses" was at bottom an argument about who should have power over the grand narrative, the Story of Islam, and that that power must belong equally to everyone. That even if my novel were incompetent, its attempt to retell the story would still be important. That if I've failed, others must succeed, because those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts."Salman Rushdie, Speech at Columbia University
On the Book that Sparked Controversy and Sent Him in Hiding
In this speech at Columbia, he also discussed his feelings about Satanic Verses, a book that led to him having to live in hiding for nearly six years.
"I have never disowned "The Satanic Verses", nor regretted writing it. I said I was sorry to have offended people, because I had not set out to do so, and so I am. I explained that writers do not agree with every word spoken by every character they create – a truism in the world of books, but a continuing mystery to "The Satanic Verses' " opponents. I have always said that this novel has been traduced. Indeed, the chief benefit to my mind of my meeting with the six Islamic scholars on Christmas Eve, 1990, was that they agreed that the novel had no insulting motives. "In Islam, it is a man's intention that counts," I was told. "Now we will launch a worldwide campaign on your behalf to explain that there has been a great mistake." All this with much smiling and friendliness. . . . It was in this context that I agreed to suspend – not cancel – a paperback edition, to create what I called a space for reconciliation."Salman Rushdie, Speech at Columbia University
What Is My Single Life Worth?
In his speech at Columbia, Rushdie questioned the worth of his life. He compares it to the worth of good relations with Iran, whether the Muslim Community is right to have pronounced a fatwa on his life. He concludes the speech by telling the audience that it is up to people to determine the worth of his life or that of anyone’s.
"What is my single life worth? Is it worth more or less than the fat contracts and political treaties that are in here with me? Is it worth more or less than good relations with a country which, in April 1991, gave 800 women 74 lashes each for not wearing a veil; in which the 80-year-old writer Mariam Firouz is still in jail, and has been tortured; and whose Foreign Minister says, in response to criticism of his country's lamentable human rights record, "International monitoring of the human rights situation in Iran should not continue indefinitely . . . Iran could not tolerate such monitoring for long?" You must decide what you think a friend is worth to his friends, what you think a son is worth to his mother, or a father to his son. You must decide what a man's conscience and heart and soul are worth. You must decide what you think a writer is worth, what value you place on a maker of stories, and an arguer with the world. Ladies and gentlemen, the balloon is sinking into the abyss."Salman Rushdie, Speech at Columbia University
'The Bazaar of Conflicting Was the Place Where Freedom Rang'
"A comfortable prison was still a prison," Rushdie writes in 'Joseph Anton: A Memoir'. He writes about his time under the pseudonym. He discusses his life in hiding through third person, as though narrating someone else’s experiences. He details the restrictions and difficulties he experienced during a life in hiding,
“All liberty required was that the space for discourse itself be protected. Liberty lay in the argument itself, not the resolution of that argument, in the ability to quarrel, even with the most cherished beliefs of others; a free society was not placid but turbulent. The bazaar of conflicting was the place where freedom rang.”Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton: A Memoir
Rushdie has been a long-standing advocate of the freedom of speech. On several occasions, he has also come to the defence of journalists and writers.
"He was learning that to win a fight like this, it was not enough to know what one was fighting against. That was easy. He was fighting against the view that people could be killed for their ideas, and against the ability of any religion to place a limiting point on thought. But he needed, now, to be clear of what he was fighting for. Freedom of speech, freedom of the imagination, freedom from fear, and the beautiful, ancient art of which he was privileged to be a practitioner. Also skepticism, irreverence, doubt, satire, comedy, and unholy glee. He would never again flinch from the defense of these things."Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton: A Memoir
The Self-Professed Humanist
Rushdie was born Bombay in 1947, into a liberal Kashmiri-Muslim family. While having grown up as a Muslim, he soon deviated from the religion and now is a self-professed Humanist.
He has admitted that he was shaped by Islam, more so than any other religion, but is now a hardline atheist.
At the same time, he has expressed regret for the distress caused by the publication of his novel.
"I recognise that Muslims in many parts of the world are genuinely distressed by the publication of my novel. I profoundly regret the distress the publication has occasioned to the sincere followers of Islam," Rushdie had said in a statement.
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