“Yes, I would write The Satanic Verses again.”
That was Salman Rushdie in January 2013, in The Indian Express, where he had dropped by for Idea Exchange, the newsroom’s weekly interaction with newsmakers.
He was referring to his 1988 novel that had set off a series of death threats against him and forced him to live in hiding for nearly a decade following the pronouncement of a fatwa against him by Iran’s religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini.
On Friday, Rushdie, 75, was attacked by an unidentified assailant in Chautauqua, New York, as he waited to deliver a lecture.
On its release, The Satanic Verses was banned in countries around the world for purportedly hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims for its satirical portrayal of the Prophet.
Incidentally, India had been the first country to ban the book.
“The ban was a moment of spinelessness but it wasn’t the only such moment. At the time of the ban, there were no copies available in India,” he said.
“I was upset when India banned The Satanic Verses – the first in the world to do so. Thankfully in this age you cannot ban books, because you can download them,” Rushdie said, adding, “It is time we stop listening to people who didn’t like the book, but to those who liked it. Books survive if enough people care about them.”
The writer was speaking ahead of the release of Deepa Mehta’s cinematic adaptation of his Booker Prize-winning novel The Midnight’s Children (1981).
Rushdie had said The Satanic Verses was the “least political” of his books. “Shame was directly confrontational.”
Commenting on the growing culture of intolerance in the country, Rushdie had said, “In India, it has become easy to attack cultural artifacts. People believe their identity is not defined by what you love, but by what you hate or are offended by… It is bad – the fear of religious reprisal affecting freedom of speech…People define their identity not by what they love, but by what they hate or are offended by.’’
The state, too, had a role to play in this hate-mongering, he said. “Because the people are apathetic and the state does not protect; the state should tell people some things are valuable. When it doesn’t do this, smaller groups are allowed to get away with protests.” Rushdie added: “People who want to limit free speech always speak about the dangers of speaking freely… We live in an age of victim culture.”