In rare appearance after attack, Salman Rushdie warns free expression under threat
Writer, who was blinded in one eye and suffered hand nerve damage, cites ‘extraordinary attack on libraries, and books for children in schools’ in US, as well as book rewrites
LONDON — Writer Salman Rushdie has made a public speech, nine months after being stabbed and seriously injured onstage, warning that freedom of expression in the West is under its most severe threat in his lifetime.
Rushdie delivered a video message to the British Book Awards, where he was awarded the Freedom to Publish award on Monday evening. Organizers said the honor “acknowledges the determination of authors, publishers and booksellers who take a stand against intolerance, despite the ongoing threats they face.”
He said that “we live in a moment, I think, at which freedom of expression, freedom to publish has not in my lifetime been under such threat in the countries of the West.”
“Now I am sitting here in the US, I have to look at the extraordinary attack on libraries, and books for children in schools,” he said. “The attack on the idea of libraries themselves. It is quite remarkably alarming, and we need to be very aware of it, and to fight against it very hard.”
Rushdie, 75, was blinded in one eye and suffered nerve damage to his hand when he was attacked at a literary festival in New York state in August. His alleged assailant, Hadi Matar, has pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and attempted murder.
Rushdie 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 over the alleged blasphemy of the novel “The Satanic Verses.”
Winner of this year's British Book Award for Freedom to Publish, @SalmanRushdie accepts his Nibbie via video message #BritishBookAwards #Nibbies pic.twitter.com/fXEV9ukQxj
— The Bookseller (@thebookseller) May 15, 2023
In his speech, Rushdie also criticized publishers who change decades-old books for modern sensibilities, such as large-scale cuts and rewrites to the works of children’s author Roald Dahl and James Bond creator Ian Fleming.
He said publishers should allow books “to come to us from their time and be of their time.”
“And if that’s difficult to take, don’t read it, read another book,” he said.