Salman Rushdie will be the keynote speaker for the Unbound Book Festival this year. He has won more awards and accolades than I can even begin to list including the Booker Prize for his second book, “Midnight’s Children.”
I have read several books by Rushdie and I have several more on my “to read” list, and while I have enjoyed them all, the book that really struck me was his autobiography, “Joseph Anton: A Memoir.” “Joseph Anton” chronicles the aftermath and fallout from one of his novels.
In 1989, Rushdie’s fourth book “The Satanic Verses” was the impetus for the Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa sentencing Rushdie to death (issued on Valentine’s Day, no less.) The book is a mixture of East and West, historical fiction and fantasy. It’s a fascinating combination but very clearly resides in the realm of fiction. It was, however, deemed to be “against Islam, the Prophet, and the Quran.” The fatwa caused Rushdie to have to go into hiding and assume another name — Joseph Anton.
Rushdie was born in India but lived in Great Britain from an early age and went to school there. It is nearly impossible for me to imagine being sentenced to death by a distant country and religion, with the threat lasting almost two decades. And then to imagine being imprisoned by your own country (Great Britain) as a free citizen because of that threat; it just makes the world seem upside down. That someone can face this kind of a threat because of an idea, a thought or mere words seems fantastical. I imagine that Galileo might have thought so as well.
After the events of 9/11, Rushdie wrote, “The fundamentalist seeks to bring down a great deal more than buildings. Such people are against, to offer a brief list, freedom of speech, a multi-party political system, universal adult suffrage, accountable government, Jews, homosexuals, women’s rights, pluralism, secularism, short skirts, dancing, beardlessness, evolution theory, sex … The fundamentalist believes that we believe in nothing. In his worldview, 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.”
Rushdie has lived in New York since 2000. He has lived an exceptional life, and I can’t wait to hear what he has to say! I hope you can all make it to the event, but if not, here is a list of his books in our collection.