British author Salman Rushdie has long been a stern advocate for the right of absolute free speech. In the wake of the controversy over The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie spent close to a decade of his life with a fatwa calling for his assassination issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, before it was finally lifted in 1998.
In a recent speech given at the University of Vermont, Rushdie once again defended the right to absolute free speech.
“Frontiers, as we know, are dangerous places, and also, there are plenty of people, powerful people in the world who don’t want the universe opened up a little more, who in fact would rather prefer it to be shut down. What we see from this is that art has incredible resilience and strength. But artists are weak and vulnerable and need protection, and often suffer terribly for this attempt to push against the forces of darkness and limitation.”
Rushdie continued as he made reference to the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
“It attacked Muslims, the Pope, Israel and rabbis, black people and white people, gay people and straight people,it attacked every single kind of human being, because it was making fun Its strategy was to make fun of people. It was seen as that, and it was very loved. These cartoonists were beloved in France.”
Rushdie went on to criticize those who do not whole-heartedly believe in maintaining the right of absolute freedom of speech.
“The moment somebody says, ‘I believe in free speech, but,’ I stop listening. ‘I believe in free speech, but people should behave themselves. I believe in free speech, but we shouldn’t upset anybody. I believe in free speech, but let’s not go too far.'”
Rushdie’s argument and philosophy on freedom of speech contests the views of many religious leaders around the world. Pope Francis recently spoke about the limitations of free speech.
Pope Francis proclaims that, “You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.” The Argentine Pope went on to use Alberto Gasparri, the organizer of the papal visits and who was standing by his side as a prop to further his point.”
“If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch.” After throwing a pretend punch, the Pope continued.
“There are so many people who speak badly about religions or other religions, who make fun of them, who make a game out of the religions of others. They are provocateurs. And what happens to them is what would happen to Dr. Gasparri if he says a curse word against my mother. There is a limit.”
However, Salman Rushdie disputes those claims, saying the problem with that logic “is the moment you limit free speech, it’s not free speech.”
“You can dislike Charlie Hebdo,” Rushdie concluded, “because not all their drawings are funny. But the fact that you dislike them has nothing to do with their right to speak.”
“The idea that within days of these murders, sections of the left, as well as the right, have turned against these fallen artists to vilify them, is I think disgraceful.”
What do make of Salman Rushdie’s point on absolute free speech?
[Image via web.colby.edu]