Apr 15, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Salman Rushdie decries free speech "censorship" pushes by left and right

Author Salman Rushdie during his interview on CBS' "60 Minutes."

Author Salman Rushdie during his interview on CBS' "60 Minutes." Screenshot: CBS/"60 Minutes"

Salman Rushdie said the U.S. faces a "bad moment" for free speech, with censorship pushes coming from the left and right of politics.

The big picture: In his first major TV interview since the stabbing onstage in New York that nearly killed him, the British-American author told CBS' "60 Minutes" in an interview airing Sunday "there seems to be a kind of growing orthodoxy, particularly amongst young people, that censorship … is a good thing."

Context: Rushdie previously spent nearly a decade in hiding due to death threats and Iranian officials offering a bounty for his killing in the late 1980s over his book "The Satanic Verses," which was inspired by the life of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

  • Hadi Matar, the New Jersey man accused of stabbing Rushdie in the neck and abdomen and blinding the 76-year-old in the right eye, told the New York Post he "read like two pages" of that novel and watched online videos of the author.
  • Matar has pleaded not guilty to second-degree attempted murder and assault charges. His trial was postponed ahead of the publication of Rushdie's memoir about the attack, "Knife," which comes out on Tuesday.

State of play: "It used to be the case that very conservative voices were the places from which you would hear that such and such book should be banned or is obscene or is disgusting or whatever," Rushdie said during his interview on "60 Minutes."

  • But now, it's "also coming from progressive voices" that are "saying that certain kinds of speech should be not permitted because it offends against this or that vulnerable group."

Zoom in: Rushdie said the first people to suffer in places where there's censorship are minority groups.

  • "So to support censorship in theory on behalf of vulnerable groups is a very slippery slope," he told CBS' Anderson Cooper. "It can lead to the opposite of what you want."
  • Rushdie said there's enormous value in hearing from voices that you might find offensive. "How would we ever challenge ourselves if we were not challenged?" he said.
  • "There's now a kind of offense industry," Rushdie added. "Offense has become an aspect of identity politics. My view is it's very easy for a book to stop offending you. You just shut it."

Zoom out: Rushdie revealed during his CBS interview and in another published by the New York Times Sunday that his first thought as he saw his attacker approach him on stage in August 2022 was: "So it's you. Here you are."

  • His second thought was "why now, after all these years" of no major encounters was he being attacked at that moment, per the NYT.
  • "I remember thinking I was dying," Rushdie told the BBC of the moment after the stabbing, in an interview published Sunday. "Fortunately, I was wrong."

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