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A Gift to Me: The “I Am Salman Rushdie” Button

A Gift to Me: The

In the spring semester of 1989, I brought a distinguished poet to the campus where I was then teaching to give a reading to the community. She noticed the photocopies I had taped to my office door concerning the outrage of the fatwa placed on Rushdie by the Ayatollah Khomeini, and a couple of weeks after the reading, I received, in the mail, the button you see above. The button contains only this text: I AM SALMAN RUSHDIE. The poet explained to me in her accompanying letter that she had, since her visit to our campus, attended a large literary festival of writers where everyone received a button like this one.

We who write in the West (you might as well add “we who teach critical thinking in the West” or “we who can think for ourselves”) are the person under the same fatwa as Rushdie, or we might as well be; Khomeini, and every other ignorant, violent bully of a theocratic bent cannot ever come to an understanding about this. We, collectively and individually, are a threat because we deal in ideas and do so freely. We find words and ideas sacred; we find thought and free expression sacred. (I feel a similar contempt for Putin, a mass murderer.)

And some, like me, find turning over one’s responsibility for selfhood to any religion—all created by other people, dead and living—laughably and dangerously childish. How easily their need to escape thinking and complexity flashes forth into, one, a violent desire to force others to their own evasions and restrictions or, two, a violent desire to kill others for being adults in the face of the challenge of existence.

We can write about our respect for Rushdie; we can praise him for his life’s work; but “heaven” forbid that we turn the finger of blame, or shame, toward would-be murderers. Rushdie didn’t threaten anyone’s life. He didn’t kill anyone. He wrote a work of fiction the world did not have to read. And for that act of intelligence and imagination, for that art, a “supreme” (and I use the following word with nothing but contempt) "leader" called for the murder of a man who didn’t live in his country and, by choice, didn’t belong to his religion.

Do not expect to hear enough support for Rushdie from the universities. Too many cowards and whores. With two additional words, Rushdie has addressed, that is, corrected, the wimps (my word, not his) whining about being offended at every turn on college campuses: “The university should be a safe place for thought.”

Perhaps you’ve been thinking the I.Q. of the average American has dropped to a new low, and perhaps the stupid, violent responses of those around you in the USA have made you feel lonely? I certainly feel that. But it’s worse. The world is full of dumb and angry and violent. It’s lonely everywhere tonight…and tomorrow morning. The only good news for me tomorrow morning will be that Rushdie is still alive and that he is strong enough to raise his middle finger.

Posted by Doyle Wesley Walls on 2022-08-13 08:03:08

Tagged: , lagniappe , 3989 , button , text , words , solidarity , Salman Rushdie , writer , author , novelist , essayist , censorship , victim of violence , advocate for freedom , Doyle Wesley Walls , literature , politics , religion , terrorism , free speech

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