Share your messages of support for Salman Rushdie

On 12 August 2022, Salman Rushdie, the author of the book The Satanic Verses, was attacked as he prepared to give a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution, an arts and education centre in New York state. He was stabbed in the neck, face and abdomen and remains in a critical condition in hospital. His family issued a statement saying that despite his “life-changing injuries” being severe, “his usual feisty and defiant sense of humour remains intact”.

Index on Censorship has long been a supporter of Salman Rushdie and fully support his right to freedom of expression, as we do for other authors and artists. Supporting those who are silenced, threatened and attacked is at the heart of Index’s 50-year-long history. Index condemns this cowardly attack on the author.Index CEO Ruth Smeeth said, “We are still in shock after the brutal attack on Salman Rushdie last week. While we are relieved to hear he survived, we know the path to recovery will be long and our thoughts go out to him and his family. We consider Salman part of the Index community. We were instrumental in the campaign against the fatwa and Salman has in turn written regularly for our magazine. He is a fierce defender of free expression and his writing, which is beloved by so many, is a testament to the power of words themselves.”

She added, “The violence committed against him is an awful reminder that the fight for freedom of expression continues and we are as committed as ever to campaigning for a world in which acts such as these never happen.

Your messages of support


Censorship is unacceptable at the best of times, but censorship by bullying, threats, physical violence and murder is an abomination. It is the resort of those who are insecure and intellectually immature.

The attack on Salman Rushdie is an unforgivable example of what, if not resisted everywhere and always, would radically impoverish the world by silencing its art, thought and literature.

The closed-minded seek not only to impose censorship but to frighten those who think differently from them into self-censorship. They must be resisted. Rushdie is on the front lines of this struggle: we owe him our gratitude and unequivocal support.

A C Grayling, London

Hang in there dear Salman. Not only ‘because you’re worth it’, but to shame and defeat these murderous bastards.

Judith Vidal-Hall, London

I used to run one of the most prestigious visiting writers series in the country. Of all the famous, unfamous, and infamous writers we had at our campus, Mr. Rushdie was by far the most gracious and generous regarding time spent with students. He made a lasting impression on me as well as all of my students. Hang in there, Mr. Rushdie. We are pulling for you.

Norman Minnick, Indianapolis

I condemn this brutal and primitive attack on humanity and freedom of artistic expression. I wish Salman Rushdie a speedy recovery.

Ersan Pekin, Ankara

One appropriate response to this act of horrific philistinism will be the publication of your next novel. I look forward for to buying my copy on the day of its release.

Michael Collins, London

I stand with Salman Rushdie and completely support his right to freedom of expression. My thoughts and prayers go out to him and all who love him. May we all follow his example and speak our hearts and minds.

Vicki Robinson, Chester

I am in awe of your immense courage, which has been an inspiration to so many people for over thirty-three years. Best wishes for a complete recovery!

Lenny Cavallaro, Methuen, MA

Hang in there dear Salman. Not only ‘because you’re worth it’, but to shame and defeat these murderous bastards.

Judith Vidal-Hall, London

Many more years of brilliant writing and inspirational living.

John Glaves-Smith, Stoke-on-Trent

Wishing you a speedy recovery Mr. Rushdie. You are in our thoughts.

Siobhán Casey, Ireland

Debate is an essential part of civil society. In the words of Audre Lorde, ‘your silence will not protect you.’ Get well soon.

Jess Silverstone, London

The right of writers, poets and artists, above all, to express themselves freely is the precious bedrock of a free and open society. Threaten or remove this right, as have so many countries around the world, and you condemn their people to lives of fear, deceit and unhappiness, governed by tyranny and corruption. The weakest people in such societies suffer the most. We must speak up now, and always, for them and challenge intolerance even when it is difficult and dangerous to do so. I support Salman Rushdie's freedom to write about whatever he wants, and applaud Index's work to ensure anyone's right to speak out without danger to their lives.


Salman Rushdie is a very valuable writer. We love him. He is ostracized by some people because of his thoughts.

Akif Genc, UK

I supported the campaign in 1989 and I believe ever stronger in freedom of expression, including the freedom to offend.

Stephen Goldring, London

There can be no freedom without freedom of expression. Our hearts and prayers are with you. Get well soon Salman!

Kelly Duda, Los Angeles

The attack on Mr. Rushdie is reprehensible and inexcusable, and his assailant needs to be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law and we have to be sure to send a message that these kinds of attacks on the very nature of free speech and expression will not and cannot be tolerated in any capacity. We have to acknowledge that the very fatwa issued by the former Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran (the same responsible for holding the reins of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the kidnapping and torture of American diplomats and civilians for over 400 days in Tehran at the end of the 1970s) is at the very HEART of this attack on Mr. Rushdie, decades after it was issued! I am an American living in an America where our own ability to express ourselves is under grave assault and the fact that this took place in New York on Mr. Rushdie makes me hang my head for my country. Americans need to wake up and smell the coffee. Godspeed in your recovery, Salman Rushdie.

Dave Beavers, Texas

You will survive this and prove the pen is mightier than the sword Mr Rushdie. My thoughts are with you, your family and friends.

Stephen Hoffman, UK

Salman Rushdie, your stand for free speech and thought will live long beyond the small-minded hate that too often drives or shelters in movements of power... religion, politics and business. Your attackers and detractors put themselves well below you. You shine.

Tony Wilson, Bristol

Thank you for your courage, creativity, and moral clarity. Free speech remains the first, most fundamental freedom. Salman Rushdie has courageously led the struggle for writers to share their work for decades. We can't let the least tolerant, the least creative and the most dogmatic determine what we read and how we live.

Eric Roth, Los Angeles

Get well soon.. true fan from India.

Janki Telivala, India

Absolutely appalling what happened to you. Dark times indeed when freedom of expression is attacked. Without the freedom to think and express ourselves as human beings, every other freedom we have can be taken away. Glad you are recovering. Take care. Solidarity.

Dave Rendle, Cardigan

I'm in the middle of reading Languages of Truth. Keep telling the truth, Mr. Rushdie, in all the languages of the world. Very best wishes for a speedy recovery.

Marjorie, Canada

I passionately hope that you recover from this brutal stabbing. I don't suppose you wanted to become a symbol of freedom of expression, let alone a martyr to it, but that's what you've become. It seems that the fatwa against you has now been extended to allow all writers to be bullied, online and offline, by anyone who wants to be offended. I was particularly shocked to discover that the man who tried to murder you had only read two pages of your work. As a novelist, I feel it's our imaginations that are under attack. Thank you for standing up for all of us.

Miranda Miller, London

Really appalled by the attack on Salman Rushdie. Who feels that they have the right to extinguish the life of another for any man created belief system?

Bryan Hillan, Hertfordshire

Thank you for your dedication, your striving, to embrace the journey of your convictions that have made you you. When I read the news the other day (oh boy), my brain became abuzz with concern that this was yet another screaming trauma our universe was meant to bear? For what? ...Aye exclaiming so is no less rhetorical than exclaiming; what rot! ...Nethertheless, my heart beats better for the news that your energies persevere! Rest in peace and then blaze back into our lives with oil and grease! GA YAU!

Laura, Sweden

Full support for Salman Rushdie and a sincere hope for a speedy and full recovery from a senseless assault and attempted murder.

Granville Williams, editor, MediaNorth

The despicable armed assassin who tried to kill an unarmed man, a great writer, has left all civilised people aghast. I know I speak for all who are in anxiety about Salman Rushdie’s condition in hospital, as we wait to hear that he will make a strong recovery which will enable him to write many more wonderful and courageously outspoken books. Thank you Salman for your ongoing defence of freedom of expression and for the glory you have brought to literature.

Nayantara Sahgal, author, India

Salman, Your courage in living freely and refusing to submit is an example to us all. Your rightly recognised that we cannot, as individuals or a society, be cowed by violent extremism or afford to place religion off limits for critical examination, literature, art or satire. Pandering to fundamentalism is not a road to an open, tolerant or peaceful society. We can't match the terrorist’s fanaticism, but we must match their resolve. Citizens of all faiths and beliefs need to stand side by side and demonstrate that we hold as firmly to our core values and freedoms as they hold to their warped extremist ideologies. No more half-hearted commitments to free speech. No more pandering to offence takers. And no more victim blaming. Let's never lose sight of the fact that the responsibility for violence lies with those who perpetrate it. You once said that the writer's great weapon is the truth and integrity of their voice. The best way we can show solidarity with you is by never allowing that voice to be silenced. Salman, I salute you.

Stephen Evans, London

All the best to you, my hero! I have long admired you for daring to stand up for the freedom of the individual to think their own thoughts at all times - a brave warrior against mindless groupthink and psychological slavery. You are a beacon of light for humanity in these dark days of mandatory homogeneity of thought and enforced conformity. From one warrior against cultism to another - I love and salute you!

Katy Morgan-Davies, Leeds

"to will is to disagree; not to submit; to dissent." - so salman rushdie's the satanic verses speaking of what it is that human beings do - strong liberal democracies facilitate dissent - censorship has no place in democracies - rushdie stood up to those in the uk and usa who pressured him not to publish a paperback edition of the offending book - we should celebrate him for that act of dissent - thank him for enriching our lives - and take courage from his example when defending freedom of expression - we owe salman rushdie a great deal -

Jonathan Dronsfield, London

Thank you for being you, Mr. Rushdie. You've been an asset to the world in general and my students in particular. Hang in there!

Maurice Austin

Never give in and never give up - the freedom of mind and expression must not lose to narrow-minded hate and intolerance.

Torsten Westh, Denmark

Language is courage, you wrote. The ability to conceive a thought, to speak it, and by doing so to make it true. So I think, write and declare my truths: thank you for your books and essays and courage, get well soon.

Maria Timiaan, Middelburg, The Netherlands

Dear Salman I hope you have good company while you recover. Someone to share a joke with. Someone who’ll take on those tasks that you just need doing. Someone to bring you just the right cup of tea. Someone who’ll save quirky stories from the news to read to you. Someone who’ll pick up their phone anytime just to comfort you with their voice. I am thinking of you and wishing you a steady recovery. May your heart continue to beat strong and your imagination roam free, even while your body rests and heals. With kind regards

Nicola Spurr, London

Dear Mr. Rushdie, I am sending you this wish for your rapid recovery. I read the Satanic Verses because it had been banned and a fatwa put on your head. What I found was a good piece of writing, good enough that I have continued to read most of your other literature. I was especially impressed with the sensitivity and insight you showed in Shalomar the Clown, and as a comment on the follies of theocratic idealism. I hope to read more of your work in the future. You have shown a particular courage with the continuation of your work which is inspiring to all. Do get well, and go in peace.

Mike Van Note, USA

Mr. Rushdie, I am praying for your recovery. People of good will around the world support you and your fundamental human right to speak and write freely, expressing your opinions and beliefs without fear. Your gift for writing is admired by many, and we all hope you will be well enough to speak and write again very soon. I Stand With Salman

Darla Bedford Moe, Sacramento

The best way to show support for and solidarity with Salman Rushdie is to buy his books.

Britta Böhler, Cologne

Sending loving and healing thoughts to you as a member of PEN. You are a wonderful, inspiring writer and a hero of free expression. May you have a full and complete recovery, with the best possible medical outcome. Love and solidarity to you from a reader of your great novels and essays

Marion Lipshutz, Poughkeepsie

The reprehensible attack on Sir Salman Rushdie is not only an act of cowardice but also smacks of intolerance of the right to speech. The assailant knifed him while he was engaged in an act as peaceful as speaking in full view of a dumbstruck audience. Wish Sir Salman a speedy recovery, a long life and years of wonderful literature that only he can keep giving his readers.

Prabuddha Chaudhuri, Kolkata

Dear Salman, I am sending so much love to you. Through your luminous work, your wisdom, humour and courage shines. You have given me the courage to follow my passion and to write my first book at 52. I am so grateful to you for the inspiration you have given to me over the years. I applaud you for sharing your gifts with the world and for facing all that you have faced. Humanity needs you now more than ever as a greatly revered elder. May your recovery be gentle, swift and all encompassing. May compassion uplift your spirit as you continue to step beyond fear, with ease, love and softness as your tireless companions. With all my love and respect

Sally Birch, Australia

I was horrified by the attack on your life. I hope you will recover and will be able to produce some more great works of literature. Two particular reactions I saw on TV struck me. One was on Dateline London in which all guests said to be saddened about the attack, but rejected your criticism on the Prophet. I was shocked. Another was on the German TV, in a show Literarische Quartet , a show in which four critics review recently published novels. Because of what happened to you The Satanic Verses were reviewed. All critics - one was a Muslim btw - praised it as a great work of fiction.

Dirk De Pril, Belgium

I condemn this brutal attack on humanity and freedom of speech.

Farzad Maghami, Melbourne

From Midnight's Children to Satanic Verses to Haroun and the Sea of Stories and beyond, your imagination, humour, and mouth-watering use of language have enriched my life. Be well.

Raymond Modiz, Switzerland

My heart broke when I learned that you were attacked. Wishing you a speedy recovery and that you know how loved and respected you are.

Joelle Johnson, Calgary

May the literary establishment take inspiration from your courage and defend free speech against all its enemies.

Ruth Dudley Edwards, London

My best wishes to Salman, a great voice for freedom, after this truly shocking incident. The world is going nuts, but hopefully these few words help to convince there also still are a lot of people that do believe in Salman and his message. And love and reason will prevail at the end. Thanks for your courage in this battle. Best of luck and a speedy recovery, my dear man.

Roel Knol, Leiden

It is brave ex-Muslims, such as yourself, who are the hope of the world. Your example inspires all of us in the anti-Islamist movement, and the attack on you will only stiffen our opposition. I am ashamed that the attack on you occurred on American soil. I know you are an atheist but I will be praying for your safety, health and happiness.

Michael Jurgens, Colorado
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Share your message

We call on all others who believe in his right not to be silenced to leave a message of support, using the form below, which we will share with him and publish here. You can also sign up to receive our weekly newsletter to receive updates on the campaign. It also features news relating to freedom of expression issues around the world. You do not need to sign up to this to send a message of support.

Twenty five years under the fatwa


Inna Lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un. I am informing all brave Muslims of the world that the author of The Satanic Verses, a text written, edited, and published against Islam, the Prophet of Islam, and the Qur’an, along with all the editors and publishers aware of its contents, are condemned to death. I call on all valiant Muslims wherever they may be in the world to kill them without delay, so that no one will dare insult the sacred beliefs of Muslims henceforth. And whoever is killed in this cause will be a martyr, Allah Willing. Meanwhile if someone has access to the author of the book but is incapable of carrying out the execution, he should inform the people so that [Rushdie] is punished for his actions. Rouhollah al-Mousavi al-Khomeini.”

On 14 February 1989, 25 years ago today, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran handed down a death sentence not just on British author Salman Rushdie, but on anyone associated with the publication of his novel the Satanic Verses.

It’s always worth writing down exactly what happened. A medievalist tyrant decided a novelist and his editors and publishers should die, because he was offended by a book he could not claim to have read.

Rushdie went into hiding. Hitoshi Igarashi, the novel’s Japanese translator, was murdered. Because he had translated a novel.

The controversy did not begin with Khomeini – he merely attempted to capitalise on it. No, the first countries where the book stoked the ire of Islamists were South Africa and India, both countries whose divide-and-rule laws (the Indians’ law inherited from British colonial law, the South Africans’ in a diabolical league of its own) meant it paid to promote communal grievance.

Khomeini’s fatwa seems, in hindsight, a desperate bid to distract the people of Iran, and the rest of the Muslim world, from the fact that his reign, about to end, had been a disaster. Iranians had hoped their 1979 revolution would deliver them from the oppression of the Peacock Throne. Instead they just found their oppressors had simply grown beards.

The disaster was not entirely of Khomeini’s own making, perhaps. He could not be blamed for having the equally psychopathic Saddam Hussein as a neighbour, but nonetheless, he had sent hundreds of thousands of Iranians to their death, promised martyrdom as they marched into Saddam’s poisoned gas during the Iran-Iraq war that raged for almost the whole of the 1980s.

The Iran Iraq War ended in 1988. Neither side could legitimately claim victory. The Islamic Republic had not swept all before it. And Khomeini needed something new to establish his Shia theocracy as the leader of the Islamic world. He found it in harnessing the mounting anger over Rushdie’s book.

In Britain, this was the moment for political Islam. Young second generation South Asian Islamists exploited their parents’ folk memories of anti-Muslim violence during the torturous period before and after partition in 1947 (the subject of Rushdie’s great work, Midnight’s Children) to mobilise Muslims against Rushdie.

Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain wrote in 2007:

So on February 14 1989, when the Iranian Islamic leader, Imam Khomeini delivered his fatwa calling for Salman Rushdie’s death, I was truly elated. It was a very welcome reminder that British Muslims did not have to regard themselves just as a small, vulnerable minority; they were part of a truly global and powerful movement. If we were not treated with respect then we were capable of forcing others to respect us.

Yusuf Islam, formerly known as cuddly hippy musician Cat Stevens, told a television audience at the time that he felt Rushdie deserved to die. Some on the British right were pleased, seeing the death sentence as comeuppance for a man who was a vicious critic of the racist establishment.

Khomeini is dead and Rushdie is a knight of the realm (though some, such as Shirley Williams, considered that elevation in 2007 unwise). But it is perhaps on those grounds only that victory can be claimed for free speech. As Kenan Malik has suggested, writing for Index on Censorship, we live still in the “shadow of the fatwa”.

Religious sensitivity has become an excuse for threats. “Offence” is something to be taken greedily, and then pumped back out with a mixture of aggression and self pity.

And the shadow of that fatwa does not only fall on Islam. Every zealot of every creed will now offer up special pleading for their right to be protected from mockery, debate and challenge with the line “You wouldn’t say that about Islam.” What they mean, always, is “We want you to be scared. We want you to be as scared as Salman Rushdie was when he received that threat. We want you to be so scared that you will never question our literalism, our version of events. Truth is ours and ours alone.”

Rushdie’s friend, the late Christopher Hitchens, wrote that the fatwa represented “an all out confrontation between the ironic and the literal mind: between every kind of commissar and inquisitor and bureaucrat and those who know that, whatever the role of social and political forces, ideas and books have to be formulated by individuals”.

That struggle goes on.


Should religious or cultural sensibilities ever limit free expression?

Writer and broadcaster Kenan Malik and art historian and educator Nada Shabout  on one of the art world’s most contentious debates

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Mark Boardman/

Mark Boardman/

Dear Nada,

I regard free speech as a fundamental good, the fullest extension of which is necessary for democratic life and for the development of other liberties. Others view speech as a luxury rather than as a necessity, or at least as merely one right among others, and not a particularly important one. Speech from this perspective needs to be restrained not as an exception but as the norm.

The answer to whether religious and cultural sensibilities should ever limit free expression depends upon which of these ways we think of free speech. For those, like me, who look upon free speech as a fundamental good, no degree of cultural or religious discomfort can be reason for censorship. There is no free speech without the ability to offendreligious and cultural sensibilities.

For those for whom free speech is more a luxury than a necessity, censorship is a vital tool in maintaining social peace and order. Perhaps the key argument made in defence of the idea of censorship to protect cultural and religious sensibilities is that speech must necessarily be less free in a plural society. In such a society, so the argument runs, we need to police public discourse about different cultures and beliefs both to minimise friction and to protect the dignity of individuals, particularly from minority communities. As the sociologist Tariq Modood has put it, “if people are to occupy the same political space without conflict, they mutually have to limit the extent to which they subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism”.

I take the opposite view. It is precisely because we do live in a plural society that we need the fullest extension possible of free speech. In such societies it is both inevitable and important that people offend the sensibilities of others. Inevitable, because where different beliefs are deeply held, clashes are unavoidable. And they should be openly resolved, rather than suppressed in the name of “respect” or “tolerance”.

But more than this: the giving of offence is not just inevitable, but also important. Any kind of social change or social progress means offending some deeply-held sensibilities. Or to put it another way: “You can’t say that!” is all too often the response of those in power to having their power challenged. The notion that it is wrong to offend cultural or religious sensibilities suggests that certain beliefs are so important that they should be put beyond the possibility of being insulted or caricatured or even questioned. The importance of the principle of free speech is precisely that it provides a permanent challenge to the idea that some questions are beyond contention, and hence acts as a permanent challenge to authority. The right to “subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism” is the bedrock of an open, diverse society, and the basis of promoting justice and liberties in such societies. Once we give up such a right we constrain our ability to challenge those in power, and therefore to challenge injustice.

The question we should ask ourselves, therefore, is not “should religious and cultural sensibilities ever limit free expression?” It is, rather, “should we ever allow religious and cultural sensibilities to limit our ability to challenge power and authority?”

Best wishes,


Mark Boardman/

Mark Boardman/

Dear Kenan,

I too regard free speech as a fundamental good and as necessary. On the surface, thus, the simple and direct answer to the question of whether religious and cultural sensibilities should ever limit free expression should be an unequivocal NO! However, the reality is that the question itself is problematic. While free expression, and let’s think of art in this specific case, will always push the limits and “reveal the hidden”, consideration and sensitivity, including religious and cultural sensibility, should not be inherently in opposition. By positioning it as such, the answer can only be reactive. I thus disagree with your argument.

A quick note on “censorship”. Yes, we all hate the word and find it very offensive. It is a word loaded with oppression, but the reality is that censorship in some form exists in every facet of life, personal and public. It is not that one needs to restrict speech in a plural society but that this plurality needs to find a peaceful way of co-existing with respect and acceptance, as much as possible — not tolerance; I personally abhor the word tolerance and find that it generally masks hatred and disdain. No belief is above criticism and nothing should limit our ability to challenge power and authority.

I suppose one needs to decide first the point of this criticism/free expression. Does it have a specific message or reason, and how best to deliver it — or is it simply someone’s personal free expression in the absolute? And if it is someone’s right to free expression, then why is it privileged above someone else’s right — religious and cultural sensibility being someone’s right to expression as well?

For example, and I will use art again, there is a problem when art/the artist is privileged as “genius”, with rights above other citizens — except not really, since the artist is subject to other limitations that may not be religious or cultural, like those of the tradition of expression, funding, law and so on. This is not to say that a religion should dictate expression. We should remember, though, that the marvel of what we call Islamic art was achieved within full respect of Islamic religious sensibilities, but also pushed the limits and critiqued simplicity in interpreting these sensibilities.

Perhaps my view here is less idealistic and more practical, but I see many unnecessary attacks on all sides that do not accomplish anything other than insult and inflame. All I’m saying is that expression is always achieved through negotiations, including limitations.

All the best,


Dear Nada,

I’m afraid that I was no clearer at the end of your letter than I was at the beginning about your actual stance on free speech. You say you ‘regard free speech as a fundamental good’ and that the answer to “whether religious and cultural sensibilities should ever limit free expression should be an unequivocal NO!”  You then, however, go on seemingly to qualify that unequivocal stance but without actually specifying what it is that you wish to qualify. Where should the line be drawn when it comes to the issue of what is and is not legitimate free speech? Who should draw that line? And on what basis? These are the critical questions that need answering. You write: “It is not that one needs to restrict speech in a plural society but that this plurality needs to find a peaceful way of co-existing with respect and acceptance”. It’s a wonderful sentiment, but what does it actually mean in practice? Should Salman Rushdie not have written The Satanic Verses so that he could find “a peaceful way of coexisting with respect and acceptance”? Was the Birmingham Rep right to drop Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s play Behzti after protests from Sikhs? Should Jerry Springer: The Opera ever have been staged (or broadcast)?

You suggest that “one needs to decide first the point of this criticism/free expression. Does it have a specific message or reason, and how best to deliver it — or is it simply someone’s personal free expression in the absolute?” Again, I am unclear as to the point you’re making here. Are you suggesting here that speech is only legitimate if it has “a specific message or reason”? If so,who decides whether it does? During the controversy over The Satanic Verses, the philosopher Shabbir Akhtar distinguished between “sound historical criticism” and “scurrilously imaginative writing”, and insisted that Rushdie’s novel fell on the wrong side of the line. Do you agree with him? If not, why not? You ask: “If it is someone’s right to free expression, then why is it privileged above someone else’s right — religious and cultural sensibility being someone’s right to expression as well?”  This seems to me a meaningless question. A “sensibility” is not a “right”, still less a “right to expression”. If your point is that all people, whatever their religious or cultural beliefs, should have the right to express those beliefs, then I agree with you. That is the core of my argument. What they do not have is the “right” to prevent anybody expressing their views because those views might offend their “sensibilities”.

A final point: to defend the right of X to speak as he or she wishes is not the same as defending the wisdom of X using speech in a particular fashion, still less the same as defending the content of his or her speech. Take, for instance, The Innocence of Muslims, the risibly crude and bigoted anti-Muslim video that provoked so much controversy and violence last year. I would defend the right of such a film to be made. But I would also question the wisdom of making it, and would strongly challenge the sentiments expressed in it. There is a distinction to be drawn, in other words, between the right to something and the wisdom of exercising that right in particular ways. It is a distinction that critics of free speech too often fail to understand.



Dear Kenan,

Nicely said! I believe we are ultimately saying the same thing. It is that “distinction” that you outline in your last paragraph that I call a negotiation between all sides, cultures, etc. My answer is not clear because the issue is not simple! I am saying that it is not a black and white binary divide nor can one “draw a line”. And yes, “who should draw that line? and on what basis?” is critical and essential. I believe that should be reached through negotiation. The “wisdom” of something to exist is as important as its right to exist. But there is also the question of responsibility. Free speech cannot be “inherently good” or bad. The person who utters that speech must claim responsibility for its use and effects. The examples you cite above are not all equal. Yes, they all have the right to exist. But let’s think a bit about the Danish cartoons about the Prophet Mohammed as another example. Were they not an attack aimed to inflame Muslim communities? Was it not part of Islamophobia?

Was the aim not to ridicule and play off people’s fears and prejudices? How were they a critique of Islam? What was the point? It is not that “it is morally unacceptable to cause offence to other cultures” as you once said, but the how and why are just as important as the right to cause that offence. I agree with you that the fear of consequences has become a limitation, but that isperhaps because free speech has been abused.

Perhaps I am looking at this from a different point of view. As an educator, I often face the situation, equally here in the US and in the Middle East, of how to argue a point that has become of specific cultural/religious/political sensitivity to my students. If I offend them here, they will stop listening; in the Middle East, I will not be allowed to continue. What would I gain by doing that? By negotiation I test the limits and push gently. At least in academia, I think we are at a point where we have to teach our students to not get offended by an opposing opinion and to be able to accept various opinions and to be able to accept criticism. I don’t think I can achieve that through shock alone!

Best, Nada

Dear Nada

You write that your “answer is not clear because the issue is not simple”. Perhaps. But surely, if the answer is not simple, that only places a greater imperative to make one’s answers as clear as possible?

You believe that we are “ultimately saying the same thing”. I am not so sure that we are. So, let us try to work out where we do agree and where we don’t.

There are two questions we are debating. The first is about the legal limits to free speech. My view is that the law should not in any way protect cultural or religious sensibilities. All speech should be legal except where it directly incites violence. I assume that is your position, though you have never actually stated it as such. Do we agree on that?

The second question is about how we can define speech that is legally acceptable but morally distasteful. You say that where we draw the moral line “should be reached through negotiation”. But negotiation with whom? And on what basis?

You raise a series of questions about the Danish cartoons, and imply that the cartoons were not legitimate speech but created merely to provoke, and hence should not have been published. You don’t, however, actually say that. So, to clarify, is that your view?

Exactly the same questions were, as I pointed out in an earlier letter, asked about The Satanic Verses, and many came to the same conclusions about Rushdie’s novel: that it was Islamophobic, designed to provoke and inflame Muslim communities, that it ridiculed Islam and played off people’s fears, and so on. The philosopher Shabbir Akhtar described it as an “inferior piece of hate literature”. The liberal Ziauddin Sardar wrote that reading the novel felt like being “raped”. The novelist Rana Kabani insisted that it played upon ancient Islamophobic stereotypes.

In the case of both The Satanic Verses and the Danish cartoons, the majority of Muslims, certainly initially, stayed indifferent to the issue. A vocal minority transformed both into global controversies. So, what does “negotiation” mean in this context? Muslim objection to The Satanic Verses was as deep and as broad as that to the Danish cartoons. Yet, you seem to think that it was right to publish the novel but not the cartoons. Why? And please don’t say “My answer can’t be clear because the issue is not simple”.

In any case, the questions that you raise — Is it Islamophobic? Is the aim merely to ridicule? etc — are different from the question that we are actually addressing: “Should religious or cultural sensibilities ever limit free speech?”. There is, in my view, a moral imperative on free speech advocates to challenge racist and other bigoted speech. I certainly do not that think that about speech that offends cultural or religious sensibilities. On the contrary, the moral imperative is often to transgress such boundaries. It is the conflation of racism and bigotry, on the one hand, and of cultural and religious sensibilities, on the other, that is the problem. Opponents of free speech often conflate these two issues in an attempt to establish a spurious legitimacy for their arguments against the giving of offence.

Best wishes,

Kenan Malik is a writer and broadcaster. His latest book is From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and its Legacy (Atlantic Books)

Nada Shabout is associate professor of art education and art history at the University of North Texas and director of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Institute

magazine March 2013-Fallout

This article appears in Fallout: free speech and the economic crisis. Click here for subscription options and more.

Religion and free speech: it’s complicated

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]While they exist harmoniously on paper, free expression and religion often conflict in practice, and free speech is often trampled in the name of protecting religious sensibilities — whether through self-censorship or legislation that censors.

History offers many examples of religious freedom being repressed too. Both free expression and religious freedom need protection from those who would meddle with them. And they are not necessarily incompatible.

Over 200 years ago, the United States’ founding fathers grouped together freedom of worship and freedom of speech. The US Constitution’s First Amendment, adopted in 1791, made sure that the Congress couldn’t pass laws establishing religions or prohibiting their free exercise, or abridging freedom of speech, press and assembly.

More recently, both religion and free expression were offered protection by The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) drafted in 1949. It outlines the ways in which both free expression and religious freedom should be protected in Articles 18 and 19. Article 18 protects an individual’s right to “freedom of thought, conscience, and religion” and the freedom to change religion or beliefs. Article 19 states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Why is it, then, that for centuries — from the Spanish Inquisition to the Satanic Verses — free speech and religion have been cast as opponents? Index on Censorship has explored, and will continue to explore, this crucial question.


Muslims gathered in Malaysia's capital to protest against the controversial Innocence of Muslims film

Muslims gathered in Malaysia’s capital to protest against the controversial Innocence of Muslims film (Demotix)

Sporadically explosive conflicts arrise when words or images offensive to believers spark a violent response, the most recent example being the reaction to the controversial Innocence of Muslims film. Index has stated before that the majority of states restrain by law distinct and direct incitements to violence; however, causing offence doesn’t constitute an incitement to violence, much less a good excuse to react with violence. Yet violent protests sparked by the YouTube film led many countries to push for the video to be taken down. As the controversy unfolded, digital platforms took centre stage in an age-old debate on where the line is drawn on free speech.

The kind of connectivity provided by the web means a video uploaded in California can lead to riots in Cairo. Real-time transmission, real-time unrest. It presents a serious challenge for hosts of user-generated content like YouTube and Facebook.

Before the web, British-Indian writer Salman Rushdie’s “blasphemous” 1988 novel — The Satanic Verses — sparked protests and earned its author a death sentence from Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, who called upon Muslims to assassinate the novelist, his publishers, and anyone else associated with the book. The Japanese translator of the Satanic Verses was killed, and Rushdie’s Norwegian publisher was shot and wounded, leading some to think twice about publishing works potentially “offensive to Islam”.

These fears were renewed after the 2005 decision of Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten to publish caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, which were protested about in riots worldwide, largely initiated as a result of agitation by Danish clerics.

The Jewel of Medina, a historical novel about the life of Muhammad’s wife Aisha was due to be published by Random House in the US in 2008, but it was pulled when an academic warned the publishers of a possible violent backlash to the novel. After the UK-based publisher Gibson Square decided to take on the novel, Islamic extremists attempted to firebomb the home of the company’s chief executive. More recently, ex-Muslim and author of The Young Atheist’s Handbook Alom Shaha wrote that initially, staff at Biteback publishing had reservations about releasing his book in the UK. Upon being presented with the book, one staff member’s reaction was, “we can’t publish this, we’ll get firebombed”.

Article continues below[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Join the Index mailing list and get an exclusive gift” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:28|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_separator color=”black”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]

summer magazine 2016

Index on Censorship’s summer magazine 2016

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You’ll also get access to an exclusive collection of articles from our landmark 250th issue of Index on Censorship magazine exploring journalists under fire and under pressure. Your downloadable PDF will include reports from Lindsey Hilsum, Laura Silvia Battaglia and Hazza Al-Adnan.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][gravityform id=”20″ title=”false” description=”false” ajax=”false”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator color=”black”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Protecting religious sensitivities at price of free expression

Many countries have legislation designed to quell religious tensions and any ensuing violence.

India, for example, has a Penal Code with provisions to protect “religious feelings”, making “acts” or “words” that could disturb religious sensitivities punishable by law. However, while such laws exist to address prevent sectarian violence their vagueness means that they can also be used by groups to shut down free expression. This opens up a question, which is when do states have the right to censor for public order reasons even if the actual piece of writing, art or public display is not a direct incitement to violence.

Indian artist and Index award winner was forced to leave his native India in the 1990s after being threatened for his work

Indian artist and Index award winner was forced to leave his native India in the 1990s after being threatened for his work

In the 1990s, Indian artist and Index award winner MF Husain was the subject of a violent intimidation campaign after painting Hindu gods and goddesses naked. He received death threats and had his work vandalised. Hundreds of complaints were brought against the artist, leading to his prosecution under sections 295 and 153A of India’s Penal Code, which outlaw insulting religions, as well as promoting animosity between religious groups. Locally these laws are justified as an effort to control sectarian violence. While the cases against Husain were eventually thrown out, the spectre of new legal battles combined with violent threats and harassment pushed Husain to flee his home country. He never returned, and died in exile last year.

Across the world restrictions on free expression are imposed using laws designed to protect religious sensitivities.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are notorious for being abused to silence and persecute the country’s religious minorities. Although the country’s Penal Code has always had a section on religious offence, clauses added in the 1980s set a high price for blasphemy or membership of the Ahmadi sect of Islam — an Islamic reformist movement. These laws, including a possible death sentence for insulting the Muslim prophet Muhammad, have been slammed by civil society inside and outside of Pakistan.

A report issued in September by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, says that blasphemy laws should be repealed. Controls on free speech in order to protect religious sensibility seem to run parallel to controls on religion.

Globally, restrictions on religious expression have increased according to a report released last month by the Pew Research Center. In 2010, the study found that 75 per cent of the world’s population lived in countries where restrictions placed on religious practice were rated as either “high” or “very high”. The study found that the greatest restrictions on religion take place in the world’s most heavily populated countries — India, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, and Russia stood out on the list.

Outrage and incitement to religious hatred

In 1977 Christian campaigner Mary Whitehouse successfully brought charges against the publishers of a magazine that printed a graphic sexual poem about Jesus Christ

In 1977 Christian campaigner Mary Whitehouse successfully brought charges against the publishers of a magazine that printed a graphic sexual poem about Jesus Christ

In 2007, the UK introduced the offence of “incitement to religious hatred”, which some feared was merely a replacement for the scrapped blasphemy law, made more wide-ranging by covering not just Christianity but all religions. The last conviction under that law was the infamous 1977 Gay News case, where Christian campaigner Mary Whitehouse brought a successful private prosecution against the publishers of Gay News magazine for publishing a poem describing a Roman soldier’s fantasy of sex with Jesus Christ.

In the UK, one of the most pernicious means by which restrictions on free speech have grown tighter has been through the use of incitement laws, both incitement to hatred and incitement to violence and murder. In some cases, as in the outlawing of incitement to religious hatred through the Racial and Religious Hatred Act, the law is being used to censor genuine debate. In other cases, incitement law is being used to shut down protest, as in the convictions of Muslim protestors Mizanur Rahman and Umran Javed for inciting racial hatred and ‘soliciting murder’ during a rally in London against the publications of the Danish Muhammed cartoons. Over the past decade, the government has used the law both to expand the notion of ‘hatred’ and broaden the meaning of ‘incitement’. Much of what is deemed ‘hatred’ today is in fact the giving of offence. And should’t the giving of offence be viewed as a normal and acceptable part of plural society?

In 2009, Ireland created for the first time a specific blasphemy offence. This law states a person is guilty of blasphemy if

“he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and

(b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.”

This wording was later used as a template for attempts to introduce the idea of “defamation of religion” as an offence at the United Nations. The attempt to introduce this concept failed, but the UN Human Rights Council did pass a resolution condemning “intolerance, negative stereotyping, stigmatisation, discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against, persons based on religion or belief”.

On the other hand, according to Frank La Rue, quoted by Journalism & Intolerance said: “blasphemy is a horrible cultural phenomenon but, again, should not be censored or limited by criminal law. I would like to oppose blasphemy in general by being respectful, but that’s something you build in the culture and the traditions and the habits of the people, but not something you put in the criminal code. Then it becomes censorship.”

Crushing religious freedom

Other European countries have had their own free speech versus religion battle when a push towards bans on the veil or niqab began, infringing on choices of Muslim women. France’s controversial ban on the niqab went into effect last year. Offenders must pay a 150 € fine or take French citizenship classes. There have been similar discussions in the Netherlands, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Belgium. Such bans are not restricted to Europe — in 2010 Syria banned face veils from university campuses. From 1998 – 2010, Turkey banned headscarves from university campuses. In fact, Turkey has a much wider ban on headscarves in public buildings, a ban the government faces difficulties overturning though it would like to. Just as troubling — countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia have strict dress codes for women that visitors must comply with as well.

Both enforced secularism and enforced religiosity constitute a form of censorship; the key word being “enforced” as opposed to “free”. Whether it is tackling enforced religion, religious offence, hatred and incitement to violence, or enforced secularism, only a constructive approach to free speech can genuinely guarantee freedom of conscience and belief, whether in one god, many or none.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1493908381135-56de588f-391f-0″ taxonomies=”78, 4880″][/vc_column][/vc_row]