Thursday, October 11, 2012

What It Costs To Be Free
The other night on the PBS NewsHour (I love that show) there was an interview with Salman Rushdie who has written a book explaining how he survived being the object of a fatwa — something he readily admits he never would've bet he could do. 

Rushdie’s book Joseph Anton: A Memoir is probably a fascinating read and Rushdie deserves a chance to explain his side of what transpired because the life-changing events triggered by his novel The Satanic Verses, came as a complete surprise to him.  

Unlike some of those practicing free speech, whose intention is to hurt, destroy, discredit — Rushdie did not have that intention and yet he was ascribed this and that assumption changed his life; and perhaps his view of what it really meant to be free (or not, as was his case for nearly a decade).

To accompany the publication of this book, Salman Rushdie wrote a letter to Independent Booksellers.   Here is an excerpt of his homage:

"The bravery of independent booksellers influenced

other stores to follow their lead, and in the end a

key battle for free expression was won—not by

politicians who, as usual, arrived cautiously and

tardily at the battlefield, but by the determination

of ordinary people that it not be lost. I have never

ceased to be grateful for what the independent

booksellers of America did in 1989 and, now that

I have finally been able to tell the full story of that

battle, I’m glad to be able to honor your courage

and give you all your due, both in the pages of

my book and in what I will say about it when it

is published. This is just to thank you personally.

It was a privilege to be defended by you, and I

have been trying, and will continue to try, to be

worthy of that defense."

We were fortunate to hear Rushdie speak three months before the publication of this book and he was intelligent, thoughtful, and quietly entertaining — not a revolutionary.  He was plain-spoken and elegant as he discussed the role of literature in our world.  

"We are the only animals that tell stories to help us understand things (and ourselves). The greater our freedom to do that determines the freedom of the society in which we live in. If we can change, discard and renew the story in which we live, the one way to describe that is freedom. Whoever the tyrant is, they always will say 'we tell the story and we determine who else tells the story and how the story will flow.”

From his lecture and from his interview on the NewsHour, my takeaway of Rushdie's bottom-line message — 

Freedom of speech is freedom of speech.  You don’t get to choose only the speech you like (OR agree with).  You get the good with the great with the bad and sometimes the abhorrent.  And in the United States, we do get the abhorrent — but it’s the price we pay to get to say what we want to say.  Salman Rushdie knows that because he's lived it.

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