Even as author Salman Rushdie is on the road to recovery after a murderous attack on him on August 12 in western New York, where 24-year-old Hadi Matar stabbed him multiple times while the author was on the stage to discuss ‘United States as a refuge for writers and other artists in exile’, it has birthed another sharp debate in these already polarised times.
While US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan described the attack as “reprehensible”, authors and artists across the country tell IANS that the incident is a reminder that free speech, religious fanaticism and violence against artists cannot be away from the headlines for long.
Writer Nayantara Saghal, a long-time friend of Rushdie says she is horrified by the vicious attack on Salman Rushdie and the world of hatred and violence that we now live in.
“I salute his courage as a writer and the way he has defended freedom of expression all his life. In fact, he also defended me,” adds this author who returned her Sahitya Akademi award in 2015.
Stressing that we seem to have become a society, united more by hate and violence than by compassion, theatre director Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry, recipient of the Padma Shri honour says that the attack onthe author is chilling, and has once again asserted that violence stalks us constantly.
She said: “Civilisation is a thin crust that needs to be preserved zealously, otherwise the swamp is revealed in ways that brutalize and show the murky toxic gases that fog our spirit and soul. We are living in dark times, and Rushdie’s furious commitment to the values of free thought and free speech in the face of escalating violence is an act of great courage and conviction.
“The battle against words cannot be fought with knives and guns. These are sad days and sad times. Hope is a fading landscape.”
Sahitya Akademi award-winning playwright Mahesh Dattani points out that the whole world seems to be getting more aggressive and intolerant. Dattani said: “The fatwa was in 1989, and the attack happened in 2022. It is extremely disturbing that we are occupying a space in the universe where people are ready to kill for the sake of what they believe in.
“We surely seem to be going backwards in terms of societal development. This is not a healthy society at all. It always begins with writers and artists, but It is not a peripheral thing. It does not stop there. We have seen that throughout history the first voice to get muffled is that of the artist.”
Religious fanaticism is not a problem restricted only to our part of the world, Bose Krishnamacahri, artist and founder member-president of Kochi Biennale Foundation, pointed out.
He said: “What happened a few days back is terrible. Violence seems to have become the answer to all disagreements. Penetration of education does not seem to have had an impact on people obsessed with religion. This will continue to happen unless people realise that debating and civil discussions are the only way to solve differences.”
Author Taslima Nasrin against whom several fatwas have been issued for her “anti-Islamic remarks” says that she is extremely disturbed after a religious leader, addressing a rally of thousands in Pakistan a few days back called for her to be killed.
Nasrin added: “While I have had several fatwas issued against me in the past, this is the first time that someone has announced my name in front of such a huge gathering and demanded that I be killed. The recent attack on Rushdie is extremely sad. It proves that anyone who criticises Islam can be a target.”