Aug 15, 2022
The attack on Salman Rushdie, and on free speech Transcript
The attempted murder of the renowned author is the latest sad chapter in the life of a quiet but dedicated hero of free expression. Read the transcript here.
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Speaker 1: (00:00)
As you’ve probably heard, renowned author Salman Rushdie was stabbed multiple times at a speaking engagement in Western New York state on Friday. It’s a sad chapter in the life of the outspoken writer, author of the controversial novel, The Satanic Verses. We have more from our Lee Callan.
Lee Callan: (00:24)
It all played out in front of a horrified audience. Famed author, Salman Rushdie, was at the Chatauqua Institution in Western New York, where police say a man in the audience suddenly rushed the stage and attacked him. Also injured was the events moderator, Henry Reese.
Henry Reese: (00:40)
There was an attack on freedom of expression and someone who was probably just luminary in the world. He’s not one to back away from a fight.
Lee Callan: (00:49)
Indeed, Rushdie was there to talk about how the United States was a safe haven for exiled writers. But before he could get a word out, the 75 year old was being airlifted to a nearby hospital in Pennsylvania, where he underwent surgery for multiple stab wounds. Although those wounds are considered serious, he’s said to be off a ventilator and able to speak.
Speaker 4: (01:13)
British author, Salman Rushdie went into hiding today from the storm over his novel, The Satanic Verses.
Lee Callan: (01:20)
Rushdie’s life in hiding began in 1989 when outrage over his novel reached a fevered pitch all around the world. The 547 page volume fictionalized parts of the life of Muhammad, making controversial references to the prophet himself, Islam and the Quran.
Speaker 5: (01:41)
Lee Callan: (01:41)
It was almost instantly banned in countries, including Bangladesh, Sudan, Sri Lanka, even India, where Rushdie was born. The then Supreme Leader of Iraq, the Ayatollah Khomeini went so far as to issue a fatwa against Rushdie, ordering Muslims to kill him if they could find him.
Speaker 6: (02:00)
However offensive that book may be, inciting murder and offering rewards for its perpetration are deeply offensive to the norms of civilized behavior.
Speaker 7: (02:15)
He doesn’t have a right to slander and distort and tell lies. That’s what we are against.
Lee Callan: (02:21)
Protests soon spread to the US as well.
Speaker 8: (02:25)
Hands off Rushdie. Hands off Rushdie.
Lee Callan: (02:27)
Over time, however, Rushdie became a quiet but dedicated hero.
Speaker 9: (02:31)
Free speech. Free speech.
Lee Callan: (02:38)
A symbol of free speech even as he lived his life on the run. Rushdie though did reenter society, living quite freely in New York, where our Martha Tichenor talked with him back in 2002.
Salman Rushdie: (02:53)
I’m just getting back to the ordinary business of being a writer.
Lee Callan: (02:57)
While he understood the power of his plight and fought for author’s rights, he seemed to hope that his legacy would be more than just that one novel, one he never even considered to be his best.
Salman Rushdie: (03:09)
To be famous for the wrong thing is a terrible fate. I’ve now spent a dozen years of my life trying to climb out from under that.
Lee Callan: (03:16)
The suspect in Friday’s attack, 24 year old Hadi Matar from Fairview, New Jersey pleaded not guilty to attempted second degree murder charges. His next court appearance is on Friday. As for Muslim Americans, many condemned the attack, but a few extremist groups praised it, seeing it as vindication that the fatwa had finally been carried out, and warned that attacks on those who oppose the Islamic Republic would continue. For his fans and friends, the fact that Rushdie was attacked in such a quiet place dedicated to the art of writing and free thought is certainly reason for pause.
Henry Reese: (03:55)
If you’re a writer, you should continue to write and you should write bravely and truthfully.
Lee Callan: (04:02)
Which is exactly what he did.
Henry Reese: (04:04)
Yes, art lives on, but writers do not. And it’s our job to defend them.
Lee Callan: (04:11)
As someone Rushdie himself once queried, just what is freedom of expression. Without the freedom to offend, he said, it ceases to exist.