Excerpts from Salman Rushdie’s interview to Barkha Dutt of NDTV after the cancellation of his video-link address at the Jaipur Literature Festival
I’ve visited India a number of times in these last years; five or six times in the last eight or nine years. I’ve even spoken at the Jaipur Festival…. I brought my family for a several weeks-long holiday in India… I’ve been coming and going a lot and it’s astonishing to me that suddenly not only my physical presence, but even my image on a video screen is considered to be unacceptable. I think it’s pretty shocking.
While I’ve been cast as this so called enemy of Islam, which seems ludicrous to anyone who knows how I have written and spoken over the years, the real enemies of Islam are the leaders, the Deobandis, the various extremist leaders and their followers, who behave like this, because what they do is to strengthen the extremely negative image of Islam as an intolerant, repressive, and violent culture, as an ideology masquerading as a gentle faith, whereas actually what happens every time it’s crossed, or every time it dislikes something, is that it resorts to threats and violence. People like this, who behave like this, are the ones who feed that image and they are the ones responsible for the negative views of Islam in the world, and they should be called the enemies of the faith.
I would have said that the vast majority of Indian Muslims really, frankly, don’t give a damn whether I come or go. They have many other pressing concerns of their own, to do with their own economic conditions, their own educational conditions, their own prospects in the country, and they are concerned with those. They are concerned with their personal lives and whether a writer comes to speak at a literary festival or not, I would suspect, is a non-issue for the vast majority of Muslims in the country
I feel a bit of a fool to have been taken in by it. But, obviously, what we see today is, that had I come to Jaipur, the level of violence that that would have unleashed might well have been far too great for anybody to be safe
Well, the threat of assassination was either exaggerated or fabricated. And my view is that it was probably fabricated. The threat that did exist was the threat to the festival grounds of the sort that we have seen today. I think for that you have to blame, obviously, the Muslim groups that were so unscrupulous, and whose idea of free speech is that they are the only ones entitled to it. Anyone else, who they disagree with, wishes to open his mouth; they will try and stop that mouth. That’s what we call tyranny. It’s much worse than censorship because it comes with the threat of violence. That threat was there. There is no question. And you’ve seen some of the result of it today. It would have been, obviously, bigger had I been there in person. That would have been a threat to everyone at the festival.
No matter what this gang of protesters tries to do, they will not prevent the dissemination of my novel, which is published all over the world in, I think, more than 50 languages and, by the way, is legally published, in my certain knowledge, in Turkey and Egypt, and recently, after the fall of the Gaddafi regime, in Libya. It was un-banned in Libya. So you have several Muslim countries in which the novel is freely able to be sold and read without any trouble…. If Libya can do this, Turkey can do this, Egypt can do this, does India want to be a totalitarian state like China or does it want to move in the right direction towards liberty and the open discussion of ideas?
I was an admirer of Husain Saab. I knew him a little bit personally and I thought that what happened to him was scandalous, scandalous. And that in his old age he should be driven out of his country…. There have been attacks, as you know, on works of scholarship, James Laine’s book about Shivaji, the shocking attack in Delhi against Ramanujan’s essay about the three hundred Ramayans. There have been attacks against movie sets, against actors who’d say things that people don’t like. It seems as if across the world of the arts there is an assault on liberty by, sometimes Hindu extremists, sometimes Muslim extremists. It’s not one or the other. Both of them, it seems to me, are equally to be condemned and it’s about time we understood, that if this is allowed to go on, that India will cease to be a free country. It will cease to be a free country and that is something, which I think most Indians will greatly regret.
Dar-ul Uloom is the group from which the Taliban learnt their ideology. This is the group which in the notorious Imrana case, a couple of years ago, said that a woman raped by her father-in-law should be divorced by her husband as a result… if this is the face of Islam and it is going to take root in India, then it is a very bad state of affairs.