Is It Progress When the Price on Salman Rushdie's Head Declines by $5.2 Million?


From a really interesting and generally depressing article about continuing state harrassment of free expression and new death threats and legal actions against writers and public intellectuals:

Back in 1989, when Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issued his fatwa without ever having read Rushdie's book, the price put on Rushdie's head was $3-million. This year, following the announcement that Rushdie was going to attend the Jaipur festival, a Muslim group in Mumbai offered a rather modest sum of 100,000 rupees (roughly $2,000) for anyone who would hurl a slipper at him.

Using the inflation calculator here, that $3 million would be worth about $5.2 million in today's dollars. Which means that price on Rushdie's head has effectively declined by oh-about $5.2 million.

Rushdie's threat-level-value hitting rock bottom? That might count as progress.

This account of events at India's Jaipur Literature Festival by Vassar professor Amitava Kumar certainly doesn't:

Hari Kunzru and I, along with two other writers who also later read from The Satanic Verses, have had seven police complaints filed against us by members of parties of diverse hue. In coming weeks, these cases will be taken up in court. This is serious, of course, but the entire affair isn't without very bizarre aspects. One of the complainants belongs to the right-wing Hindu party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been brazenly anti-Muslim in the past. But, as a competitor for the more than 18 percent Muslim vote in the coming election, the BJP considers it a sacred duty to attack Rushdie.

Read the whole story, which includes Kumar's take on why Rushdie ain't the writer he used to be, in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Hat tip:

Rushdie's recipe for lamb korma, which appeared in Parade magazine.

Rushdie's possible literary low point: tweeting about Kim Kardashian.

Great 2005 Reason interview with Rushdie. Snippet:

The idea of universal rights–the idea of rights that are universal to all people because they correspond to our natures as human beings, not to where we live or what our cultural background is–is an incredibly important one. This belief is being challenged by apostles of cultural relativism who refuse to accept that such rights exist. If you look at those who employ this idea, it turns out to be Robert Mugabe, the leaders of China, the leaders of Singapore, the Taliban, Ayatollah Khomeini. It is a dangerous belief that everything is relative and therefore these people should be allowed to kill because it's their culture to kill.

I think we live in a bad age for the free speech argument. Many of us have internalized the censorship argument, which is that it is better to shut people up than to let them say things that we don't like. This is a dangerous slippery slope, because people of good intentions and high principles can see censorship as a way of advancing their cause and not as a terrible mistake. Yet bad ideas don't cease to exist by not being expressed. They fester and become more powerful.

NEXT: Chip Bok on School Freebies

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  1. Man that dude is like totally rockng that rabbit! Wow.

  2. Does that picture prove that Rushdie is a racist? I get so confused on the whole Brer Rabbit is/is not a racist caricature.

    1. I don’t remember Brer Rabbit being that well-dressed.

    2. Please don’t start that argument, Brett L! Please don’t generate hundreds of clicks on this thread!

  3. The “price on Rushdie’s head has effectively declined by oh-about $5.2 million”

    I guess gas overhead is expensive for would-be assassins too

  4. …because people of good intentions and high principles can see censorship as a way of advancing their cause and not as a terrible mistake.

    Except advocacy of censorhip proves them to not be of either good intentions or high principles.

    And is the slipper-hurling to replace the death sentence?

    1. Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer
      the slippers, the shoes of outraged Muslims

  5. Rushdie is committed the cause of free speech, but doesn’t seem to understand that he’s aligned himself politically with the side whose goals mean the extinguishing of that same cause.

  6. The march of time probably has the most to do with it.

    Muslim countries with large populations tend to skew young, so the average Iranian was probably a toddler when Khomeini handed down the fatwa again Rushdie. You’d undoubtedly get a relative handful of religious nutjobs who would give a crap, but most younger Iranians, even religious ones, are probably more concerned about present-day concerns.

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