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The Immortal Salman Rushdie – The Atlantic


His associates, his readers, and Salman Rushdie himself ultimately stopped fascinated by the fatwa. He was dwelling an nearly regular life in New York. For many years, he had had not more than a really discreet, practically invisible safety element.

I recall the day, shortly after the French presidential election in 2017, that Emmanuel Macron invited Salman and me for espresso on the Élysée Palace in Paris. He was astonished that Salman had so little safety. “I’m not the martyr kind,” Salman joked. “I’m only a author. Why would anybody maintain such an enormous grudge in opposition to a author?”

Properly, he was incorrect. This sort of killer by no means lets up. You possibly can despise them, you may push them out of your thoughts—the bounty hunters and lunatics that historical past units in your tracks—however the pack by no means forgets about you.

And that’s what my good friend Salman could have grasped, within the bewildering seconds of Friday’s assault when a person invaded the stage on the Chautauqua Establishment and began stabbing him. I used to be reminded of the destiny of these different victims of fanaticism, Samuel Paty, Father Jacques Hamel, and Daniel Pearl, after I realized that Salman’s would-be murderer had slashed at his neck. He was left combating for his life, gravely injured, although no less than now off a ventilator.

A wave of terror and horror is breaking over us all. I don’t have the guts to do a lot in addition to await information to trickle out from the hospital in Pennsylvania the place Salman was taken by helicopter and let the recollections come again to me—my recollections of Salman Rushdie over the 33 years which have handed since Ayatollah Khomeini publicly sentenced him to loss of life.

I recall a gathering of the Nordic Council in Helsinki, three years after the fatwa, after I determined to share my talking time with Salman. We gave no advance discover, and solely my good friend the Swedish creator Gabi Gleichmann was get together to our plan. When Salman took the stage with me, the viewers held its breath—as if earlier than it was a ghost, or a person condemned to loss of life reprieved on the eleventh hour, one other “man within the iron masks” on the free from his planetary Bastille. Then he started to talk, smiling and with a twinkle in these unusual, half-moon eyes of his, with their outstanding pupils that eclipse the whites. He improvised a stunning monologue on artwork and the ability of the novel, saying that between his work and his life, he would all the time select his work. He acquired a standing ovation.

Then there was a non-public journey to Good, within the mid-Nineteen Nineties. Air Inter blocked off the primary row. As I recall, he boarded on the final minute together with his safety element, simply earlier than the doorways closed, after we had witnessed a mysterious ballet of police, service autos, and flashing lights on the runway. On this event, too, when he appeared on the airplane, there was generalized shock. One lady claimed that she was ailing. One other lady demanded to be let off the airplane. The remainder of the passengers, as soon as the preliminary shock wore off, broke into sustained applause.

One other cowardly soul involves thoughts. This one was as soon as France’s international minister, Roland Dumas. La Règle du jeu, a literary journal that Salman and I and a few others based in 1990, invited Salman to return to France to satisfy up with a few of his Parisian associates. As I keep in mind, the minister behaved shamefully, decreeing that Salman, a citizen of Europe, wanted a visa to enter France. Then he denied the visa on the grounds that he couldn’t assure Salman’s safety. Dumas’s personal colleague, Minister of Tradition Jack Lang, protested. My good friend the businessman François Pinault provided to lend us a airplane and to offer the mandatory safety. President François Mitterrand himself needed to settle the matter. And lo, the France that hoped for commerce offers and arms gross sales yielded to the spirit of Voltaire. Bienvenue, Monsieur Salman.

Yet one more spineless particular person: Prince Charles. In 1993, I met him at a lunch hosted by the British embassy in Paris. “Salman just isn’t a great author,” growled the prince after I requested him what he considered the entire affair, including that “defending him prices England’s crown dearly.” On this, Martin Amis, one other of Salman’s associates, later remarked: “It prices much more to guard the Prince of Wales, who has not, so far as I do know, produced something of curiosity.” The press and public opinion, for as soon as, took the aspect of the persecuted author.

Le Monde despatched me to London in 1998 to report on the day by day lifetime of the world’s most reclusive author. After lunch at Scott’s, we strolled by way of Mayfair. We handed Kensington Palace, to which Salman had rushed, as many Londoners did within the days after Princess Diana died, the earlier 12 months. We visited the Nationwide Portrait Gallery to see an exhibition of portraits by the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. Folks approached my companion: “Are you Salman Rushdie?” (“I hope so; I do my finest,” he stated.) He made it a degree of honor, on that day, to behave as if he didn’t have the sword of Damocles hanging over his head. He exercised his freedom, his regular life, the way in which others train to remain in form. Upon my departure, alas, he returned to his jail with out partitions.

I keep in mind the journey to Sarajevo we deliberate in 1993. Bosnia’s president, Alija Izetbegović, welcomed the go to in precept. Salman needed to go. Removed from being the Islamophobe the bottom of his critics make him out to be, he’s a good friend and ally of reasonable Islam. Was he not the defender of a Quran that fights on the aspect of enlightenment, as have been these defending Sarajevo? However a sure Boutros Boutros-Ghali, then the secretary-general of the United Nations (earlier than falling, deservedly, into the dustbin of historical past), opposed the journey on spurious pretexts. We needed to abandon the plan.

I keep in mind a dialog we had in entrance of an viewers in London, the place Salman stated how a lot he missed the Islam of his childhood in India. “The best of Muslim thought has been broad-minded,” he defined. “After I suppose again to my grandparents’ time, my dad and mom’ time, Islam strove to be cosmopolitan. It raised questions and engaged in argument. It was alive.” Salman is the son of that type of Islam. He clearly has nothing in opposition to blasphemy, as a result of blasphemy, in his eyes, is inseparable from freedom of expression and thought; however neither do I consider that he has ever blasphemed in opposition to the creed of his dad and mom.

I keep in mind a dialog between us, in Paris, on the Jewish radio station RCJ, when he speculated on what the fatwa would have entailed if it had been issued within the period not of the fax machine however of social media. “A tweet is all it takes,” he stated, as I recall, “to fire up the planet. 5 minutes on YouTube is sufficient to set off simultaneous demonstrations all through the world. If my fatwa had occurred within the web age, wouldn’t it have been deadly? I don’t know.” Now he is aware of. Alas.

I keep in mind his wedding ceremony to Padma Lakshmi, in 2004: the bathe of rose petals, the Indian orchestra, sitars and drums, the act of slipping an amulet onto the ankle of his beloved, his associates and son in attendance. He was comfortable.

I keep in mind the night time of Barack Obama’s first presidential election. We have been at a celebration in a paneled New York house with a mixture of literary sorts, actors, journalists, marketing campaign donors, and philanthropists. A cellphone rang. It was the president-elect calling to thank Salman personally for his assist.

I keep in mind the day the French historian Pierre Nora; Claude Lanzmann, the director of Shoah; and I got here to interview Salman for a 1994 documentary for the European cultural TV channel Arte. We filmed the dialog, if I keep in mind accurately, within the library of a membership in an upscale London neighborhood. Lanzmann was irritated by Salman’s air of authority. Nora was irritated by the annoyance of his old-school good friend. He needed to guard Lanzmann from himself and his well-known tendency to rehash previous quarrels. Salman loved the present they placed on. He preferred the concept that these previous timers, whom he admired, appeared to fall again into an unresolved adolescent dialog.

I keep in mind a day on the seaside in Antibes, the pleasure of being alive, the midday solar, warmth waves rippling so far as you could possibly see, sharing a love of flicks and actresses, particularly Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt, the actual proprietor of the Casa Malaparte in Capri (which Godard used as his movie’s essential setting). That day, Salman needed nothing a lot as to give you the option in the future to do a remake of Dr. No or From Russia With Love. The nice life. An urge for food for dwelling and for multiplying the methods of dwelling. The alternative of a condemned man.

I mull over our dinners collectively in New York lately. He didn’t need to hear any extra in regards to the fatwa. We talked about François Rabelais, Toni Morrison’s Tune of Solomon, Laurence Sterne, George Eliot (a author he may by no means get into), and V. S. Naipaul, whose loss of life had devastated him. Literature earlier than and above all else! The want, confronted with the fracas of the world, to say, “Please, flip down the sound!” Which clearly didn’t forestall him, just a few months in the past, on the very starting of the conflict in Ukraine, from deciding that it was pressing for us to pen an attraction for sanctions in opposition to Russia and to assist persuade Sting and Sean Penn to affix the marketing campaign.

What has struck me, over all these years, is the quiet heroism of my good friend. He understood very properly that, once in a while, a Western authorities would expel a faux Iranian diplomat and that this is likely to be out of concern for his security due to the fatwa. He knew that self-styled associates of the Muslim folks have been nonetheless insisting, regardless of the Charlie Hebdo bloodbath and different slaughters, that nobody had the appropriate to offend others’ religion and that, if hurt ought to befall the offender, he had solely himself accountable. And by no means did a talking engagement go by with out his being requested the everlasting query: Figuring out every part he knew at the moment, did he ever remorse having written The Satanic Verses, a piece that has adopted him like a curse?

However was he afraid? No, he was not. At most, he would confess to having a radar that typically warned him of potential hazard.

And as soon as—simply as soon as, a very long time in the past—I heard him make an odd comment in regards to the knack grasp killers have for ruminating on their vengeance and carrying it out coldly when least anticipated. Assume Mussolini and the Rosselli brothers; Stalin and Ignace Reiss; Putin and the poisoned oligarchs. And in the future, a Shiite Ramón Mercader whom nobody would see coming.

I consider that’s the place issues stood, final Friday on the Chautauqua Establishment, when Salman Rushdie noticed the person who meant to execute him leap onto the stage.

Will this nonetheless be the place issues stand when he emerges from the hell of ache by which I think about him? The artist in him will proceed to consider that life is a tragedy, a story stuffed with sound and fury, informed by an fool. And he won’t be shocked to listen to associates inform him that if one might be Dickens, Balzac, and Tagore in a single life, one may properly be thought-about immortal.

However he’ll learn the article in Iran, the semi-official newspaper of the regime, which, whereas he was combating loss of life, rejoiced that “the satan’s neck” was “struck with a razor.” He’ll see the ultraconservative newspaper Kayhan announcing a blessing, whereas he was recovering, on “the hand of the person who tore the neck of the enemy of God with a knife.”

And Salman should get used to the concept, one which all the time petrified him, of being a human image, a hostage in a conflict of the worlds by which, prefer it or not, his personal life and loss of life have change into everyone’s enterprise. That’s the reason these of us who couldn’t defend him—all of us—now have an obligation to carry out.

This act of terror in opposition to his physique and his books is an absolute act of terror in opposition to all of the world’s books. Such an outrage in opposition to freedom of expression requires a ringing response.

Particular person nations could have their say. The worldwide group, too, should sign to the sponsors of this crime that this Salman Rushdie affair has created a brand new division, a time earlier than and a time after.

As for his associates, his friends, media, and others for whom public opinion counts for one thing, all of us have a dedication to make. And that’s to make sure that the creator of The Satanic Verses receives the very best of literary honors. To see that, within the title of all his fellow authors and in his personal title, Salman Rushdie receives the Nobel Prize in Literature that is because of be awarded in just a few weeks.

I can not think about some other author at the moment would want to win it in his stead. The marketing campaign begins now.


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