Magazine article The Nation

Gigadibs in Satan Storm; Standing Room Only as Bandwagon Rolls

Magazine article The Nation

Gigadibs in Satan Storm; Standing Room Only as Bandwagon Rolls

Article excerpt

Like almost everyone else I bump into, including the amiable Iranian who presented me with a copy of The Satanic Verses, I feel sympathy for Rushdie, though I doubt whether a chorus line of writers and intellectuals shouting "We are all Salman Rushdie" from behind well-guarded doors in New York City carries much weight with the Ayatollah, and a delegation to Qom or even Beirut would probably be vetoed as altogether too risky a proposition.

What's irking about the Rushdie affair is the emphasis on its singularity: a writer under public sentence of death; chain stores with the manifest power to sentence his book to similar extinction; writers united against the rage of Islam. At first sight it does seem unwonted that Rushdie can't go to his neighborhood Indo-Pak restaurant in Islington without wondering whether the chap taking his order for mutton biriani hasn't got a knife in one pocket and an invoice to the Ayatollah in the other. (It probably didn't help Rushdie's peace of mind either to go along, the day after Khomeini issued his big thumbs down, to Bruce Chatwin's memorial service and be greeted by Paul Theroux with the merry cry "You here, Salman? You're next.")

But now that almost everyone of moment in Western culture has decided that support for Rushdie is a (virtually riskfree) token of intellectual and physical gallantry, it is time to remember that Rushdie's fix may be grievous but is scarcely unique and that, as always, the lust for free speech is tempered by the nature of the speech-and the speakerunder siege. …

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