Readersforum's Blog

January 28, 2012

Salman Rushdie case shows importance of book festivals

Sir Salman Rushdie has been told he is the target of Mumbai assassins Photo: GETTY

After this week’s Salman Rushdie controversy, Hay director Peter Florence asks: who should literary festivals give a voice to?

There are two sides to what happened in Rajasthan last week, when Salman Rushdie pulled out of the Jaipur literary festival, after death threats that turned out to be dubious – and both sides are true. On the one hand, almost everything everybody did made an ugly situation worse. The nadir was reached when the decision was made that Rushdie could not appear even onscreen as a moving image. The next logical step would be to ban cartoons of him.

The flipside is that everyone involved won something. Nobody died, and in a country of extreme volatility the police will regard this as a blessed relief. Rushdie is now much more famous in India than he was this time last week. The government can say that they respect the values of the Muslim community in an electoral battleground where they need to win. And festival organiser Sanjoy Roy’s team can enjoy the notion that people across the world have now heard of a literary festival in Jaipur. Even the Imam and his extremist followers can claim they prevented a writer from visiting his homeland…

So is this the end of freedom of speech in the world’s largest democracy? Should India hang its head in shame? Follow the hashtags. The overwhelming response from the wry, unbullyable and free-thinking Indian tweeters is, more or less: It’s about time I got round to reading The Satanic Verses – if it gets people so engaged, it must be worth looking at.

Banning books doesn’t work. Not if you want people not to read them. It has never worked. Lady Chatterley, Madame Bovary, Harry Potter, The Golden Compass, Animal Farm, The Lorax, The Da Vinci Code, Catcher in the Rye… There’s a pattern here, and it’s a mystery that politicians are too stupid to see it.

Would it have been different at the Hay festival? Maybe. I hope so.

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January 27, 2012

Why Salman Rushdie’s voice was silenced in Jaipur

The debate after the videolink with Salman Rushdie was cancelled. Photograph: Getty Images/Himanshu Vyas/Hindustan Times

A planned videolink with Rushdie at the Jaipur Literary Festival presented the directors with an impossible decision: cause a riot or uphold a vital principle.

By William Dalrymple

On Tuesday afternoon this week I was faced with one of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make.

It was the last afternoon of the Jaipur Literature Festival, of which I am co-director, and more than 10,000 people were milling around the grounds of Diggi Palace, the festival venue, eagerly waiting to hear Salman Rushdie speak by video link from London. For three weeks we had waited anxiously for this moment, ever sinceMaulana Abdul Qasim Nomani of the Deoband madrasa had called for the Indian Muslim community to oppose Rushdie’s visit to our festival. For those three weeks we had been negotiating with various government agencies, the police, a spectrum of intelligence agencies and local Muslim groups to try to make sure that Rushdie could still be heard. Despite a great deal of pressure, we had kept our invitation open and had refused to back down from our position that Rushdie had every right to return to the country of his birth and to discuss his work.

Then at about one o’clock a large number of Muslim activists appeared in the property and gravitated to the back of the lawns where a huge crowd had gathered to hear the videolink. Some of them went into the central courtyard of the palace to make their namaz (pray), and according to some reports, the maulana in charge told his followers that if anyone was killed that day they would die a martyr. Then they sought out our producer, Sanjoy Roy, and told him that they were prepared to use any amount of violence in order to stop Rushdie’s voice being heard. Others talked to the press: one told a reporter from the Times of India that “rivers of blood will flow here if they show Rushdie”, while the Muslim Manch representative Abdul Salim Sankhla was quoted as saying: “We will not allow Rushdie to speak here in any form. There will be violent protests if he speaks.” While all this was happening, some of the other activists were turfing school children out of their seats and intimidating festival guests.

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January 23, 2012

Rushdie: ‘I was lied to over assassination plot’

23.01.12 | Benedicte Page and Katie Allen

Salman Rushdie has expressed his “outrage” following a report in The Hindu that claims that his personal safety would be under threat if he attended the Jaipur Literary Festival were invented by Rajasthan police.

Rushdie withdrew from the Festival last week, saying he had been informed by intelligence sources in Maharashtra and Rajasthan that paid assassins from the Mumbai underworld might be heading to Jaipur to attack him.

“While I have some doubts about the accuracy of this intelligence, it would be irresponsible of me to come to the Festival in such circumstances,” he said, in a statement announcing his withdrawal from the event.

But on Twitter this weekend he described himself as “outraged and very angry” after investigating the claims made in The Hindu and finding that he had been lied to by Rajasthan police. The Rajasthan government has denied Rushdie’s charge, calling it “baseless”, according to a BBC report.

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January 22, 2012

Rushdie confirms Jaipur festival withdrawal after ‘assassination plot’

Filed under: Art Festivals — Tags: , , , — Henry Greeff @ 7:57 am

Salman Rushdie

By Benedicte Page

Salman Rushdie has confirmed that he will not attend the Jaipur Literary Festival in person, saying that intelligence sources have warned of a planned assassination attempt.

In a statement, Rushdie said: “For the last several days I have made no public comment about my proposed trip to the Jaipur Literary Festival at the request of the local authorities in Rajasthan, hoping that they would put in place such precautions as might be necessary to allow me to come and address the Festival audience in circumstances that were comfortable and safe for all.

“I have now been informed by intelligence sources in Maharashtra and Rajasthan that paid assassins from the Mumbai underworld may be on their way to Jaipur to ‘eliminate’ me. While I have some doubts about the accuracy of this intelligence, it would be irresponsible of me to come to the Festival in such circumstances; irresponsible to my family, to the festival audience,and to my fellow writers. I will therefore not travel to Jaipur as planned.”

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