By Farouq Suleiman
LONDON (Reuters) – Novelist Salman Rushdie has warned that countries in the West face the most severe threats to freedom of expression and freedom to publish in his lifetime, speaking nine months after a man repeatedly stabbed him onstage in New York.
Rushdie, 75, was awarded the ‘Freedom to Publish’ award by The British Book Awards on Monday.
“We live in a moment, I think, at which freedom of expression, freedom to publish has not in my lifetime been under such threat in the countries of the West,” Rushdie said in a video message from New York broadcast to the award ceremony.
“The freedom to publish, of course, is also the freedom to read and the freedom to write, the ability to write what you want … to be able to choose what you want to read and not have it decided for you externally.”
An attack onstage in August, 2022, during a lecture in New York state left the Indian-born British author blind in one eye and affected the use of one of his hands.
Rushdie has long faced death threats linked to his fourth novel, “The Satanic Verses,” which was banned in many countries with large Muslim populations upon its 1988 publication over passages deemed to be blasphemous.
Rushdie, who spent years in hiding after Iran’s supreme leader at the time pronounced a fatwa, or religious edict, calling upon Muslims to kill him, also referred to the banning of certain books in some U.S. school libraries and classrooms.
“In the countries in the West, until recently, there was a fair measure of freedom in the area of publishing. Now I am sitting here in the United States, I have to look at the extraordinary attack on libraries, and books for children in schools,” he said.
“The attack on the idea of libraries themselves. It is quite remarkably alarming, and we need to be very aware of it, and to fight against it very hard.”
More than a thousand book titles, many addressing racism and LGBTQ issues, have been banned from U.S. classrooms and libraries in the past two years amid pressure from conservative parents and officials, the writers’ organization PEN America has said.