The Times editorial page tries its hand at “Honoring Rushdie.” You be the judge of just how much they understand (or are willing to acknowledge). Emphasis added.
Published: June 26, 2007
Salman Rushdie’s knighthood is causing a furor — especially in Pakistan and Iran — among Islamic extremists, who see it as an official state endorsement of a writer who has been anathema to them ever since the publication of The Satanic Verses. And it has caused a few ripples of conscience in the West, too, a part of the world where writers are not routinely threatened with death but where we do try, often perplexedly, to respect the validity and the intensity of other people’s feelings.
Mr. Rushdie’s new honor raises the same question now that his work raised when Ayatollah Khomeini pronounced a fatwah against him in 1989. Do we choose to live in a world that honors writers or in a world that kills them?
It is tempting to say that this is too simple a way to look at it. It’s possible to argue that our desire to protect free speech — and, in effect, do away with the very notion of literary heresy — is as much an acculturation as the desire to enforce religious orthodoxy. But the problem Mr. Rushdie raises is not about the origins of human belief. It is about the consequences of human belief and, specifically, the consequences of religious tyranny.
The imaginative range of his work, its complexity and its ability to test the limits of what we know and believe entitle him to the respect and the honors he has earned. Yet in some parts of the world it would earn him assassination. You cannot judge a society only by the way it treats writers. But you can be certain that if a society treats writers badly, it treats ordinary people no better.
Too short. Too wishy washy even as it tries to be decisive. The real problem is whether we’re willing to fight for freedom. This kind of sideways, on the one hand… but really… is hardly the kind of stuff to inspire a willingness to fight. We need a real critique of the nonsense that appears here as the “one could argue… but…” position. We need a ringing defense of literary heresy, especially since it is only with the freedom to criticize and be criticized that civil society exists.
In polite society, you don’t say certain things lest there be violence.
In civil society, you can say what you need to, and there won’t be violence.
Let’s stop being so damned polite to the wrong people.