Report: Salman Rushdie
Part 3: Did the U.S. respond to the assassination attempt? How is Rushdie? Now what happens?
This is the third in Autonomia’s series about Salman Rushdie, the writer condemned to death by Iran on February 14, 1989. Rushdie was savagely stabbed in the United States of America in August. Read the first report, about Rushdie, Iran and its mystic-dictator who ordered Rushdie’s assassination, here. Read the second article, about the death decree and the assassination attempt, here.
Has the U.S. responded to the assassination attempt on Salman Rushdie?
No. This is part of a pattern of American appeasement.
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The August 12, 2022 assassination attempt on an American—Rushdie, who is also an American publisher’s contractor—was met with U.S. government silence. A statement by the current presidential administration’s chief executive, Joe Biden, released to the press under the title “on the Attack on Salman Rushdie,” is as generic as the heading. The Biden statement principally evades:
Acknowledgement of attempted murder, let alone an attempt to assassinate
Acknowledgement that the assassin’s probable motive is to kill the infidel for the sake of Islam in obedience to Iran’s death decree
The existence of Iran, which sentenced Rushdie to death
The act of war known as a fatwa, which is Iran’s death decree, to destroy Rushdie
Without referencing Iran, its death decree, the assassination attempt or what motivated Rushdie’s assassin, let alone the right to free speech, Islam, terrorism or Iran’s act of war—mixing religion and state by invoking prayer—America’s president downplayed the assassination attempt on Salman Rushdie, stating that:
Jill and I were shocked and saddened to learn of the vicious attack on Salman Rushdie yesterday in New York. We, together with all Americans and people around the world, are praying for his health and recovery. I am grateful to the first responders and the brave individuals who jumped into action to render aid to Rushdie and subdue the attacker. Salman Rushdie—with his insight into humanity, with his unmatched sense for story, with his refusal to be intimidated or silenced—stands for essential, universal ideals. Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear. These are the building blocks of any free and open society. And today, we reaffirm our commitment to those deeply American values in solidarity with Rushdie and all those who stand for freedom of expression.”
This full and explicit refusal to acknowledge crucial facts is a continuation of the systematic U.S. evasion or denial of facts about Iran. According to a key U.S. military defense leader, America’s foreign policy pattern is to appease the Islamic dictatorship of Iran. In his recent book, Battlegrounds, H.R. McMaster—a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and Stanford University who graduated from the United States Military Academy, served as a U.S. Army officer for 34 years and taught history at West Point with a history PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—writes a scathing history of America’s appeasement of Iran:
During Ronald Reagan’s second term as president, and just two years after the October 1983 Iranian-sponsored attack against a [M]arine barracks in Lebanon that killed 241 servicemen, U.S. officials offered missiles in exchange for the release of U.S. hostages taken in Lebanon. After the Iranians got the munitions they wanted, an Iran-backed terrorist group in Lebanon took three more Americans hostage…The Bush administration [released] the $567 million frozen by Washington after the [Teheran] embassy attack in 1979.”
In the year Iran pledged to assassinate Rushdie, McMaster reports, “Iranian agents murdered prominent Kurdish-Iranian resistance leader Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou in Vienna; the next year, Iranian “diplomats” shot Kazem Rajavi, brother of People’s Mujahedin of Iran cofounder Massoud Rajavi, in Geneva; in 1991, Iranian assassins killed the Shah’s last prime minister, Shapour Bakhtiar, in Paris after failing a decade earlier; and in 1992, Iranian agents murdered three prominent Kurdish Iranian leaders and their interpreter in a Greek restaurant in Berlin.”
The history of America’s appeasement of Iran is vast and unequivocal. McMaster writes that “[a]s President Bush offered his olive branch and Europe expanded economic relations with Iran, the Iranian-supported Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah was going global. Worldwide attacks included a 1989 failed bombing in London in an attempt to assassinate Rushdie, a 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina that killed twenty-nine people, a 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina that killed eighty-five people, and the bombing of Alas Chiricanas Flight 901 on its way from Colón to Panama City, Panama, that killed all twenty-one of its passengers. In 1996, Hezbollah bombed the Khobar Towers complex in Saudi Arabia, killing nineteen U.S. Air Force personnel.”
McMaster relentlessly details—and morally judges—U.S. appeasement into the darkening 21st century:
Strategic narcissism endured, in the form of continuing reluctance to confront Iranian aggression. As the George W. Bush administration commenced at the beginning of 2001, there was still hope for improved relations based on the perceived strength of moderates and reformers inside the Islamic Republic…So-called moderates in Iran were moderate mainly in American and Western imaginations, but rarely at home. In December 2001, former president Rafsanjani, the man who had served as the vessel for Western dreams of Iranian moderation prior to Khatami, spoke from the podium at [Teheran] University to deliver the government’s official weekly sermon. He declared, “If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists’ strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything.” In August 2002, an Iranian exile group revealed the existence of a secret facility in Natanz capable of enriching uranium for use in nuclear weapons as well as civilian nuclear power reactors. The Iranian bomb was meant to be the ultimate weapon in the Islamic Republic’s proxy wars to push the United States out of the Middle East, dominate its Arab neighbors, and destroy Israel.”
The soldier, scholar and author of Battlegrounds reports that:
The Bush administration sought cooperation with Iran against Al Qaeda…“[b]ut instead of cooperating with the United States against what seemed to be a common enemy, [Iran] gave [Al Qaeda] leaders safe haven and helped them target the United States and Arab monarchies.”
Iran used Al Qaeda to incite civil war in Iraq which let Iran amass armed forces, infiltrate Iranian agents into Iraqi institutions and “[open] the door for … the Islamic [dictatorship]’s domestic and foreign spy…agents [to move] freely across unguarded borders.”
As the U.S. struggled with spreading insurgency, Iran’s fear of America’s conventional military power dissipated. Iran and its Iraqi proxy militias attacked American soldiers in Iran’s jihad against the U.S.: “These militias began killing and maiming American servicemen and women with Iranian-manufactured roadside bombs called explosively formed penetrators (EFPs). EFPs are as lethal as they are simple. A metal or PVC pipe packed with explosives and capped with a curved copper or steel disc is detonated. The explosion transforms the disc into a high-velocity molten slug capable of penetrating vehicles’ armor protection. EFPs required precision manufacturing in Iran. To transport them to battlefields abroad, the regime developed complex and innovative smuggling networks and techniques.”
“But Washington was slow to respond to Iran’s escalation of war, despite the urging of some civilian and military officials to confront Iranian aggression. Similar to the Obama and Trump administrations’ self-delusion that the Taliban was separate from [Al Qaeda] in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Bush administration indulged an implausible theory that Iran’s leaders might simply be unaware that their agents in Iraq were killing hundreds of American soldiers.”
Iran killed more than 600 U.S. soldiers, over 17 percent of all U.S. deaths in Iraq from 2003 to 2011. “Conciliatory action,” McMaster concludes, “even to the point of developing and promoting a cover story for Teheran, led neither to a reduction in Iran’s destructive activity nor to a stronger position for reformers. Instead, the lack of a strong response emboldened the revolutionaries.”
“The years 2005 to 2013 were ones of confrontation under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He and the conservatives were ascendant, as were oil revenues, and the regime intensified not only rhetoric, but also actions against Israel, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom.”
Ahmadinejad vastly increased support for Hezbollah and for the Palestinian terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
On January 20, 2007, Iran’s proxies in Iraq intensified attacks on U.S. forces. Iran’s militants wore U.S. uniforms to sneak past Iraqi guards, killed one U.S. soldier and took four more prisoners. All Americans were later “murdered in cold blood.”
Iran’s Quds Force planned another assassination and terrorist attack in the United States. On October 11, 2011, U.S. officials foiled an assassination attempt on Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States; Iran’s attack at the Washington, DC, restaurant “would have killed many bystanders.”
On November 29, 2011, Iranians stormed and overwhelmed the British embassy in Teheran, chanting “Death to England!” They raided the premises and destroyed property. This siege came after Great Britain announced new sanctions on Iran; the storming appeared to have been sponsored by Iran.
Besides the U.S. appeasement pattern, on the day Rushdie was savagely stabbed, Suzanne Nossel, CEO of the private artists’ group PEN America, issued a statement—“PEN America is reeling from shock and horror at word of a brutal, premeditated attack on our former President and stalwart ally, Salman Rushdie, [and w]e can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil…”—yet she, too, refused to refer to Iran or the death decree.
Other statements in the West—by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, condemned the attack while refusing to denounce, implicate or address Iran and its death pledge against Salman Rushdie.
Iran’s death decree, on the other hand, received praise throughout the East. Some Moslems wished for Rushdie to die, according to news reports, while some Moslems warned that such barbarism awaits other enemies of Iran’s theocracy. An earlier quote by Iran’s leading mystic was widely shared on social media, vowing that Iran’s fatwa against Rushdie was “fired like a bullet that won’t rest until it hits its target.”
The contrast between the West’s moral grayness, to use Ayn Rand’s phrase—amid Simon & Schuster, Apple, Google, Amazon and Twitter punishing and “de-platforming” patrons for exercising speech the companies deem incorrect—and the ghoulish zealotry of religionists in the East, bent on eradicating the infidel, was elucidated by Graeme Wood, who wrote in The Atlantic:
We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that 'nobody would have the balls' to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: Don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one."
Why does Salman Rushdie matter?
At stake is free speech. When the exercise of speech is censored and threatened, civilization is in danger. Rushdie, writing under a pseudonym, chronicles the spiral in his 2012 memoirs:
“Mehrdad Kokabi”, a “student,” was charged with arson and causing explosions at bookshops selling The Satanic Verses. The prosecution said his fingerprints had been found on the paper wrapping two pipe bombs, and that he had used his credit card to hire cars used in the attacks.”
Instead of swift and just deserts, Rushdie writes that he was pressured to plead for the Islamic terrorist’s clemency. Outraged by the suggestion, Rushdie declined. Nevertheless, “two months later all charges against Kokabi were suddenly dropped and he was recommended for deportation to Iran. Kokabi returned to Iran, where he was given a hero’s welcome and a new job. It became his responsibility to choose “students” who would receive placements abroad.”
When Rushdie spent Thanksgiving with Christopher Hitchens, an English couple who were journalists and documentary filmmakers came with their nine-year-old daughter, Olivia, who grew up to become actress and director Olivia Wilde. She told Rushdie that she was a fan. However, another child guest of that Thanksgiving dinner admitted to Rushdie that he had once wanted to be a writer “but now he didn’t anymore, “because look what happened to you.”
Salman Rushdie concludes:
… a climate of fear had grown up that made it harder for books like [The Satanic Verses] to be published, or even, perhaps, to be written. Other religions quickly followed Islam’s lead. In India, Hindu extremists attacked films and movie stars (the superstar Shah Rukh Khan was the target of violent protests merely for saying that Pakistani cricketers should have been included in a tournament in India) and works of scholarship (such as James Laine’s biography of the Maratha warrior-king Shivaji, which so “offended” that monarch’s contemporary admirers that they attacked the research library in Pune where Laine had done some of his research and destroyed many irreplaceable ancient documents and objects). In Britain, Sikhs attacked the Sikh author of Behzti (Dishonor), a play they disapproved of. And the Islamic violence continued. In Denmark, a Somali man with an ax and a knife, linked to the radical al-Shabab militia, broke into the home of the cartoonist Kurt Westergaard in Aarhus, after the publication of the so-called “Danish cartoons” that had aroused the ire of Islamic extremists. In America, Yale University Press, publishers of a book discussing the case of the “Danish cartoons,” would be too cowardly to include the cartoons in that book. In Britain, the home of the publisher of a book about the Prophet Muhammad’s youngest wife was letter-bombed. A much longer struggle would be necessary before the age of menaces and fears could be said to have come to an end.” [Emphasis added.]
The aftermath of Iran’s 1989 death decree against Rushdie includes an ever-expanding roster of besieged writers, publications and artists, including Charlie Hebdo, J.K. Rowling, the motion picture Fitna, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Dave Chappelle. All were victims of the initiation of the use of deadly or potentially deadly force purely based upon their free exercise of speech. Whether a U.S. senator’s book contract, Mohammed cartoons, a drawing contest in Texas, The Interview by Sony Pictures, a movie starring Dakota Fanning, Disney’s Aladdin or countless other examples, submission to the religious or Puritanical mob—and their looming threat or intimidation—shapes what you can read.
What is America’s interest in Rushdie’s life and rights?
To preserve and protect rights in the world’s only nation founded on rights.
As Adam Gopnik writes in the New Yorker—which, for full disclosure, published unsubstantiated claims that propelled a mob to destroy lives without due process—about Salman Rushdie:
The most rudimentary thing about literature—it is here that one’s study of it begins—is that words are not deeds.” Those were the words of the Soviet dissident author Andrei Sinyavsky as he tried to explain to his equally deaf judges just what a novel is, shortly before being sentenced to a labor camp.…Everyone has a right to be offended by whatever offends them, and everyone on earth has a right to articulate their offense. No one has a right to maim or kill someone because our words offend them. [Emphasis added—and I’d include smear in that judgment.]
Blasphemy is not a mighty category demanding respect but a pitiful invention of those who cannot tolerate having their pet convictions criticized. It demands no respect from anyone; on the contrary, it requires solidarity among all decent people in opposing it…To assume the criticism of ideas as assaults on people is the end of the liberal civilization. The idea that we should be free to do our work and offer our views without extending a frightened veto to those who threaten to harm us isn’t just part of what we mean by free expression—it is close to the whole of what we mean by civilized life.” … “The line between the fight for freedom and the surrender to hatred is absolute. The assault on Rushdie only clarifies its contours.” [Emphasis added.]
What is likely to happen now?
Salman Rushdie wrote 10 years ago about “the building of the Islamic nuclear bomb” in Iran. This is the most relevant and atrocious potential outcome of the West’s abnegation with regard to free speech, ending states that sponsor terrorism (such as Iran) and Iran’s decree that one writer be assassinated. Iran seeks mass death.
Due to the appeasement by President Barack Hussein Obama, who proposed and signed the Iran deal, and the defeat of Donald Trump, who opposed the Iran deal, in the 2020 election, it’s considered probable that Iran will obtain nuclear weapons. According to the Islamic dictatorship’s explicitly stated mystical-militarist goal to annihilate the West including the United States of America, it’s reasonable to suppose that the Islamic dictatorship will develop and use an arsenal of weapons to launch nuclear war on the West.
Former Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Barak made that assertion in Time this summer:
This [year], Iran will turn into a de facto “threshold nuclear” state—one with enough highly enriched uranium for one nuclear device and the technology to make it a weapon. [Iran] need[s] 18 to 24 months to polish their skills treating metal uranium and packing it into a missile warhead. But these steps can be executed in a small lab or workshop and cannot be easily followed, never mind stopped.
In 2015, the U.S.-led agreement to delay Iran’s program failed to go far enough, but in 2018, when the U.S. withdrew from that same agreement, the mullahs were some 17 months away from threshold status. Today they could be as little as 17 days away.
…Both Israel and the U.S. can operate over the skies of Iran against this or that site or installation, and destroy it. But the surgical operations that were considered 12 years ago, and could have been considered four years ago, will no longer be an option once Iran is a de facto threshold state. Indeed, under certain circumstances such operations might accelerate Iran’s rush toward assembling a bomb, and provide it a measure of legitimacy…After more than 20 years of trying, Iran is about to cross the point of no return in becoming a member of the nuclear club. This has been the mullahs’ ambition all along. [Emphasis added.]
Another likely post-Rushdie assassination attempt result is harsher suppression of free expression in America and the West.
As PEN America CEO Nossel, author of Dare to Speak: Defending Free Speech for All, warns, today’s writer faces: “…online harassment that shuts people out from public discourse; ossified ideological orthodoxies that impair academic freedom and deter the expression of dissenting views in public discourse; ferocious waves of book and educational gag orders that banish specific ideas and identities from American classrooms; a flood of disinformation that has left a large segment of the population flummoxed over who and what to believe; campaigns of denigration targeting journalists and the media with the aim of dislodging faith [sic] in facts and truth; and the long arm of authoritarian repression whereby foreign governments reach into free societies to menace exiles and critics.”
Nossel ends with a plea to the individual:
As we tell the story of the attack on Salman Rushdie, we must elucidate its larger lessons. Writing freely is an act of supreme bravery. … Salman Rushdie has devoted his life to the freedom to write, exercising it, fighting for it, and using his fame and influence as a bulwark for all those who do the same. The attack on Rushdie is an attack on all who treasure the right to think, write and speak freely. We owe it to him to recognize it as such.”
How is Salman Rushdie?
After The Satanic Verses author was knifed on stage in New York this summer, Salman Rushdie's son Zafar Rushdie said in a statement that: “Though his life-changing injuries are severe, his usual feisty and defiant sense of humor remains intact…[The Rushdie family] are so grateful to all the audience members who bravely leapt to his defense and administered first aid, along with the police and doctors who have cared for him and for the outpouring of love and support from around the world.”
More recently, The Guardian: reported that Salman Rushdie has lost sight in one eye and the use of one hand after the attack. Until this fall, the extent of Rushdie’s injuries had been unclear—by itself a disturbing news blackout that foretells new darkness to descend upon the free press and free speech—but, finally, in an interview with Spain’s El País, Rushdie’s agent Andrew Wylie detailed impact of the attack:
[His wounds] were profound, but he’s [also] lost the sight of one eye,” said Wylie. “He had three serious wounds in his neck. One hand is incapacitated because the nerves in his arm were cut. And he has about 15 more wounds in his chest and torso. So, it was a brutal attack.”
The agent declined to say whether Rushdie was still in hospital, saying the most important thing was that the writer was going to live.
Asked how he felt about the fact that Maus – the Pulitzer-prize-winning graphic novel by another of his authors, Art Spiegelman – had been banned in some US schools, Wylie said: “You know, that’s the religious right behaving as they behave. It’s ridiculous. It’s ludicrous. It’s shameful. But it’s a big force in the country now.”
Intellectually, Rushdie answered a series of reader questions shortly before the attack. The New Yorker was asked by a woman in Indonesia “If you could go back, would you have done things differently with The Satanic Verses?” He replied: “Nope. I'm perfectly happy with it. It's one of my better books. Books, in the end, are not defined by the people who don't like them. What happened to this book is that only the people who did not like it got to speak. Now it's the other way around.”
Is it? If so, for how long?
Speaking to the graduating class of Emory University—in a speech in which he mocks Ayn Rand for being popular among Americans and praises J.R.R. Tolkien, Ernest Hemingway, Harper Lee, John Lennon and George Orwell—in 2015, Rushdie counseled graduates to: “Be more difficult, more interesting, and you’ll be fine. Try not to be small. Try to be larger than life…One of the things I’ve learned as a writer is voraciousness. The novelist’s art is in many ways a vulgar art, it’s about life as it’s really lived, it’s the opposite of an ivory tower form.”
Rushdie told them:
…People seem ready to believe almost anything. God, for example. Sorry this is the controversial bit. Sorry to the theology people over there. Shocking how many Americans swallow that old story. Maybe you will be the generation that moves past the ancient fictions. As John Lennon recommended, imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. That’s maybe one antique truthiness which perhaps you can finally replace with the truth.
But it’s not just God. There’s also yoga, veganism, political correctness, flying saucers, Birthers, 9/11 denialists, Scientology, and, for Pete’s sake, Ayn Rand.
Here’s how to do it.
Take nothing for granted.
Argue with all received ideas.
Don’t respect what doesn’t deserve respect.
Speak your mind.
Don’t censor yourselves.
Use your imagination.
And express what it tells you to express.
You have been given all these tools by your education here on this beautiful campus.
Use them. These are the weapons of the mind.
Think for yourself, and don’t let your mind run along tramlines someone else laid down.”
The consequences of August 12’s attempted assassination in America—at a forum in New York on America as the last safe haven for the freethinker—have the potential to shape the future of the American republic. Writer Taslima Nasreen, who fled her native Bangladesh after a court ruled that her novel Lajja (which means shame in English), hurt Moslems’ “feelings”, wrote this summer:
I just learned that Salman Rushdie was attacked in New York. I am really shocked. I never thought it would happen. He has been living in the West, and he has been protected since 1989. If he is attacked, anyone who is critical of Islam can be attacked. I am worried.”
After the attempted realization of a mystic’s forgotten death command, there’s no denying that she has reason to worry. Every writer—and reader and Westerner—does.
Sources: Salman Rushdie, PEN America, The Times of London, The New Yorker, The New York Post, David Harris, H.R. McMaster
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