The health of a free, democratic society can be measured by its protection of disrespect, so long as the right to offensiveness does not extend to the threat, much less the enactment, of physical harm, says historian Simon Schama.
My friend Salman Rushdie has long been one of the modern world’s freest writers: his imaginative expression supercharged; the weighty things his books invite us to ponder defying gravity by the tumbling acrobatics of his wordplay, he writes for The Financial Times:
Authoritarian repression is, of course, a backhanded compliment to the power of unchained writing. For all their suffocating triumphalism, the enemies of the liberated word rightly fear that however many they incarcerate, torture or kill, none of those brutalities can permanently entomb critical thought. Almost always, the achievement of artists outlives the squalid cruelty of tyrants.
His commencement addresses to American students—a minor Rushdie genre in themselves—urged them to resist obedience and orthodoxy, and pay heed to “the rebels and refuseniks of the world”, The Economist adds:
Sir Salman is a resolute advocate of what he calls “the provisionality of all truths, the mutability of all character, the uncertainty of all times and places”. History, and chance, have dealt him another blow from the believers in simplistic deeds, not playful, polyphonic words. A magazine once asked Sir Salman, “What do you consider your greatest achievement?” His answer: “To have continued.”
Writers worldwide stand in solidarity with Salman Rushdie and celebrate his extraordinary literary accomplishments, undaunted courage, and tireless advocacy for the freedom of expression and the plight of imperiled writers everywhere, note PEN America, The New York Public Library, and Penguin Random House (above).