The Stabbing of Salman Rushdie
I was deeply affected by the stabbing of Salmon Rushdie. I met him once, but more than that, I am in love with his writing. I never read The Satanic Verses, but The Enchantress of Florence seduced me like an ardent lover, and I fell deeply into the arms of the worlds he created.
You can listen to me read this article here:
You can read or listen to The Demonization of the Unvaxxed here:
Break Free with Karen Hunt is a reader-supported publication. Please consider becoming a paid subscriber.
Life is strange because the day before this horrific assault I’d decided to record my essay The Demonization of the Unvaxxed, where I quote Rushdie and I talk about meeting him. So, I’d already been reflecting on these experiences.
In response to the attack, Bari Weiss wrote one of the best pieces I’ve read in a long time: We Ignored Salmon Rushdie's Warning.
Wiess writes, “By 2015, you might run into Rushdie at Manhattan cocktail parties, or at the theater with a gorgeous woman on his arm.”
Interesting, because it was certainly no later than 1999 when I ran into Rushdie at an exclusive Hollywood club. He entered with great fanfare, a beautiful woman on his arm, and proceeded to sit down and enjoy all the western delights that even devout Muslims, not to mention fanatic Islamists, disavowed. Although my experience living in Luxor, Egypt proved to me that most of this ‘denying of the flesh’ hid a deep-seated desire to indulge.
Rushdie had achieved everything any writer could dream of, and he did it because he deserved it. As a result, he paid a price that no doubt 99.9% of his contemporaries, despite their own claims of virtue, would never have the courage to uphold.
As Weiss observes, when it was all the rage to support Rushdie, “the likes of Tom Wolfe, Christopher Hitchens, Norman Mailer, Joseph Brodsky and Seamus Heaney stood up to defend him.”
But Weiss brings us to the heart of the matter when she points out the difference between the abstract virtue-signaling of the academics and the real-life heroism of Andy Ross, whose bookstore, Cody’s Books in Berkeley, carried The Satanic Verses and “was bombed shortly after the fatwa was issued.”
Here’s Weiss quoting Ross:
“It was pretty easy for Norman Mailer and Susan Sontag to talk about risking their lives in support of an idea. After all they lived fairly high up in New York apartment buildings. It was quite another thing to be a retailer featuring the book at street level. I had to make some really hard decisions about balancing our commitment to freedom of speech against the real threat to the lives of our employees.”
After the bombing, he gathered all of his staff for a meeting:
“I stood and told the staff that we had a hard decision to make. We needed to decide whether to keep carrying Satanic Verses and risk our lives for what we believed in. Or to take a more cautious approach and compromise our values. So, we took a vote. The staff voted unanimously to keep carrying the book. Tears still come to my eyes when I think of this. It was the defining moment in my 35 years of bookselling. It was the moment when I realized that bookselling was a dangerous and subversive vocation. Because ideas are powerful weapons. . . . I didn’t particularly feel comfortable about being a hero and putting other people’s lives in danger. I didn’t know at that moment whether this was an act of courage or foolhardiness. But from the clarity of hindsight, I would have to say it was the proudest day of my life.”
I become more disgusted every day with our artists and writers, our intellectuals and academics, who pay sniveling obeisance to the state. There are many examples and Weiss names some of them. I think of Joni Mitchell, a woman I listened to as a young artist myself, and who gave me hope that it was possible to make it in a man’s world.
In protest against Joe Rogan daring to interview guests who did not agree with the official narrative, she removed her music from Spotify. But what a lame protest, after all. Pathetic and spineless. These celebrities have become so entrenched in the world of the elite that they have become one with them.
I have never been knifed myself, but I’ve been in dire situations, and I know a few people who have. I am not an intellectual and I have no impressive degrees. I have lived life on street level, and I know that world very well. Bari Weiss, whose writing is so important and who speaks so eloquently about the privileged world of elite schools and the hard choices parents must make within in, doesn’t know the horrors that our children face every day on the streets of our cities. It is something that bothers me about the activist writers in Egypt, too. They are mostly from privileged families. Who speaks for the women of the villages?
After being expelled from the world of the elite (although I never belonged there in the first place) I spent years taking kids who didn’t fit into the system into my home. I remember the night, around 2 am, when I got a frantic call from a 14-year-old boy who was walking along Victory Blvd, in the San Fernando Valley, with a stab wound in his leg. Immediately, I got in the car with my son, and picked him up. He was drunk, an alcoholic already. His parents were out of town and had left him alone.
This young man had been at a party, and he had not been stabbed by a rival gang member. I’d seen enough of that. No, he had stabbed himself. That was how much pain he was in; hoping that the pain of the stab wound would take away the deeper pain in his heart.
We took him to the emergency room. They refused to do anything until his parents gave permission. I tried to explain that his parents were away, but it didn’t matter. He had to wait for over an hour until eventually, his parents were contacted.
The world of the elite that Salmon Rushdie navigates, is a hellish place where the pressure to conform is so great, along with the fear of losing one’s status, that most celebrities do not have the courage to withstand it.
The world of the common folk is hellish in other ways, where those who inhabit it are despised as irrelevant, except to the extent that they buy the elite’s products. And they are blamed for all their shortcomings, even from childhood. “Just say no to drugs,” for example. Yes, we gave you the drugs, we even meant to give them to you. But it is your fault if you fall for our enslaving tactics.
Anyway, I just had to make these comments in light of having recorded The Demonization of the Unvaxxed, with a bow and a prayer to Salman Rushdie.