- 14 Sep 23
In August 2022, Rushdie was stabbed in the neck and torso as he prepared to speak at a literary event in the United States.
Novelist Salman Rushdie has warned of the threat of authoritarianism across the world and said U.S republicans are “seeking to undermine” democracy.
Appearing via video call at the National First Amendment Summit in Philadelphia on Wednesday, he also spoke on the threats against free speech both in the United States and around the world.
“If you asked me 10 or 20 years ago, I would probably have said that the main problems facing freedom of expression emanate from religious extremism,” Rushdie said.
“I think now we’re facing another old enemy, which is authoritarianism. I think there’s a real rise in authoritarian movements around the world, populist authoritarian demagoguery.”
The summit was held just a day after the US senate discussed book bans and censorship.
According to Pen America, there has been over 4,000 book bans in America since autumn 2021. Most of the targeted literature discusses issues such as racism, sexuality and gender identity.
“One of the problems is you have essentially only one major political party that seems to believe in democratic values,” said Rushdie commenting on the state of free speech in the U.S.
“When you have the large majority of Republican voters believing that the last election was stolen…if the assault on truth has reached that level of success, then we’re in real trouble.”
— Freedom Forum (@1stForAll) September 13, 2023
“‘Make America great again’ - that’s always made me want to ask: ‘When exactly was that?’ What is the date to which we are looking backwards? Was it when there was slavery? Was it before women had the right to vote? Was it before the civil rights movement?”
He made similar comments when discussing the U.K. political climate: “In England, the Brexit catastrophe was the result of another golden age myth, which is: ‘England used to be this glorious country and it could be that glorious country again, if only we could get rid of all these foreigners.’
“Of course they neglected to mention to the electorate that the reason England was so prosperous was that it had spent 200 years plundering the rest of the world.”
Rushdie spent 10 years in hiding after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then leader of Iran, issued a fatwa calling for the author’s death for his 1988 book The Satanic Verses- amid accusations that the work was anti-Islamic.
In August 2022, Rushdie was stabbed in the neck and torso as he prepared to speak at a literary event in upstate New York. He was hospitalised for six weeks and is now without vision in one eye.
Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old from New Jersey, was charged with attempted second-degree murder and second-degree assault. He has pleaded not guilty.