Salman Rushdie

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Salman Rushdie

Post  eddie on Sun Jan 22, 2012 4:26 pm

Salman Rushdie pulls out of Jaipur literary festival over assassination fears

Author says intelligence sources warned him that 'paid assassins from the Mumbai underworld' might try to kill him

Jason Burke in Jaipur

guardian.co.uk, Friday 20 January 2012 15.46 GMT


Salman Rushdie had been due to attend Jaipur to give a talk on his work Midnight’s Children. Photograph: Shaun Curry/AFP/Getty Images

Salman Rushdie has pulled out of Asia's biggest literary festival after being warned he is being targeted by killers sent by an underworld "don" based in the Indian city of Mumbai.

The Indian-born novelist was scheduled to appear in a session discussing one of his earliest works, the Booker prize-winning Midnight's Children, on the opening day of the festival in Jaipur in north-west India. He was also due to participate in two other events over the weekend.

At noon on Friday, the festival's organisers, who include the writer William Dalrymple, released a statement from Rushdie explaining that he had "been informed by intelligence sources … that paid assassins from the Mumbai underworld may be on their way to Jaipur to eliminate me".

Although 64-year-old Rushdie said he had "some doubts" about the reliability of the information, which came from sources in India, he added that nonetheless "it would be … irresponsible to my family, to the festival audience and to my fellow writers … to come to the festival in these circumstances".

The row over Rushdie's presence at the festival had been building for several weeks after a call was made by a local journalist to a senior conservative Muslim cleric, who had been unaware of the novelist's planned appearance at Jaipur. The cleric's description of Rushdie as having "hurt the sentiments of Muslims all over the world" was widely reported in India, and prompted calls for Rushdie to be denied a visa.

Rushdie has long been a controversial – though little-read – figure in the Islamic world. The 1988 publication of The Satanic Verses prompted a fatwa calling for his death from the Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, forcing him to remain in hiding for many years.

Islamic groups had planned protest marches during the festival this week. One offered a reward for anyone who could hit Rushdie with a shoe.

On Friday, the British Indian writer Hari Kunzru caused further upset by reading a section from The Satanic Verses, which remains banned in India. Further attempts by writers to read from the book were stopped by organisers.

"Willy, Sanjoy: why did this happen?", Rushdie later asked Dalrymple and the festival's producer, Sanjoy Roy, protesting against their decision to prevent further readings from the banned work.

On Thursday night, organisers had been hopeful that some kind of compromise could allow Rushdie to attend.

Indian officials told the Guardian they feared action by groups run by Dawood Ibrahim, a well-known crime boss living in exile, who they believe is closely linked to the Pakistani security establishment.

Security experts, however, described the idea of killers being dispatched by organised criminals to kill the author as "extremely far-fetched" .

The struggling Indian government, led by the centre-left Congress party, has made no public statement on the row. There are major state elections in the coming weeks in which the votes of Muslim communities will play a critical role.

The festival's organiser, Roy, said there was a need in India "to question … why we continue as a nation to succumb to one pressure or another". "This is a huge problem for Indian democracy," Roy said.

Rushdie previously attended the festival in 2007, and frequently visits the country of his birth.

Dalrymple said: "Salman is a writer of enormous breadth. His … passionate engagement with Indian Islamic history shows he is far removed from the Islamophobe of myth. This is a great tragedy, and we hope he will be able to come back again in the future."

Rushdie posted a message on Twitter, saying: "Much support and sympathy: thanks, everyone. Some say I let people down: sorry you feel that. Some Muslim hate tweets: pathetic."

Sheikh Amir Ahmed, a 41-year-old hotelier who travelled for 12 hours by train to spend the weekend at the festival, said the row had been stoked by unscrupulous politicians.

"This anger is not felt by the common man. I am Muslim, and with my fellows we are not too concerned. I would have been happy to see him here. I am a businessman, but in my heart I am a poet," he said.

The event features more than 250 writers, and more than 60,000 people are expected to attend sessions featuring Indian and international writers. Other speakers include the geneticist Richard Dawkins, playwrights David Hare and Tom Stoppard, the novelists Michael Ondaatje and Ben Okri, and the US talk show host Oprah Winfrey.

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Re: Salman Rushdie

Post  eddie on Sun Jan 22, 2012 4:31 pm

Salman Rushdie readings threaten future of Indian literary festival

Writers read excerpts from The Satanic Verses in support of Rushdie who pulled out of Jaipur event amid security fears

Jason Burke in Jaipur

guardian.co.uk, Friday 20 January 2012 19.24 GMT


Sri Lankan-born Canadian novelist Michael Ondaatje reads a book before presenting his talk at the Jaipur Literature Festival. Photograph: Manish Swarup/AP

Organisers of India's biggest literary festival said on Friday they feared for the future of the event after several high-profile writers read excerpts from Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses in support of the author. The novel is banned in India.

Rushdie was scheduled to appear at the festival in Jaipur in north-west India, but said on Friday he was pulling out after a warning that hitmen had been sent to "eliminate" him by an underworld crime boss based in Mumbai.

Following the announcement, British author Hari Kunzru, speaking on the festival's main stage, read a short passage from The Satanic Verses in front of a crowd of hundreds. Other authors followed, despite efforts by organisers to stop them. Kunzru used Twitter to state before the reading that he aimed "to defy bigots".

The Satanic Verses prompted outrage among many Muslim communities when it was published in 1988. Friday's protests could potentially carry a jail sentence for the readers and the organisers of the festival and allow authorities to close the event, which is expected to draw 60,000 visitors. Organisers, who include the British writer William Dalrymple, issued a statement stressing that Kunzru and the other authors acted without their prior knowledge or consent, and saying they would not tolerate any illegal action at the festival.

More than 250 writers are due to take part in the festival, including playwrights David Hare and Tom Stoppard and novelists Ben Okri and Michael Ondaatje. Oprah Winfrey is due to speak on Sunday.

Rushdie's decision to withdraw comes after two weeks of mounting uncertainty. Around noon on Friday, organisers read out a brief statement from the 64-year-old explaining that he had "been informed by intelligence sources … that paid assassins from the Mumbai underworld may be on their way to Jaipur to eliminate me".

Though Rushdie said he had doubts about the reliability of the information, which came from "intelligence sources" in India, the writer said: "It would be … irresponsible to my family, to the festival audience and to my fellow writers … to come to the festival in these circumstances."

The publication of The Satanic Verses led to a fatwa calling for Rushdie's death from the Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruohollah Khomeini, and forced the author to remain in hiding for many years.

The row over Rushdie's presence at the Jaipur festival was sparked by a call from a conservative Muslim cleric for the author, who he said had "hurt the sentiments of Muslims all over the world", to be banned from India. Islamic groups had planned protest marches during the festival this week. One organisation offered a reward for anyone who could hit Rushdie with a thrown shoe.

Indian officials told the Guardian they feared some action by groups run by Dawood Ibrahim, a well-known organised crime boss now living in exile, who they believe is closely linked to the Pakistani security establishment. Security experts, however, described the idea of killers being dispatched by organised criminals to kill the author as "extremely far-fetched".

The ailing Indian government, led by the centre-left Congress party, has made no public statement on the row. There are state elections in coming weeks in which the votes of Muslim communities will play a critical role.

Festival organiser Sanjoy Roy said there was a need in India "to question … why we continue as a nation to succumb to one pressure or another".

Rushdie previously attended the festival, Asia's biggest, in 2007 and frequently visits the country of his birth.

Dalrymple said Rushdie's writings had been caricatured. "Salman is a writer of enormous breadth. His … passionate engagement with Indian Islamic history shows he is far removed from the Islamophobe of myth. This is a great tragedy and we hope he will be able to come back again in the future," he said.

Sheikh Amir Ahmed, a hotelier who had travelled for 12 hours by train to spend the weekend at the festival, said the row had been stoked by unscrupulous politicians: "This anger is not felt by the common man," he said. "I am Muslim and with my fellows we are not too concerned. I would have been happy to see him here. I am a businessman but in my heart I am a poet."

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Re: Salman Rushdie

Post  eddie on Fri Jan 27, 2012 4:46 am

Why Salman Rushdie's voice was silenced in Jaipur

A planned videolink with Rushdie at the Jaipur Literary Festival presented the directors with an impossible decision: cause a riot or uphold a vital principle

William Dalrymple

guardian.co.uk, Thursday 26 January 2012 17.23 GMT


The debate after the videolink with Salman Rushdie was cancelled. Photograph: Getty Images/Himanshu Vyas/Hindustan Times

On Tuesday afternoon this week I was faced with one of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make.

It was the last afternoon of the Jaipur Literature Festival, of which I am co-director, and more than 10,000 people were milling around the grounds of Diggi Palace, the festival venue, eagerly waiting to hear Salman Rushdie speak by video link from London. For three weeks we had waited anxiously for this moment, ever since Maulana Abdul Qasim Nomani of the Deoband madrasa had called for the Indian Muslim community to oppose Rushdie's visit to our festival. For those three weeks we had been negotiating with various government agencies, the police, a spectrum of intelligence agencies and local Muslim groups to try to make sure that Rushdie could still be heard. Despite a great deal of pressure, we had kept our invitation open and had refused to back down from our position that Rushdie had every right to return to the country of his birth and to discuss his work.

Then at about one o'clock a large number of Muslim activists appeared in the property and gravitated to the back of the lawns where a huge crowd had gathered to hear the videolink. Some of them went into the central courtyard of the palace to make their namaz (pray), and according to some reports, the maulana in charge told his followers that if anyone was killed that day they would die a martyr. Then they sought out our producer, Sanjoy Roy, and told him that they were prepared to use any amount of violence in order to stop Rushdie's voice being heard. Others talked to the press: one told a reporter from the Times of India that "rivers of blood will flow here if they show Rushdie", while the Muslim Manch representative Abdul Salim Sankhla was quoted as saying: "We will not allow Rushdie to speak here in any form. There will be violent protests if he speaks." While all this was happening, some of the other activists were turfing school children out of their seats and intimidating festival guests.

The videolink was due to start at 3.45pm. At three o'clock, as Rushdie was already on his way to the television studio, as crowds were gathering, and as the number of activists/thugs was increasing alarmingly, Sanjoy, my co-director, the author Namita Gokhale and I were called to the security control room by the Jaipur commissioner of police. He had more bad news for us. As well as the activists gathering inside the festival venue, hundreds of protesters were now massing threateningly in the municipal gardens just outside. He was quite clear: the videolink could go ahead, they had the resources to make sure it wasn't interrupted, but "there would be violence in the venue and worse outside" if we didn't call it off. We asked what exactly this meant. He said that his officers had asked if they could use force, and that they were expecting "serious trouble". What might this entail? Lathi (truncheon) charges and police shooting? It was a possibility, he said.

What do you do in this situation? The crowd is getting restless, more and more protesters are entering the property, Rushdie is now sitting in the studio in London waiting to speak and Barkha Dutt, the gutsy Indian television host who is to interview him, is all set to begin. You have three to five minutes, maximum, to make a decision. If you give in to the intimidation, you put at risk all the principles upon which literary life is based: what is the point of having a literary festival, a celebration of words and ideas, if you censor yourself and suppress an author's voice? But equally, can you justify going ahead with a literary event, however important, if you know that you will thereby be putting at risk the lives of everyone who attends – including the authors who have come at your invitation and hundreds of school children and elderly people – as well as knowingly igniting a major religious riot in one of the most crowded towns in northern India with a long tradition of tensions between different communities?

That tradition of tension lay in part behind the problems we were now facing. In 2007, when literary events in Jaipur were still in their infancy, Rushdie was our first big international star, and his presence at the festival was a milestone for us. It raised our profile beyond anything we could have hoped or imagined. Rushdie came unannounced, with no bodyguards or police protection, and spoke brilliantly, sitting drinking tea and signing books for his fans, while giving avuncular advice to younger writers who had never met a writer of his stature. No objections were raised, no politicians got involved, no problems arose.

This time, however, the political situation in India is much more volatile. The 2012 festival happened to coincide with a razor-edge election in the all-important north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, a poll in which the vote of the Muslim community was deemed to be crucial. It also came only four months after the Rajasthan government found itself in trouble with its Muslim voters after the Rajasthan police fired on a crowd of angry Muslim protesters at Gopalgarh, an hour's drive east of Jaipur, killing 10 people.

All this meant that when, at Rushdie's request, we announced his name on our website, and when Maulana Nomani of Deoband then called for Rushdie to be banned from India, not a single Indian politician was willing to state clearly and unequivocally that he was welcome in the country in which he was born, which he loved, which he had celebrated in his fiction and to whose literature he had made such a ground-breaking contribution.

In other ways too things had got much more difficult since 2007. The commitment of Indian politicians to maintaining artistic and intellectual freedom seemed to be becoming ever weaker. In the past few months, Joseph Lelyveld's distinguished book on Gandhi had been banned in the state of Gujerat, AK Ramanujan's great study of the Ramayana had been removed from the syllabus of Delhi university, and the country's most revered modern artist, MF Husain, had died in exile in Dubai after Hindu fundamentalists had hounded him out of the country with a rash of lawsuits and attacks on him and his work. In almost all cases, the politicians had encouraged the protesters rather than protecting the writers and artists, using draconian colonial legislation intended to stop religious riots to silence the creative voice.

These were themes we had long discussed at the Jaipur festival. Almost every year we have had sessions on censorship and freedom of speech, the role of the writer when faced with oppression and the writer as dissident. At the 2009 festival, after the Mumbai attacks, when Shiv Sena activists had demanded that books by Pakistani authors be removed from the shelves of Mumbai bookshops, we had responded by asking more Pakistani writers to Jaipur in order to restart the dialogue between the writers and readers of the two countries. We feared reprisals but in the event Daniyal Mueenuddin, Mohammad Hanif, Kamila Shamsie, Fatima Bhutto and Nadeem Aslam were the stars of the show, feted by festival audiences and treated like rock stars.

This year was much more testing. When we passed on to Rushdie information based on a report from the Intelligence Bureau, of an assassination squad allegedly intending to "eliminate him", he finally made the decision to cancel his visit, writing to us that: "I can't imperil the audience or my fellow writers or any of you."

There followed, on the first evening of the festival, the subsequent protests which Hari Kunzru has written about for the Guardian. The police turned up 45 minutes after they finished their readings and for a while it looked as if the festival was going to be shut down on the following morning. That did not happen, and authors were able at the beginning of almost every session to express solidarity with Rushdie and his predicament, while a petition was circulated which called for "the right of all artists and writers to freedom of expression", and urged "the government to reconsider the 23-year-old ban of the Satanic Verses", a ban which put India in the company of Iran, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea.

And we still had the video link with Rushdie, and the hope that we might yet be able to have at least a virtual Rushdie close the festival. Now, at 3.45pm, that link hung in the balance and we had five minutes to make an unenviable choice: cause a riot or uphold a vital principle.

In the event, we never got to make that decision. The owner of our festival venue, Ram Pratab Singh of Diggi Palace, stepped in and, on the advice of the police commissioner, took the decision for us. He said he was unable to take responsibility for a lathi charge and possible deaths in a venue full of children and old people, and forbade the link to take place on his property. He stood on stage and announced his decision. Then it was the turn of Sanjoy to speak for us. "We have been bullied and pushed to the wall," he said, choking up. "All of us feel hurt, disgusted and ashamed." As Sanjoy broke down on stage, the audience clapped loudly and supportively. Minutes later I got an email from Rushdie on my BlackBerry: "Yes, an ugly day, but please don't reproach yourself. You all worked so hard. Thank you."

After three weeks of fighting to bring Rushdie to our festival we had to give up then and there. But we had a plan B: as previously arranged, Barkha Dutt went ahead with her TV interview, and what we could not show to our audience of 10,000 was seen instead that evening by millions. Rushdie was as eloquent and defiant as I have ever heard him: "I will come to India many times," he said, "and I will not allow these religious gangsters and their cronies in government to stop me … My overwhelming feeling is disappointment on behalf of India … [where] religious extremists can prevent free expression of ideas", where politicians were "in bed with these groups … for narrow electoral reasons" and the police "unable to secure venues against demonstrators". In a final flourish he also slammed the extremists whom, he said, "were the real enemies of Islam". Meanwhile, on stage, we had an angry panel discussion about freedom of expression, which was beamed live around India. There could have been worse outcomes.

We can only hope that the debate begun in Jaipur continues. Outdated colonial laws need to be repealed, violent fringe groups must be stopped from holding the nation to ransom and we need a movement to stop politicians abusing religious sentiment for political gain. Only when freedom of expression can be taken for granted can India really call itself the democracy it claims so proudly to be.

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