Unwritten books, unshown art

'Satanic Verses' cover from publishers' websiteSalman Rushdie’s knighthood has provoked many responses in the print and broadcast media and online, including a post on this blog. But the best I’ve seen is by Andrew Anthony in this week’s Observer: Sir Salman is a godsend to literature and free speech.

Anthony’s piece is very well written and definitely repays reading; here’s a flavour:

… Few appeared to realise that a massive symbolic attack had been launched [by Khomeni’s 1989 fatwa against The Satanic Verses] against the most vital freedom, not only in art but in society, the freedom of expression. Still less that our rather timid and repentant response would encourage religious extremists and censors.

Who can calculate how many books have subsequently gone unwritten and artworks unshown? We do know that the play Behzti was closed down in a theatre in Birmingham by a Sikh mob. We know that John Latham’s God Is Great was removed from the Tate gallery, even without complaints, due to the fear that it might cause offence. We know that the Danish cartoons were not published in this country, when they were the biggest story in the world. And abroad, countless intellectuals, writers and politicians now require round-the-clock police protection.

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