Rushdie on his death sentence

Salman Rushdie spoke to the Historical Society about college, books and being the ‘sentenced to death by an International terrorist group’.

Salman Rushdie spoke to the Historical Society about college, books and being the ‘sentenced to death by an International terrorist group’.

Renowned author Salman Rushdie spoke to Trinity College students on Thursday 9th October following an invitation from the Historical Society.

Mr Rushdie was invited to speak about having written, the ‘bookeriest Booker of them all’ and spending time in maximum security as a result of the fatwa issued against him by the Ayatollah Khomeini on February 14, 1989, having decided that the power of a novel was greater than the sanctity of human life. Mr Rushdie was interviewed by journalist Myles Dungan.
Born in June, 1947, only 8 weeks before the Independence of India, Rushdie commented on how his life was made difficult, not by the division of his family India or Pakistan, or religious conflict, but by fulfilling all three quotas for not being liked in an English boarding school; cleverness, foreignness and ineptitude at sports were acceptable, he told the crowded chamber, only when two were combined. Nevertheless, Mr. Rushdie is no man to do things in half measures.

Among a variety of topics and anecdotes Mr. Rushdie recounted to the audience the morning of 14th Feburary, 1989 which involved finding out that he’d just been sentenced to death from a curious BBC reporter and initializing the ultimate, extremist nation deterrents, of closed curtains and a locked door. Though his life was inevitably transformed for several years, Mr. Rushdie has never liked the term ‘in hiding’ to describe his state of living. ‘It’s undignified’ he said, ‘and gives the impression that I was hiding under a bed somewhere. And it’s a ridiculous term anyway because I was under maximum security, which, as anyone who has seen it will know, well, that’s it’s highly visible.’ Mr Rushdie then shared with the chamber the invaluable information of how to know you’re being followed by car and the difference between the security measures enforced for the President of the United States and himself and Yasser Arafat.

Disregarding the clear interest of such events, Mr. Rushdie emphasised that he wanted to be remembered for the action, not the re-action, ‘I would like to leave behind a shelf of books that people would like to read’ he said simply, and without adjective.

When asked from the audience if he ever thought of apologizing for the Satanic Verses in attempt to save his life Mr. Rushdie replied that the people who should apologize, and take responsibility for their actions, are the ones doing the attacking, Rushdie then emphasised that a definite function of art is to rock the boat, ask the difficult questions and create controversy.

On politics, Mr. Rushdie then spoke about his disappointment that George W. Bush was re-elected for a second term, an election decided by ‘ludicrously low expectations’ and believes that the current economic catastrophe finally has the American electorate sitting up and paying attention, and leaning towards the more intelligent candidate. Mr Rushdie also described the American attitude to the forthcoming election as ‘the last chance to prove to the rest of the world that Americans aren’t total arseholes.’

In terms of Creative Writing courses he firmly believes that the technical aspects of writing can be refined, but that ‘you can’t teach the ear, you can’t teach the eye, you can’t teach a vision of the world’ or the relationship that a writer has with language or the world. Following this, when asked if he had always planned on being a writer Mr. Rushdie replied that he never really havd any other plan and that his players days in Cambridge offered the only other ‘vague, half-arsed’ direction in his life. Though, as we can testify from his performance in Bridget Jones, he is clearly a man to whom life has closed few doors.