On One Hand

February 15, 2005

Salman Rushdie

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 10:40 pm

Salman Rushdie came to speak at CU today, so I went with Sarah and a few of her friends see what the famous author had to say. Salman Rushdie is the famous Indian-born novelist who wrote The Satanic Verses, a novel discreetly critical of Islam (according to some), and the Ayatollah of Iran issued a fatwa on the writer’s head in response. For ten years Rushdie was forced into hiding, even where he lived in Great Britain, until the Iranian government withdrew support for the fatwa in 1998.

The main speech was a bit too much of a creative monologue, covering only a little about what I actually wanted to know, but the Q&A section after his speech made up the difference. Rushdie said something that I took note of, and I think it was one of the most profound and poignant statement of the evening, even in spite of its intellectually simplistic sound-bytish quality. He was talking about writers and politicians, explaining how they both appeal to the same general audience. “They’re always competing with each other,” Rushdie said, “because they both do basically the same thing, with one small difference. Politicians claim to be telling you the truth, but they’re really just telling stories and lies. Writers claim to be telling stories and lies, but inside those stories are fragments of truth.”

The comment resonated with me mostly because of frustrations I have with the political world, where people runing for president demonstrate their utter lack of understanding of science when they claim global-warming theories have no merit because they “haven’t been proven,” while all science is based on theories, not proof. Gravity hasn’t been scientifically proven, for Christ’s sake. Or politicians banter on about pseudo-sociological nonsense while the vast majority of those who actually study sociology completely disagree with the policy of three-strikes or personal and wide-scale retributivism. Yet the politicians ramble on with their dumbed-down ideas and half-truths, patronizing the public by assuming that to be honest about the complexities of reality would cost them votes. And based on the results of the last election, perhaps there is some validity to that popular assertion.

I guess I just get put off when people try to argue about something they don’t know. Politicians do it, columnists do it, and one-trade specialists do it more than anyone else. Like when economists try to tackle the environment, without studying environmental science, or when religious people base all their faith on the translated Bible without studying its origins, understanding neither the different connotations of words in the Bible’s original languages nor the different cultural contexts in which the Bible’s sepereate books were written.

Which leads me to the second poignant thing that Salman Rushdie said. A student asked Rushdie what he thought of the Ward Churchill debacle, and Rushdie replied that he can’t comment about Churchill’s statement because he hasn’t personally read the article it was taken from. It was the most respectable political statement I have ever heard in my life. I can say with confidence that it was. If more people in society had that kind of integrity, so many of our social problems would be eliminated. Rushdie went on to say that he doesn’t support terrorism or the idea that victims of 9/11 deserved to be bombed, but insightfully added that “there may be something deeper that Ward Churchill was trying to say, and I can’t address that possibility because I haven’t read the article.” He compared it to his own experiences with people attacking his books when they haven’t read his books, and then Rushie went on to give examples from his life. He supported free speech, saying “freedom of speech begins when someone says something you disagree with. It doesn’t end there, it begins there.”



  1. I am so jealous of you, Salman Rushdie is one of my favorite authors.

    Comment by non_se_quitur — February 16, 2005 @ 11:45 am | Reply

  2. Maybe it’s because I’m a cynical journalist that I say this, but “I can’t comment because I haven’t read the article it was taken from” is one of the oldest evasive answers in the book. It’s one step above not answering the phone.

    Rushdie is an interesting speaker. He came to Brown a couple years ago, and the aura surrounding him made it all worth the wait and the bad seats.

    Comment by spacemanspiff04 — February 16, 2005 @ 2:42 pm | Reply

    • Well I may be just a cynical journalist-in-training, but in any case I think that Salman Rushdie’s answer was better than anything I’ve heard from Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Gov. Bill Owens, or any of the other non-readers who denounced Churchill’s essay. I don’t see how admitting ignorance is evasive. I think that people who are ignorant should just admit that they are ignorant to avoid competing with those who know what they are saying.

      Comment by ononehand — February 16, 2005 @ 10:32 pm | Reply

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