In a week with a lot of bad news the story that most horrified me was the stabbing of the writer Salman Rushdie. In a bitter irony, someone rushed the stage and attacked him just prior to a lecture where he was to speak about freedom of expression in the United States.
Rushdie had been living under the threat of an assassination attempt since 1989, about six months after the publication of his novel “The Satanic Verses.” The book fictionalized parts of the life of the Prophet Muhammad with depictions that offended some Muslims, who believed it to be blasphemous. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomein issued an edict, known as a fatwa, which ordered Muslims to kill Mr. Rushdie.
I remember well when the fatwa was issued, how barbaric and heinous I thought it was. How I learned that Rushdie had to move every few days for years, how the stress and uprootedness destroyed his marriage and while he remained protected by the English government — he lived in London at the time, where he’s a longtime citizen – he had no semblance of a normal life. How lucky we were to live with freedom of speech and some basic sense of civility where something like that would never happen, or so I thought….
Rushdie eventually moved to New York and started living a public life again, without constant security or scrutiny. Some years ago T and I had the pleasure of going to a reading of his at the 92nd Street Y and at the book signing afterwards I was struck by how gracious he was.
The attack was premeditated and targeted. It may sound like a stretch to blame Trump for this, but I think he has emboldened people like the attacker to act on their basest instincts. As he said in one of his most famous and infamous lines, during a 2016 campaign stop in Iowa:
‘“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, okay?” Trump said, mimicking firing a gun with his fingers. “It’s, like, incredible. “‘
That set the tone for the next four years, culminating in the January 6th attack on the Capital. And there’s no end in sight. Election administrators are quitting after death threats. Since the Mar-a-Lago search there have been a spate of threats to FBI offices. Murders have spiked nearly 40% since 2019 and violent crimes, including shootings and other assaults, have increased overall. Senseless ceaseless violence. It’s hard to catch a break.
Rushdie survived thankfully but he has some severe injuries, including possibly losing an eye, damage to his liver, and severed nerves in his arm. His son, who was all of 9 when the fatwa was issued and is now a man in his early 40’s, reported that he remained in critical condition.
Those who knew the attacker described him as a troubled recluse. Like many of those responsible for recent mass shootings, he was a young male loner, someone who spent his time online and in his head weaving violent fantasies that he eventually acted on.
I still remember so clearly the bright blue morning of Sept 11, 2001, how I sat in a doctor’s waiting room with a beautiful view of the river one moment, the next, a front row seat to a plane exploding into a building. I physically recoiled and turned away when I heard a nurse say to me, “LOOK. This is life, you have to look.”
I think of that whenever I want to look away. And so with the onslaught of threats, with all the horrors of the world, I look. I follow the news closely. I also take lots of breaks. There’s too much good TV and great books not to have complete escapes. And sometimes too I dream it away, imagining a place with justice for all, where the innocent are safe and the guilty are punished. My fantasies involve Trump in an orange jumpsuit in a prison somewhere. I know that’s highly unlikely, but a girl can dream…