The man suspected of attacking Salman Rushdie, Hadi Matar, grew up in the United States and was born nine years after Ayatollah Khomeini enacted the famous fatwa against the writer. Little is known about him, although some acquaintances told reporters (as always happens in these cases) that they were surprised, because the man seemed like a normal and calm person.
If this is the profile de Matar, once again the effect that a violent, aggressive and totalitarian ideology has on people will be demonstrated. It is not yet known, however, whether it is ideology that chooses man or whether man chooses ideology. Undoubtedly, there is a dialectical relationship between personality and ideology.
In the future, history will deal with the Salman Rushdie case, a consequence of the publication, in 1988 , from the novel “The Satanic Verses”, as a key moment for Islam. After all, the British and Western reaction as a whole was weak and hesitant, which led Muslims to imagine the West as a kind of rotten fruit ready to fall from the tree, therefore susceptible to a terrorist attack. The Rushdie affair was to Islam what the annexation of Crimea was to Vladimir Putin or the occupation of the Saarland was to Hitler.
The UK broke off diplomatic relations with Iran over the sentence of death decreed against Rushdie, but those relations were restored once the Iranian regime eased the situation. The country said it would not help or protect anyone who tried to kill Rushdie. Of course, the UK did not break diplomatic relations after the regime tightened the sentence again, announcing that the fatwa was still in force.
Within the In the UK, no one has been prosecuted for wishing Rushdie’s death, a wish that is not just rhetorical. This inaction was no doubt meant to keep the peace, prevent the rise of martyrs and so on, but Muslims interpreted it as a sign of weakness and cowardice, and as a lack of commitment to the principles of liberal democracy. Again they saw the West as a rotten fruit about to fall from its tree.
In this they were not entirely sure. For many Brits, Rushdie was not an admirable personality. The writing was harshly critical of Margaret Thatcher, the prime minister at the time who, despite criticism, defended Rushdie. In 1982, for example, he wrote an essay that begins:
“The UK is not South Africa. I know that. Neither is Nazi Germany. I also know this from a reliable source. And the truth is… Auschwitz was not rebuilt by the Allies. But I find it strange that people who use these excuses rarely realize that their excuses are a sign of the gravity of the situation. Because if the good thing to say about the UK is that the extermination of racially impure people has not yet begun, or that the principle of white supremacy has not yet been enshrined in the Constitution, then something has gone very wrong.”
This is annoyingly stupid. Rushdie is implying that the absence of Auschwitz is unimportant. Or, as the French nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen put it in another context, that the Holocaust was just a historical detail. Logic doesn’t match Rushdie’s upbringing, for which he paid dearly. It is as if someone, by denying having committed a murder, had denied proof of his own evil. After all, all he can say in his defense is that he didn’t commit the crime.
Despite having associated the British government with the Nazi regime, Rushdie received special protection from that same government, at the expense of taxpayer for several years. And the government did the right thing. Freedom of expression must be defended, regardless of whether or not the person exercising it is admirable. No one argues that free speech applies only to those we agree should be heard.
Salman Rushdie is hospitalized. He was attacked by an enemy of free speech while defending free speech, a principle of which he has always been an important and uncompromising voice. The man who attacked him and like-minded others believe in a strange ideology that the West finds repulsive. But are these people the only or the main threat to free speech in the West today?
Theodore Dalrymple is a contributor to the City Journal, a member of the Manhattan Institute and author of several books.