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Rushdie, J.K Rowling and Death Threats

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

13 August 2022

Writer Salman Rushdie.

On Friday 12th, an assailant attacked Salman Rushdie on stage in New York, stabbing him some 15 times.  The author was whisked away by helicopter to a hospital and at the time of writing the prognosis is that he will survive though with serious injuries and the loss of an eye.  The attack was met with not quite universal condemnation.  Some kept silent, others compared it to the rights of drag queens in particular and trans rights in general.  They are connected but not in the way some of them think.

The background to the attack on Rushdie goes back to the 1980s when he published the novel The Satanic Verses.  The novel was generally favourably reviewed, though some did not think it was as good as his previous novels and it won the 1988 Whitbread Award for novel of the year.  However, it is remembered now, more for the controversy and backlash to it, rather than its literary merit.  Right wing Islamists around the world protested against it, claiming it was blasphemous.  Then in 1989 the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a Fatwa calling for the murder of Rushdie.  Rushdie spent many years in hiding and living under police protection.

During this period, he spoke out frequently about freedom of speech and censorship stating “What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend it ceases to exist.” A point lost on some of those now expressing fake shock at the attempted murder of the novelist.  Rushdie even spoke out against Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act in Ireland that banned interviews with various organisations, chief amongst them Sinn Féin.  This was not a popular thing for an author like him to do.  Yet he did it, because speaking out and opposing censorship was important to him.

At the time Islamists who protested against him were described as intolerant.  Were Rushdie to write that novel now, our Wokerati would accuse him of offending Muslims and would call for him to apologise, have his book removed from bookshops and for him to be deplatformed.  The liberals and ex-Marxists who populate universities would remove him from their reading lists, or place trigger warnings on his novels, as has been done with many books in British universities.  We now have an academic world that sees no irony in placing a content warning on George Orwell’s 1984.(1)  None at all.

How do we know this would happen to Rushdie?  Well, because it is happening to many authors nowadays.  Julie Bindel, the feminist writer who specialises in writing about violence against women, prostitution and trafficking of women is, like Orwell, one of those authors whose works carry a content warning.  In her case the warning points out that she has been accused, by some, of being transphobic.(2)  And of course J.K. Rowling the author of the Harry Potter novels and various other detective novels under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.  Like Rushdie a Fatwa was issued against Rowling, not by Islamists but by so called liberals.  The threats in her case, came time and again, every day there is a new threat to the author.  Most academics are silent on the matter, ducking for cover and hoping it will all go away.  It won’t.  These people not only attack bookshops for stocking the wrong books (and Mein Kampf is not one of those books they complain about), they attack book launches, organise boycotts of shops that do not bow to their demands.  It is only a matter of time before they demand that public libraries do not stock or lend such books.  Like the Nazis they are fond of book burnings.  They are a threat to freedom of speech.  They have borrowed heavily from Zionist tactics in relation to discussions on Palestine, trying to shut down debate on the grounds that it is offensive, anti-trans, regardless of whether it is or not.

In 2020, a number of public personalities including Chomsky, Rowling and Rushdie signed an open letter decrying the attempts to restrict discussion. They stated that

The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted… Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes. Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement…
The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation.(3)
The letter was attacked by the Wokerati at the time, which rather than deal with the substance of the letter, pointed to the pedigree of a handful of the 150 signatories.  They claimed there was no cancel culture.  Now Rushdie, one of the signatories is in a hospital with serious injuries and J.K. Rowling looks over her shoulder every day, as do many women who are not famous but have opposed things like letting men run rape crisis centres and letting men attend the same rape crisis centre as women or even work in them.  Women who have opposed men being held in the same wing of a prison as women or in some cases even in the same cell are threatened and our Wokerati have nothing to say, because essentially, they agree with it or see it as a lesser evil to women speaking out.

In Ireland a member of the organisation ROSA threatened J.K. Rowling and Ruth Coppinger the former politician who lost her seat at the last election (and hopefully will not recover it) said she didn’t condone the violence BUT J.K Rowling was transphobic.  Coppinger and her former colleague Paul Murphy T.D. (who will lose his seat in the next election) come from a political tradition that used to jump up and down and foam at the mouth every time a kid in Derry or Belfast threw a stone at a British soldier and spout nonsense about non-violence.  But apparently J.K Rowling is fairer game than a British soldier with a gun in his hand.  At the time of writing, she has yet to tweet anything about Rushdie, she is more concerned about the treatment of the goat at the Puck Fair in Killorglin.  Paul Murphy T.D. is equally silent about the issue.  Richard Boyd Barret T.D. is equally silent on Rushdie and Rowling in general, but has posted about the attempts to censor the southern Irish president’s wife’s letter to the Irish Times.  Gino Kenny T.D. and Bríd Smith T.D. are equally silent.  No surprise there, as their organization (the SWP in various shapes and forms) once described Al Qaeda as a progressive anti-imperialist organisation back when they were trying to recruit radicalised Muslims and not trans activists.  And Mick Barry T.D. who slanders feminists and women under the protection of parliamentary privilege has nothing to say either.

The attack on Rushdie is exactly the same as the threats to kill Rowling.  Rushdie was accused of being blasphemous and Rowling of being gender critical.  Shortly after the attempt on Rushdie, Rowling received a text saying you’re next.(4)  The threats against feminists by the Wokerati are the same as the ones made against Rushdie by Islamists.  They come from intolerant parts of our society, that believe they hold a monopoly not only on truth but who gets to speak and what they can say.  They must be opposed and defeated and we should never forget who didn’t stand beside women under threat from men.


(1) See The Times (09/08/2022) Censorship on campus: universities scrap ‘challenging’ books to protect students

(2) Ibíd.,

(3) See A Letter on Justice and Open Debate


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