The Salman Rushdie attack shows things have got worse, not better
Yesterday’s horrific attack on Salman Rushdie in New York has been met with a barrage of support and solidarity. Few today would dare utter the pathetic “yes but” apologetics which marred his initial hounding by angry mobs. No one, surely, would go on Question Time now, as Shirley Williams once did to claim that he “offended Muslims” and made himself a burden on the state by doing so.
And yet, the truth is that the reason we are now united in our condemnation of his attacker and support for him is that the situation is far worse than it was when he published the Satanic Verses in 1988. We all speak out in his defence because in the three-and-half decades since the book’s publication our fear of speaking our minds has intensified, not subsided.
Many have commented on the damning fact that no novel like the Satanic Verses would be written, let alone published, today. The attacks on Charlie Hebdo, the heinous murder of Samuel Paty, the hounding of the Batley Grammar School teacher, the cancellation of a movie in response to mobs of what Douglas Murray pointedly describes as “bearded film critics” in Bradford, the assassination of Theo Van Gogh, the director of Submission, a movie written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has herself been forced to spend her life in hiding, the murder of the Japanese translator and Danish publisher of the Satanic Verses and countless other incidents saw to that.
But there is a much deeper and more infuriating cowardice at play. Nobody, and I mean nobody, has any desire to discuss what we might do about the fact that people in Western societies are being routinely murdered by adherents of a particular ideology who want to silence their critics and dissenters. No politician will offer any solutions to the fact that the UK alone is home to tens of thousands of extremists.
The idea that we should have an enforced border, for example, to ensure that we can vet the people who come into this country to avoid unnecessarily topping up the population of bearded movie critics who do not wish to live according to Western values is seen as anathema by most of the chattering classes and even a Conservative Government has failed to address this issue, with boatloads of people arriving daily without any checks or, God forbid, restrictions.
The suggestion that foreign-born terrorists should, perhaps, be asked to leave and build their murderous theocracy elsewhere would make the people who write and enforce our laws choke on their quinoa salad.
The factual observation that deradicalisation programmes don’t work nearly as well as we’d like and that prisons are now hubs for extremist indoctrination rather than rehabilitation is something we’d rather not talk about.
The danger here is obvious, and not just from the movie critics either. As Nick Cohen astutely observed in the Spectator, the refusal to address these issues honestly for fear of playing into the hands of the far right has “become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When liberals cordon off debates in no-go areas the right and far right has the opportunity to dominate the discussion.”
This is the difficult but important conversation we had with Ed Husain on TRIGGERnometry earlier this year.
It is time for sensible, mainstream political figures to put their head above the parapet en masse and deal with the problems that have been bubbling away under the surface for decades. Because if they don’t, none of us are going to like the people who do.