At a UK awards ceremony, Salman Rushdie warns of “alarming” threats to free speech.

Salman Rushdie, winner of the Booker Prize, spoke out against the “alarming” dangers to free speech in India as he won the Freedom to Publish award at the British Book Awards, also known as the Nibbies, in London.

The 75-year-old Mumbai-born novelist who has lived under the threat of a fatwa since the publication of “The Satanic Verses” in the 1980s urged people to keep fighting for the right to free speech and the rights to publish in a video message from New York on Monday night.

“We live in a moment, I think, at which freedom of expression, freedom to publish has not in my lifetime been under such threat in the countries of the West,” said Rushdie in his first public address since a knife attack on him in August last year.

“Obviously, there are parts of the world where censorship has been prevalent for a long-time, quite a lot of the world – Russia, China, in some ways India as well. But in the countries of the West, until recently, there was a fair measure of freedom in the area of publishing,” he said.

“Now I am sitting here in the US, I have to look at the extraordinary attack on libraries and books for children in schools; the attack on the idea of libraries themselves. It’s quite remarkably alarming, and we need to be very aware of it and fight against it very hard,” he added.

The British American novelist, who was wearing an eye patch over his injured right eye from the potentially fatal knife attack, also urged publishers to resist the pressure to “bowdlerise” the works of authors like Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming and allow them to “come to us from their time and be of their time” because anyone who disagrees with that viewpoint is free to choose not to read those books.

“The idea that James Bond could be made politically correct is almost comical,” said Rushdie, of Fleming’s most famous creation.
“Don’t try and remake yesterday’s work in the light of today’s attitudes,” he said, He continued by saying that he was honoured to win the Freedom to Publish award on behalf of everyone battling to protect free speech. Since it was originally created last year, the Freedom to Publish award has only been given out twice.

“Freedom to Publish is about the right to read, write, speak and hear without interference, and without the dire consequences so often now threatened by those who would restrict, censor and circumscribe. More than most, Rushdie has lived his defiance and continues to pay a huge price for it,” said Philip Jones, chair of the British Book Awards judges and editor of the UK magazine ‘The Bookseller’.

In the 34 years since the fatwa was issued against him by the Iranian leadership calling on Muslims to assassinate the author for an allegedly “blasphemous” novel, Rushdie has been a “tireless champion of artistic and journalistic freedom,” according to British-Bangladeshi author Monica Ali, who presented the award at the awards ceremony in London.

“Salman Rushdie’s assassination attempt from a year ago was intended to silence one of the most significant voices of our time. His survival is a testament to his fortitude and tenacity, according to Index on Censorship, a group that supports free speech and is affiliated with the British Book Awards.

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