The Ramifications Of The Freedom Of Speech


Sir Salman Rushdie

In August this year, the illustrious author, Sir Salman Rushdie was attacked by an assailant in New York, USA, when he was being introduced on stage to give a lecture at an event. The audience at the event was appalled by the incident that was unfolding in front of them but also took action to stop the assault on Rushdie. Salman Rushdie was later taken to a hospital for treatment but had already sustained serious injuries from the attack.

Rushdie is an author and professor whose literary work made him famous in the 1980s. He received the prestigious Booker Prize during this period. The release of one of his books titled, The Satanic Verses, was received with mixed reactions from a wide range of readers. Some members of the Muslim community were critical of the book and considered it to be blasphemous because of what they saw as a disrespectful portrayal of Prophet Muhammad by a character in the book. As a result, the book was banned in many countries that had large Muslim communities. Notable among the critics of Rushdie's book was the former spiritual leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini who issued a fatwa(a ruling on Islamic law), calling for the death of Rushdie. In his defence of the criticisms made by some of his critics, Rushdie maintained the position that his book is not irreverent to Islam but rather about the issues of migration. The provocation of his critics in the Muslim community and the fatwa on Rushdie made him a target of assassination. The new threat to his life made Rushdie secure police protection thereafter.

As I analyzed the attack on Rushdie and the controversial history he has had with his critics, especially with some irate members of the Muslim community I realized that the motive of his attacker may be just one issue out of many. The issues have elements of civic, intellectual, and religious undertones. Rushdie as an individual has a fundamental human right of freedom of speech and can decide to exercise it through his literary works. The same rule applies to those agitated members of the Muslim community who also have the right to challenge any perceived libel against their religion. It is also important to note that individuals like Rushdie and his critics should exercise their civic rights without disregard for the rule of law and respect for the moral principles and rights of others in society. A look at the attack on Rushdie shows that his assailant failed to adopt this approach and decided to take the law into his hands. An act that should be disapproved of and discouraged by society. His assailant should have explored other means within the ambits of the rule of law to express his grievances towards Rushdie.

The dispute between Rushdie and his critics has raised issues that I think need to be treated as a public discourse to enable us as a society to get a wide range of views and proffer solutions on matters of this nature. What is freedom of speech? How does an individual or group of people exercise their right to freedom of speech? Should freedom of speech and other forms of self-expression be censored? How do we determine the context of freedom of speech? How do we determine if an act of self-expression is an infringement on the rights of others in society? These are questions on some issues that I think the dispute between Rushdie and his critics has posed to us. How do we address them?

Authors like Rushdie have used their books to communicate their ideas to readers for a long time. They share their thoughts and ideas through this medium. They have sparked the interests of their audience on a broad range of subjects like governance, economics, education, arts, culture, religion, and ethics to mention a few. The opinions of authors on some of these subjects have been considered controversial by some members of their audience while others have been seen as being non-contentious. Either way, this kind of intellectual engagement between authors and their audience often makes the audience gain new perspectives and insights on important issues.

The attack on Rushdie may adversely affect the relationship authors have with their audience as authors may decide to adopt a conservative approach in their literature. After all the thoughts and ideas shared by these authors in their books are their personal opinions and readers have the choice to accept or reject them. Society should condemn attacks like the one Rushdie suffered. Critics who feel provoked by the works of Rushdie and his colleagues should present their grievances to the appropriate authorities like the court of law. I believe this is a better way to settle disputes and obtain justice. After all the courts of law are essentially set up to resolve conflicts.

Authors have a strong influence on readers of their literature. The attack on Rushdie is proof of this. The issues they discuss in their books may be perceived differently by their audience and in some instances incite anger in them. Consequently, I want to appeal to authors to realize that they have a lot of influence on their audience and should find subtle ways to express their thoughts and ideas on issues that may be deemed controversial. This request is not to make authors become politically correct with their literature but rather to apply discretion on some issues that may be sensitive in their writings.

I wish Sir Salman Rushdie a speedy recovery from the severe injuries he sustained during his attack and hope that he continues to add value to the world of literature. I also wish that members of the literary community will not be deterred by Rushdie's incident and continue to enrich us with their works of creativity.

Thanks for reading,
Have a splendid day folks.

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