An Imaginary Compromise
Adding Zero

Respect and Fear

The last few days here have been a kind of Rushdie and Related Topics Week. Assuming no further Rushdie-related events materialise, I thought I’d wind up this saga, at least for now, with a few words from the man himself. Here’s an extract from a lecture presented by the Centre for Enquiry and given at the New York Society for Ethical Culture on October 11th, 2006:

“I suppose one has to mention the Danish cartoons. I ran into a young journalist working for a small New York magazine who said… his proprietor refused to publish the cartoons because he was worried about his offices getting bombed. This kind of cravenness was worldwide. And the name that cravenness was given was respect. When people said they didn’t publish them out of respect for Muslims, what they meant is they didn’t publish them because they were afraid of their offices getting bombed. And when you create that kind of climate of fear, when you concede… you don’t as a result have less intimidation. I mean as a result you have more intimidation.

I think, with the cartoons, there were two quite separate issues. One is whether you thought the cartoons were good or bad and should have been published or shouldn’t have been… and those are the decisions that every newspaper editor makes every day, and different editors would make different decisions. But the second issue is when the subject of intimidation enters, and the question is how do you respond to intimidation, and do you give in to it or do you not give in to it. I think that when the intimidation became as heavy as it did, the only proper response was everybody should have published the cartoons the next day. And not to do that was a way of showing that threats work...

This is a curious climate that we’re living in, where people are falling over backwards not to name the phenomenon that’s taking place, which is a progressive intimidation of the world in which we live. I’m not talking about these great big geopolitical things going on elsewhere in the world; I’m talking about what is in our own hands to discuss and argue about and fix – what is happening in our town, what is happening in our culture. And the way in which things that we in this room value a great deal are being eroded by this kind of intimidation and cowardice, and by an unwillingness to call things by their true name.”

The full lecture can be heard here or downloaded as an mp3 file. A transcript is available here.