The Rushdie Controversy, for a New Generation.
Plus, Should Russian Culture Be ‘Canceled’ Over the Ukraine Invasion?
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MATT JOHNSON: The Rushdie Controversy, for a New Generation.
Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses was published in 1988, and Iranian Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwa ordering all Muslims to try to kill Rushdie was issued issued the following year. In other words, the Satanic Verses conflagration is as much a part of history as the fall of the Berlin Wall or Tiananmen Square—but history that came roaring back on August 12, when a man born almost a decade after The Satanic Verses was published ran onto a stage where Rushdie was about to speak in Chautauqua, New York, and repeatedly stabbed the 75-year-old author in the face, neck, and abdomen. Though his condition has stabilized, his agent reported that “Salman will likely lose one eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged.”
While Rushdie managed to evade such an attack for decades, a glut of violence followed the release of The Satanic Verses: a dozen people were killed during riots in Bombay, several others in Kashmir, and six more in Islamabad. The Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses, Hitoshi Igarashi, was stabbed to death. An Italian translator, Ettore Capriolo, was also stabbed, and the book’s Norwegian publisher, William Nygaard, was shot three times. Now that Rushdie himself has been savagely attacked by an assailant who will almost certainly prove to be a self-appointed executor of the fatwa (though he may have been in contact with members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps), it’s worth revisiting just how fully many liberals surrendered to theocracy in 1989 and the years that followed. Younger readers not already familiar with the Rushdie controversy will find that it raises enduring questions about free speech, self-censorship, cultural tolerance, and the distinction between words and physical violence.
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SHAY KHATIRI: Learning from Ghosts.
Armed only with a one-line description of Ghosts, you probably wouldn’t be keen to watch it. A half-hour sitcom on CBS awaiting its second season, its protagonists are a couple trying to run a bed and breakfast in a manor “haunted” by ghosts. I know, it sounds like must-miss television. But Ghosts, led by showrunners Joe Port and Joe Wiseman, isn’t only legitimately funny; it also has depth that it owes to the British series from which it was derived.
Sam and her husband, Jay, move from New York City to a small town when Sam inherits a mansion, which the couple decide to turn into a B&B. After a near-death experience, Sam gains the ability to interact with the myriad ghosts from across the centuries who inhabit the house—at least until they resolve their unfinished business on Earth and are allowed to move on to the next world.
CATHY YOUNG: Should Russian Culture Be ‘Canceled’ Over the Ukraine Invasion?
Should the anti-Russia backlash triggered by the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine spare Russian culture, whether in the form of performances by modern-day Russian musicians or courses on classical Russian literature? This question has stoked polemics since the early days of the invasion, when Russian artists such as singer Anna Netrebko, conductor Valery Gergiev, and pianist Alexander Malofeev found their contracts dropped and their concerts canceled, and when an Italian university postponed (though it later reinstated) a lecture course on Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
Even many people who fully support the Ukrainian side feel that “canceling” Russian artists and writers, including long-dead ones, for Vladimir Putin’s or the Russian army’s sins is taking things too far; meanwhile, pro-Russian and Ukraine-skeptical voices invoke such cancellations as evidence of mindless Russophobic zeal in the pro-Ukraine corner. But there are also those who say that Russian culture, current or past, cannot be separated from Russian imperialism and militant nationalism—and that promoters of this aggressive ideology must be held to account.
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