Curbs on free speech is attack on human nature: Rushdie

Salman Rushdie signs autographs at Frankfurt.— Photo: Reuters

Salman Rushdie signs autographs at Frankfurt.— Photo: Reuters  

“Expression of speech is fundamental to all human beings”

All attempts to curb free speech are “an attack on human nature”, British-Indian writer Salman Rushdie said on Tuesday at the start of the world's biggest book fair in Frankfurt.

“Limiting freedom of expression is not just censorship, it is also an assault on human nature,” Mr. Rushdie told a news conference.

“Expression of speech is fundamental to all human beings. We are language animals, we are story-telling animals,” he said, insisting that free speech was a universal principle. “Without that freedom of expression, all other freedoms fail,” he said.

Mr Rushdie has had an Islamic death sentence hanging over his head for a quarter of a century over his 1989 book “The Satanic Verses”. Iran’s then supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa saying the author should be killed, forcing Mr Rushdie to go into hiding,.

The decision to invite him to speak at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which opens later on Tuesday, sparked a boycott by Iran of the exhibition. “I always thought in a way we shouldn’t need to discuss anymore about freedom of speech in the West, it should be like the air we breathe,” Mr Rushdie said.

“It seemed to me that this battle was won a couple of hundred years ago” during the French Enlightenment, he said.

“But the fact that we have to go on fighting this battle is the result of a number of regrettable, more recent phenomena,” he continued, pointing to “violent threats” against writers, publishers, book sellers and translators. His new novel, entitled “Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights”, is appearing almost simultaneously in English and in German translation. — AFP

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