Salman Rushdie is Proof That Cancel Culture Exists
Fashionable illiberalism kills all other culture
ADDING: This post was inspired by this Twitter thread from an inestimable friend, which I had meant to include. My apologies.
Inspired by 35 year-old lies about the contents of a novel, a Shia extremist stabbed author Salman Rushdie yesterday. Rushdie’s crime was to write fiction about an event in the early years of Muhammad’s revelation that is acknowledged in early biographies of the prophet as well as hadith.
Like many non-native English speakers, Rushdie’s educated command of the language and skill at ironic expression were great strengths as a writer. They proved too much for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, whose preferred mode of literary criticism was a fatwa, or sanctified bounty on Rushdie’s head.
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Yesterday brought terrifying resolution to a decades-old cancellation. Today we remember that a little over two years ago, Rushdie was signatory to the Harper’s Letter on Justice and Open Debate.
it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms. Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes. Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.
Without even mentioning “gender,” the mere inclusion of author J.K. Rowling among the signatories was enough to send the usual suspects into fainting spells. Her name naturally led the headlines and a social media struggle session unfolded.
People tweeted Margaret Atwood to demand explanations for her participation in such a horrid hate crime. At least one historian recanted their heresy, no doubt terrified by unexpected backlash. “Free speech” had become a foreign concept to self-proclaimed “liberals” as well as the “liberal arts” academy. A baying mob had replaced argument and debate.
When critics of the Rowling cancellation mob took notice that all this abuse was aimed at two women, her pompous critics used Rushdie’s photo in their ‘splainy Medium posts instead, as if that would make things better.
Violent threats and pornography fill tweets directed at Rowling every day and Twitter does little or nothing about the men who do it. That is the price for being a heretic: your actual words don’t matter. What matters is that you have spoken heresy, witch. Punishment is the least you deserve.
None of those people attacking the Harper’s Letter two years ago could say which of Rowling’s words were the hate speech, exactly. Like Rushdie’s would-be assassin, the critics were, and still are, stabbing at a straw man.
Vaguely, she is supposed to be terrible because she was, get this, entirely right about the Tavistock gender “clinic” in the United Kingdom using “affirmation” as conversion therapy on lesbian, gay, and autistic youth. That is no longer a mere allegation in any single British court, it is the finding of an official review that has shut down the GIDS clinic.
This week brought news that more than 1,000 families are expected to sue the NHS for letting activists run this horror show medical experiment on children. Gay, lesbian, and autistic youth were at particular risk of harm exactly as Rowling said. She is more to be hated for what she said because it was true. That was also the case with Salman Rushdie.
Not all of the would-be witchfinders tweeting photos of themselves outside J.K. Rowling’s home are peaceful. None of the anger is reasonable and much of it is terrifying.
One of the most pernicious falsehoods about “gender identity” is that it comes with gentle passivity. Quite the opposite is true. Women organizing in defense of their established sex-based human rights get harassed all the time. Men organizing against puberty blockers for kids get assaulted in the streets.
Assassins killed all the critical poets in Arabia, leaving only the ones who supported the prophet alive. Rushdie’s thoughcrime was to imagine Muhammad as a human being in a godless world through the device of magical realism.
Rowling rejected magical thinking about human biology, and for this thoughtcrime, converts to Genderism denounce her words as actual murder, set copies of her books on fire, post the video to TikTok, and call it “activism.”
“Cancel culture” has been around for a long time; it is not on the “right side of history.” It is most of human history. Ardent believers have always used sacred violence to erase the old and impose the new. '
Comedy, satire, and fair exchange of ideas are eternal, mortal enemies of whatever new sacrosanct things become fashionable, so they use terrorism to destroy culture, paucify art, and constrict expression.
Totalizing, fundamentalist religious cults share this element of violent radicalism. It is dangerous to keep pretending it cannot happen here, or to this or that person, or that they deserved it.
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