It seemed, in the aftermath of his being targeted by Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamists in 1989, that Salman Rushdie had learned a thing or two politically about the world. Here is a description on his vapid leftism, pre-edict, extracted from my 1990 book, The Rushdie Affair:
he espouses the classic anti-Americanism of third-worldists. Hints of his views can be seen in The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey, [1987,] the vehicle for a broadside against "the stupidity of U.S. policy" toward Nicaragua. Actually, the United States was guilty not just of stupidity, but of dishonesty and greed. The book is littered with casual references to "the great American fist," "the American empire," and the like. …
However, the full force of Rushdie's visceral anti-Americanism becomes apparent only in The Satanic Verses . Rushdie notes that American travelers overseas inhabit a perpetual fog, then observes: "It was a hard fate to be an American abroad, and not to suspect why you were so disliked." Perhaps the reason for that dislike lies in the commercialism Rushdie calls "the Coca-Colonization of the planet." Or their being too affluent for their own good. …
But it is not just American influence that Rushdie hates, it is the United States itself. New York City he calls "that transatlantic New Rome with its Nazified architectural gigantism, which employed the oppressions of size to make its human occupants feel like worms." Even the country's vaunted immigration policy is a fraud. Rushdie castigates
the self-congratulatory huddled-masses rhetoric of the "nation of immigrants" across the ocean, itself far from perfectly open-armed. Would the United States, with its are-you-now-have-you-ever-beens, have permitted Ho Chi Minh to cook in its hotel kitchens? What would its McCarran-Walter Act have to say about a latter-day Karl Marx, standing bushy-bearded at its gates, waiting to cross its yellow lines?
That Rushdie himself immigrated some years ago to New York consummates the irony and foolishness of the above passages.
Then, in his hour of need, Rushdie saw who stood by him against the Islamic Republic of Iran – the despised Americans – and he toned down his fashionable gauchisme.
Sadly, it has now resumed. On Aug. 4, 2004, Rushdie organized a meeting of PEN American Center, the international organization of writers that he heads, under the portentous title, "State of Emergency: Unconventional Readings." The evening consisted of fifteen self-described literary luminaries gathering at the Cooper Union in New York "to present a series of readings on the topics of free speech and democracy." According to reports the French press, including Libération and Le Monde, the mood was one of self-important and near-hysterical opposition to George W. Bush and recent counterterrorism efforts. Libération titled its article "Rushdie mobilise l'Amérique des lettres contre Bush." Rushdie's own remarks included this statement:
How we fight it is going to be the great civilizational test of our time. Will we become our enemy or not? Will we become repressive as our enemy is repressive? Will we become intolerant as our enemy is intolerant? Or will we not? Will we fight with different weapons, weapons of openness and acceptance, seeking to increase the dialogue between people rather than decrease it? This is a big test. Will we become the suits of armor that our fear makes us put on, or will we not? It seems to us, to PEN, to many of us in the last month, that we are not passing this test very well and that there are serious reasons to say there is a crisis in this country of civil liberties, freedom of speech, and human rightsthe kind of crisis PEN has spent over 80 years protesting when it happens in other countries. It's exactly the things that we have tried to highlight, whether it was in Cuba or Burma or Iran or China. Those problems are beginning to crop up here: problems of what it is possible to say without being in trouble; what information media it is possible to access; what it's possible to talk about; the tones it is possible to use in talking about these things when one does have access to media; the way in which the government is increasingly intrusive into areas of our lives that it has no business to go intowhat books we read, what shops we go to, what books we borrow from universities, what we think about. This gets very close to the thought police, and it is not acceptable in a free society.
More succinctly, as quoted in the Village Voice, Rushdie asserted that terrorism "is the great civilizational test of our time," a test the United States is "failing."
Comment: Rushdie, a recent immigrant and not a U.S. citizen, has some nerve scolding Americans how to protect themselves from a vicious enemy. But then, when you are a celebrity author, why not? (August 10, 2004)
April 12, 2005 update: "Rushdie Says Bush Policies Help Islamic Terrorism" reads the Reuters headline. "What I think plays into Islamic terrorism is ... the curious ability of the current administration to unite people against it." He attributed this to the Bush administration's "unilateralist policies" and its "unwillingness to engage with the rest of the world in a serious way." Thank you, Rushdie, for more unsolicited advice on how to run our country.