Salman Rushdie

The novelist responds to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who wrote an article criticising the explanations he gave for his decision to move to New York
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The Independent Online

The unusual malevolence of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's article obliges me to reply. My remarks about the bitchiness and incestuousness of life in literary and media London seem to have been amply borne out by the response to my attempt to forge a new life for myself. May I address a few important inaccuracies?

The unusual malevolence of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's article obliges me to reply. My remarks about the bitchiness and incestuousness of life in literary and media London seem to have been amply borne out by the response to my attempt to forge a new life for myself. May I address a few important inaccuracies?

For the record, I made no general criticism of England, for which I retain deep affection and in which I have many friends, and it is a measure of the "arrogance" and "egotism" of hacks such as Alibhai-Brown that they equate criticism of themselves with an attack on the nation.

Furthermore, I am sorry to disappoint Alibhai-Brown and all those who have joined her in the good-riddance chorus aimed at me, but I am not "abandoning" Britain, nor my friends nor - above all - my children. Do I really have to explain that it is possible to live in two places and maintain close relationships in both? Has Yasmin ever heard of aircraft?

It feels almost useless to offer accuracy in the face of so many distortions, but when I spoke of having a "god-shaped hole" inside me, I spoke of filling it with art and literature. This has nothing to do with thinking of myself as godlike. It was a comment about what nourishes the spirit of those who have no need for religion, and I find it astonishing that an innocent and serious remark has been used to attack my supposed "massive ego".

Alibhai-Brown presents herself as a disappointed admirer, an old trick. Apparently she liked Midnight's Children. But when she refers to the vicious court case brought against my novel by Indira Gandhi, whose tyrannical excesses I had criticised, Alibhai-Brown is quick to take Gandhi's side. To use her formulation, it "should perhaps be better known" that Gandhi's attack on Midnight's Children was criticised by Indian journalists of the day; that she was able to prove defamation on hair-splittingly technical grounds in exactly one sentence of a 250,000-word novel, a sentence in which I repeated a rumour about Sanjay Gandhi and herself; and that she accepted that she had no case against the novel's attack on her excesses during the mid-Seventies Emergency - a decision that made her look ridiculous to most observers.

As to my supposed betrayal of British Asians, I suggest Alibhai Brown attends one of my readings, at all of which there is a high proportion of Asian readers, or has a look at the letters I receive from the only constituency I have ever sought to address: that of people who would rather read books than ban or burn them. There are many, many Asians in this constituency. Alibhai-Brown can abuse my work to her heart's content, but she should at least have the fairness to concede that many members of the Indian diaspora take a different view.

She further accuses me of having "come rather late in life" to an interest in freedom of expression. This is straightforwardly defamatory. To give just one example, on the day after I won the Booker prize in 1981, when many people might have been sleeping off the big night, I was holding a placard at the Indonesian embassy in protest at the house arrest of the great writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer.

In my own case, Alibhai-Brown feels I was wrong to publish The Satanic Verses. I disagree; and the book acquires more admirers and supporters every year, which surely justifies the fight to keep it in circulation.

The rest of Alibhai-Brown's article is a prolonged sneer, not only at me but also at that beacon of liberty, the First Amendment of the US constitution.

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