Rushdie steps out as a free man
(if this is what you call freedom)
Saturday 26 September 1998
OK, then, what about his second thought? But the novelist, normally so eloquent, was not doing the schmaltz thing. His second thought, he said, was to switch on the television to make sure that the deal between Iran and Britain had not fallen through. He did and it had not and so the event that he called the Final Press Conference of the Rushdie Case had gone ahead.
But only after a fashion. Rushdie may be free but there is still fear and loathing out there. The campaign had tried, for instance, to book a larger room for the press conference but safety fears had nixed the plan. In the end, scores of journalists, cameras and Special Branch types had squeezed into the offices of the anti-censorship group Article 19 in Islington, north London.
It was a crush-bar atmosphere with everyone buzzing, standing on tiptoe, trying to see round microphones that were so furry that they may have been alive. But where was Salman? The temperature rose to Death Valley levels, as did our expectations.
He arrived, beaming, in taupe suit and salmon shirt. He spoke first, and sadly, of the dead and injured (his Japanese translator, for instance) and others hurt in demonstrations. The campaign had not been about one man's safety, he said, but about something much greater - our freedoms of speech and of the imagination. The resolution gave him "serious and grave" satisfaction. Everyone, from Special Branch to the Government to his family, were heaped with thanks.
As befitted the man, and the event, there was no self- censorship. Was he a Muslim today? "I'm happy to say that I am not," he said. In fact, one of his few regrets was when he pretended to find religion. "I am not a religious person." So did he feel free to walk through the streets of Bradford? "Bradford! I've never walked the streets of Bradford. Are they attractive?"
No, he did not regret publishing The Satanic Verses. "There is not a chance in hell of the book being withdrawn. We have not fought this battle to give in at the last moment." He would not apologise, nor was he asking for an apology. "I'm saying this is a moment for a fresh start. We just need to turn the page, we don't have to scratch the scab. What I'm saying is end of story, time for another story."
Not so fast, though, because now Rushdie knows how this story ends he says he will finally write about it. "It's a hot story and most of you don't know it!" First, he was looking forward to getting back to the "simple thing" that is normality.
For good measure, he thanked us, the media, for our support. But we wanted something else: a piece of schmaltz for the road. What will you be doing on your first weekend of freedom, Salman? "Talking to journalists," he said. Can this be normal?
- 1 Three-year-old ultra-Orthodox Jewish children told 'the non-Jews' are 'evil' in worksheet produced by London school
- 2 Moscow voted the world's unfriendliest city
- 3 The excuses your boss is most likely to believe when you call in sick
- 4 I'm pansexual – here are the five biggest misconceptions about my sexuality
- 5 More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
The one chart that shows how George Osborne is almost certainly going to be our next Prime Minister
The excuses your boss is most likely to believe when you call in sick
Bono's group has made more money from Facebook investment than from all his music
Three-year-old ultra-Orthodox Jewish children told 'the non-Jews' are 'evil' in worksheet produced by London school
Wikipedia rocked by 'rogue editors' blackmail scam targeting small businesses and celebrities
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don’t change Europe’s attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...
£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...