Editor's letter: Festival celebrates literature, but also freedom itself

We are extremely lucky to have free expression in Britain

Share

Morning all. Perhaps if you’re one of our readers in the South-west, or even if you’re not, we’ll meet in Bath over the coming days. The Independent Bath Literary Festival gets in full swing today, and lasts until 9 March. The line-up of novelists, children’s authors, comedians and journalists is better than ever, and there are still tickets left for some events. 

Literary festivals are nearly as old as literature, of course; and each one is given its unique flavour by the city playing host. Bath needs no introduction, and has managed over the years to make this festival both beautiful and boisterous.

In my limited experience, literary festivals don’t usually set out to be explicitly political events, but they are of their very nature a political gesture. And to the extent that The Independent is honoured to play the role of sponsor, we’re proud that Bath is championing a political agenda which has always been close to our heart, and one which – like this newspaper – goes beyond right and left: namely, the right to free expression. Around the world, this right is under attack, and needs defending.

Just a fortnight ago, a major Indian publisher withdrew copies of a book by the American academic Wendy Doniger, in response to pressure from a Hindu nationalist group called Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti – ironically, the “Movement to Save Education”. This, as Sunny Hundal wrote in our Big Read on Thursday, is part of a growing climate of fear among India’s intellectual elites in the face of extremists.

Just over the border in Pakistan, a British citizen named Muhammad Asghar languishes in a Rawalpindi prison, sentenced to death for that most vacuous of crimes, blasphemy. As we have been reporting, Mr Asghar is 70, suffering from schizophrenic episodes, and has been found guilty because he depicted the Prophet in a private note to another man with whom he was in a dispute. His case is a reminder, if one were needed, of the high price paid in many parts of the world by those who say what officialdom and theocrats would rather not be said.

I don’t think it’s stretching things to say that these two stories are linked; nor that they have something to do with what’s happening in Bath this week. We are extremely lucky to have free expression in Britain, and ought not to take it for granted. The Independent has always had something approaching a militant view on defending this right, and to attacking censorship and the debased view of humanity it implies.

The celebration of ideas in Bath this week is in its own humble way a rebuke to those who would silence the likes of Mr Asghar or Ms Doniger. It will also be huge fun. I hope to see you there. Have a great weekend.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Analyst

£30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Assistant Editor: Domestic violence is no petty matter

Siobhan Norton
 

There’s nothing wrong with GM

Steve Connor
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried