Leading article: Cometh the hour...

"Many enemies," runs the proverb: "Much honour". From the Islamists who still dream of his death to the old-school covert racists of London clubland and the gossip-hounds who reserve a baffling degree of malice for him, Sir Salman Rushdie has never lacked foes. Sometimes, it seems hard to persuade this hugely gifted and historically important novelist that the planet is crowded with his friends as well.

The clear victory of Midnight's Children in the online public poll to select the "Best of the Booker" in the prize's 40th anniversary year has given them a voice.

A year ago, his knighthood was denounced by all the usual suspects, and some less expected. Even 18 years after the Ayatalloh Khomeini's fatwa, no Rushdie watcher would have been surprised that the parliament of Pakistan should denounce a writer who (as they don't know) speaks and writes of his Kashmiri family's tolerant, Sufi tradition of Islam with the warmest respect and affection.

So crazed were some attacks that the last, sane word came from the Hindustan Times in Mumbai: it ran a spoof report pretending that a group of citizens not born at 12 had launched a campaign against Midnight's Children as a "wilful act of provocation that has hurt the feelings of those who were born at other times of day".

Against bigots of all hours and places, readers around the world for whom that novel opened doors and minds have now stood up for the freedom of imagination. Contests with the Booker name attached do not always reach the best result. This one has.

Comments