The literary world speaks out against the government’s ‘religious hatred’ legislation.
Finally, as writers of many faiths and none, we must emphasize that if religious leaders had their way, we would have little literature, less art and no humour. The religious can be quick to take offence. The Papal Index makes salutary reading: it has banned every great offender from Voltaire to Flaubert to James Joyce. On their side, some Jews have objected to Philip Roth and to Joseph Heller; while some Muslim clerics have been so severely offended by the fictions of Salman Rushdie and the Egyptian writer, Naguib Mahfouz, as to issue fatwas against them – much to the distress of other Muslims. Now British Sikhs have succeeded in censoring the play Behzti and forcing Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti into hiding.
The new legislation encourages rather than combats intolerance. We do not need it. What we need is a signal from government that it wishes to defend true democracy and its many virtues, including those of dissent and the freedom of expression.
If the government feels more legislation is essential in this area, then it would achieve more of its ends by repealing the law on blasphemy, a relic of pre-multicultural times. Less, here, is more.
The times are such that we need to champion the freedoms our democracy has fought hard to secure alongside the cultural riches we have the liberty to enjoy and create.
We hope the government will join us in this.
Update Marcus adds: It’s timely that Salman Rushdie put his name to the letter.
A FATWA against the author Salman Rushdie was reaffirmed by Iran’s spiritual leader last night in a message to Muslim pilgrims.
British officials anxiously played down comments after Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told Muslims making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that Rushdie was an apostate whose killing would be authorised by Islam, according to the Iranian media.
His words came during a lengthy tirade against “Western and Zionist capitalists” and the US-led War on Terror.
The PEN organisation has a campaign website here.