SAlman Rushdie warned of the threat of authoritarianism globally and said the US Republican Party “seeks to undermine” democratic values, at a forum in Philadelphia to discuss threats to human freedom expression in the United States and around the world.
Appearing by video at the National First Amendment Summit on Wednesday, Rushdie attributed the rise of Donald Trump and Brexit to a “gilded age myth.”
Rushdie, who was attacked in New York just over a year ago, spoke out as book bans continue to spread across the United States. Interviewed by Suzanne Nossel, CEO of the free speech organization Pen America, Rushdie was asked what the greatest threat to free speech is today.
“If you had asked me this question 10 or 20 years ago, I probably would have said that the main problems facing free speech emanate from religious extremism,” Rushdie said.
“I think we are now facing another old enemy, which is authoritarianism. I think there is a real rise in authoritarian movements all over the world, in populist and authoritarian demagoguery.
“Added to this is a desire among at least part of the population to stop valuing the democratic values enshrined in the First Amendment. So I think the problem is, I would now say, political more than religious.”
The summit, organized by the National Constitution Center and intended to address threats to the First Amendment – America’s constitutional right to free speech – took place a day after the US Senate held a hearing on the book banning and censorship.
According to Pen America, there have been more than 4,000 book bans in the United States since fall 2021. Pen defines a book ban as when books are considered “off limits” to students in libraries or classrooms. school classes, or when books are removed during a period of confinement. an investigation to determine whether there should be restrictions.
The majority of targeted books deal with issues of racism, sexuality and gender identity. Over the past 18 months, states like Florida, North Carolina, and Iowa have passed bills restricting how and when teachers can discuss sexuality and gender identity in schools.
When asked about the state of free speech in the United States, Rushdie said:
“One of the problems is that there is essentially only one major political party that seems to believe in democratic values. And you have another who seems to be doing everything he can to undermine them.
“When a large majority of Republican voters believe that the last election was stolen – as is the case every time they are asked, a very large majority of Republican voters believe that Donald Trump won the last elections and that he was deceived. victory – if the assault on truth reaches this level of success, then we are in big trouble.”
Rushdie spent a decade in hiding after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iranian leader, issued a fatwa calling for his death following the publication of his book The Satanic Verses in 1988. The book sparked protests as the novel was allegedly anti-Islamic.
In August 2022, the 76-year-old was attacked in upstate New York as he prepared to speak at a literary event. Rushdie was stabbed in the neck and torso and spent six weeks in hospital. The attack left him without vision in one eye and injured one hand, making it difficult to grasp.
Speaking at the summit on Wednesday, Rushdie criticized a “myth of the golden age”, which he said led to the rise of Trump and Brexit.
“‘Make America Great Again’ – that always made me want to ask, ‘When was that exactly?’ When are we looking back? Was it, for example, the era of slavery? Was it before women had the right to vote? Was it before the civil rights movement?
“What exactly is the American greatness that we must return to?
“And the problem with the Gilded Age is that it never existed, and the myth of the Golden Age is still used to justify the actions of the present.
“In England, the Brexit catastrophe is the result of another myth of the Gilded Age: ‘England was that glorious country and it could be that glorious country again, if only we could get rid of all those foreigners .’
“Of course they neglected to mention to the electorate that the reason England was so prosperous was because it had spent 200 years plundering the rest of the world. »
In May, Rushdie made his first public appearance since the New York attack and has since announced his intention to write a book about the incident.
Hadi Matar, of New Jersey, was charged with attempted second-degree murder and second-degree assault in the attack. The 24-year-old has pleaded not guilty.