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Frank Furedi: The reaction to the attempted murder of Salman Rushdie is astonishing 

The most shocking thing about Friday’s attack on Sir Salman Rushdie is not that it happened at all. After all, the author had spent much of his life carrying a bounty on his head—a burden he bore with courage and resilience.

No, what has surprised me is the reaction in some quarters to the attempted murder of an impeccable novelist – especially from the left.

This morning, absurdly, a BBC Radio 4 news bulletin claimed that “motive has not yet been established” for the crime.

The Guardian newspaper’s website, unwilling to face the facts either, was quick to reassure its readers that a motive for the brutality “seems unclear.”

Sort absurdity. The attacker’s apparent sympathy for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Shia extremism was then apparent to anyone with an internet connection.

The most shocking thing about Friday's attack on Sir Salman Rushdie is not that it happened at all.  After all, the author had spent much of his life carrying a bounty on his head—a burden he bore with courage and resilience.  Pictured: Rushdie in 2017

The most shocking thing about Friday’s attack on Sir Salman Rushdie is not that it happened at all. After all, the author had spent much of his life carrying a bounty on his head—a burden he bore with courage and resilience. Pictured: Rushdie in 2017

Moreover, the Iranian newspapers had no doubts about it, one that said: ‘A thousand bravos… to the brave and dutiful person who attacked the renegade and evil Salman Rushdie… The hand of the man holding the neck of God’s enemy must be kissed.’

But the left, as always, seemed unwilling to admit the obvious – even when JK Rowling was chillingly told ‘you’re next’ by a Pakistani ‘political activist’ after she dared to show her solidarity with her fellow novelist.

Well, as Winston Churchill is often misquoted as saying, I won’t put this aside.

It is time for those of us who believe in free speech, in liberalism and in democracy to stand up and say so.

Because the world divides on clear lines: those who recognize the value of these things, and those who don’t.

Unfortunately, this crisis has gotten worse, not better. When the ‘Rushdie Affair’ broke out in 1989, the ‘fatwa’ imposed by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini – over a book the cleric had not even read – caused shock and anger in the West.

No, what has surprised me is the reaction in some quarters to the attempted murder of an impeccable novelist – especially from the left.  In the photo: Rushdie is flown to hospital after the attack

No, what has surprised me is the reaction in some quarters to the attempted murder of an impeccable novelist – especially from the left. In the photo: Rushdie is flown to hospital after the attack

The Western world rallied behind Rushdie’s defense: Iran and Britain severed diplomatic relations, and a host of prominent cultural and political figures around the world offered the author private and public support.

Fast forward to today and how things have changed. ‘Our’ side is gripped by a climate of intolerance that grows daily.

The left, as I said, is squeamish about stating clearly what the rest of us can see with our own eyes. For too long they have appeased and indulged the extremists.

As late as 2019, a columnist for the left-wing independent newspaper (who also hadn’t read the book) wrote: ‘I wouldn’t have it in my house, out of respect for Muslims and contempt for Rushdie… I’d be tempted to say it. to burn.’

It is indeed hard to imagine Sir Salman’s novel The Satanic Verses now being considered for publication.

It is indeed hard to imagine Sir Salman's novel The Satanic Verses now being considered for publication (pictured is Rushdie with the novel in 1989)

It is indeed hard to imagine Sir Salman’s novel The Satanic Verses now being considered for publication (pictured is Rushdie with the novel in 1989)

But this is not just about a debate between Western authors and Islamist fundamentalists. Intolerance and illiberalism now characterize the public square in Britain and in the ‘free’ world.

After all, JK Rowling not only faces death threats, not just from Islamists, but, in a terrible irony given how different the two groups are, often from trans-rights extremists as well.

And just as Twitter took 13 hours to remove the death threats against Rowling from the religious fanatics, very often the social media site betrays a shocking reluctance to remove those threats.

We need to get a grip.

It’s been more than a year since a Batley Grammar teacher in West Yorkshire was forced to go into hiding at the school gates by an angry mob.

This teacher committed the offense of provoking a discussion among his students: in a religious studies lesson, he showed a drawing of the prophet Mohammed, a “blasphemy” that many Muslims detest.

Some people may not agree with his decision, but freedom of speech doesn’t require universal agreement: that’s what matters.

Few politicians have defended this teacher or criticized those who left him in fear for his life.

If we accept that Britain is now a place where certain topics cannot be freely discussed, then we have lost one of the foundations of our democracy.

As an academic, I have watched in despair as the ability to speak freely was steadily eroded. When I was a young man in the 1960s, thinking flourished in British universities. We could say almost anything, discuss any opinion, challenge any orthodoxy.

After all, JK Rowling (pictured) not only faces death threats, not just from Islamists, but, in a terrible irony, given how different the two groups are, often from trans-rights extremists as well.

After all, JK Rowling (pictured) not only faces death threats, not just from Islamists, but, in a terrible irony, given how different the two groups are, often from trans-rights extremists as well.

No longer. Nowadays, if a professor wants lively conversation, he can go to the pub among trusted friends – but he must exercise great caution in the lecture hall.

“Wrongthink” is relentlessly monitored and stories abound of offenders who have been suspended by authorities and burst onto the university lawn by placard-wielding mobs.

Students who once insisted on the right to think for themselves now demand to hear only what has been approved by the “right” left-wing mind.

The consequences are immense. Colleagues tell me that, for example, they see some students frozen with fear in historical discussions about the Holocaust. All they want is to be told the “correct” point of view – the point of view that does not cause offense.

Unfortunately, the universities are complicit in this. It emerged yesterday that four out of ten British teenagers this year have been rejected by top universities, their places being given instead to foreign students who pay higher fees.

With our elite institutions increasingly reliant on this money, it’s no wonder they feel pressured to tweak their courses and remove potential sources of upset to keep their customers happy.

The number of applications from Chinese students has also increased by 10 percent this summer. This is likely to stifle discussion of Taiwanese and Tibetan sovereignty and the genocide of the Uyghur Muslim population in China. Such topics will be excluded – exactly what Beijing wants.

Such regimes abhor freedom of expression. We must not follow their example. The sickening attack on Sir Salman Rushdie and the poisonous threats to JK Rowling are proof of that.

Frank Furedi is a sociology professor and author of 100 Years Of Identity Crisis: Culture War Over Socialization.

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