Quebec writers are reacting to the attack on author Salman Rushdie, calling the stabbing horrific and arguing that freedom of speech is under threat.
For Montreal author Mariam Pal, who spent part of Sunday afternoon signing copies of her new book, Ballet Is Not For Muslim Girls, Rushdie’s stabbing in upstate New York was unexpected.
“Because I hadn’t thought of him in that regard for a number of years,” she said, “because the whole fatwah had seemed to have died down.”
His 1988 book Satanic Verses was seen as blasphemous by many Muslims and the then-Iranian leader issued an edict in 1989 calling for the author’s death.
Though Rushdie returned to somewhat normal life after years in hiding, Friday’s attack came as little surprise to Quebec author Louise Penny.
“He’s lived with that threat for so long and the fact is the environment that we’re living in is so divided,” she told Global News.
Some writers believe that now it is dangerous to voice an opinion, not just for writers.
“I find it very sad,” Pal said, “and I find it part of a whole movement in a world that seems to be veering towards a reactionary type of approach.”
The reason, according to Montreal playwright Rahul Varma, is not enough people are listening to each other.
“There is a concentration of extremism, both from the left and from the right, which is basically suppressing the right way of thinking,” he explained, “so we’re living in a very bad time right now.”
Though Penny said she’s not afraid for her safety, she admitted that she paused before saying publicly that she bought Satanic Verses and other books by Rushdie after the attack.
“It’s sad that you have to think, ‘should I hit buy? Is there going to be blowback, will I be attacked?’ ” she acclaimed novelist pointed out. “I mean we just saw JK Rowling has had a threat against her life, simply for saying she hopes Salman Rushdie is ok.”
She stresses, however, that silence isn’t the answer.
“Silence is as much the enemy as a gun and as a knife,” said Penny, “And now is the time to speak out. I have the last words of the poet Seamus Heaney, who on his deathbed said to his wife, ‘Noli timere’ which means, be not afraid. And I think that now is the time to remember that, all of us, don’t be afraid.”