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Editorials | The Guardian: The Guardian view on Salman Rushdie: democracy relies on the right to dissent | Editorial

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No piece of writing deserves a death sentence or should be met with the threat of assault

Even before a dying Ayatollah Khomeini deemed The Satanic Verses so blasphemous that he issued a fatwa in 1989 calling for Sir Salman Rushdie to be murdered, the author had been defiant. “I cannot censor. I write whatever there is to write,” Rushdie told an Indian magazine before the novel’s publication, in an interview in which he plainly understood the furies that the book would unleash. It was banned first in India and in much of the Middle East. The writer was forced into hiding for more than a decade. But that ordeal never changed his view that artists had the right to offend and to seed “the unceasing storm, the continual quarrel, the dialectic of history”.

The Satanic Verses is laced with often comic magical realism. Iran’s supreme leader is parodied in the novel as an imam grown so monstrous that he eats his own revolution. So what? No piece of writing deserves a death sentence or should be met with the threat of assault. The fatwa has never been revoked, but the threat had receded. And then came Friday’s attack. This was a monstrous act of violence that should be unequivocally condemned. That the author had been preparing to give a talk about the United States as a safe haven for exiled writers only underlines how precious is the right to free thought – and why it should be defended.

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