Some of the response to Rushdie’s knighthood has startled me. Take, for example, this letter to the Times:
Sir, Did the genius who recommended Salman Rushdie for a knighthood not realise the offence that it would cause to the Muslim world after The Satanic Verses debacle or was this calculated? And exactly why did he get a knighthood – he has done nothing for Britain other than cost the taxpayer a fortune in police protection for writing a book the majority never read?
I genuinely didn’t expect to see so much of this kind of thing, although in retrospect, I obviously should have. It’s not surprising that Iran and Pakistan should complain, and since it would perhaps be unnecessarily undiplomatic to tell them to mind their own fucking business, I don’t even mind the British government being mildly conciliatory in response.
But letters like the one above are just extraordinary. All questions of free speech aside, surely providing protection for people whose lives have been threatened by dangerous extremists is exactly the sort of thing the police should be doing? And the idea that we should not give a knighthood to someone because we want to avoid giving offence to the kind of people who issue death threats to novelists is horrifying. It goes so clearly against what I would hope were the core values of our society—freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the rule of law, for a start—that I can’t quite believe that I have to actually say so. I vaguely feel that I’m contributing to the kittens are cute and Scarlett Johansson is hot school of blogging the bloody obvious; but apparently there are people who disagree.
The fact that the sensibilities offended were religious is irrelevant, for me. If the people Rushdie had offended were political extremists instead—if, say, the complaints were coming in from the old apartheid South Africa, or China—I would still want them to mind their own fucking business. But then, perhaps if the complaints weren’t wrapped up in religion, we wouldn’t get people writing such pathetic, squirming, weaselly letters about it to the Times.