- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2023

British author Salman Rushdie is warning that free expression in the Western world is under attack as officials weed out books from libraries and publishers update old novels for modern sensibilities.

Mr. Rushdie issued his warning in a video address to the British Book Awards on Monday, a rare public appearance after a knife-wielding assailant attacked him at a book festival in New York in August. The attack blinded him in his right eye and caused nerve damage to his hand.

“There are parts of the world where censorship has been prevalent for a long time, quite a lot of the world — Russia, China, in some ways India as well. But in the countries of the West, until recently, there was a fair measure of freedom in the area of publishing,” he said. “Now I am sitting here in the U.S.; I have to look at the extraordinary attack on libraries and books for children in schools. The attack on the idea of libraries themselves. It is quite remarkably alarming, and we need to be very aware of it, and to fight against it very hard.”

Conservative leaders in parts of the country are leading efforts to remove books from schools that are pornographic or unsuitable for young children, leading some critics of the effort to decry it as censorship.

More broadly, college campuses are hotbeds of debate about free speech as protesters push back at speakers they don’t agree with and have confrontations over pronouns and gender issues.

Mr. Rushdie on Monday took aim at publishers who are softening language in books by authors such as Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming.

He said the books “come to us from their time and be of their time. … And if that’s difficult to take, don’t read it, read another book.”

Mr. Rushdie is no stranger to literary backlash. Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 issued a fatwa calling for his death after interpreting the author’s novel “The Satanic Verses” as blasphemous.

Mr. Rushdie emerged from hiding in the late 1990s as Iran pulled back from the fatwa, though Hadi Matar faces charges of attempted murder and assault over the New York attack last year.

Mr. Rushdie, in his video address, wore glasses that are tinted over his injured eye.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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