If Jerry Sadowitz is cancelled, how long before JK Rowling is too? – Murdo Fraser MSP

The savage attack on the author Sir Salman Rushdie is a vivid reminder that the right of free speech should never be taken for granted.

Salman Rushdie, 75, pictured at an event in Germany, is recovering after being repeatedly stabbed (Picture: Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)
Salman Rushdie, 75, pictured at an event in Germany, is recovering after being repeatedly stabbed (Picture: Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

Rushdie’s most famous novel The Satanic Verses, published in 1988, led to a fatwa being issued by the then leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, calling for the death of the author. For years, he had to go into hiding such was the risk to his life.

It has been encouraging since Friday’s attack to see the virtually unanimous reaction worldwide in support of Rushdie, and in defence of free speech. President Joe Biden of the US was unequivocal in his statement supporting the author as standing up for “the ability to share ideas without fear”.

It was, therefore, somewhat ironic that just a day after the attack on Rushdie, the Pleasance in Edinburgh cancelled a performance by the controversial comedian Jerry Sadowitz following complaints from audience members about offensive material in his act.

In an extraordinary, self-contradictory statement to the press, Anthony Alderson, the Pleasance’s director, said it was “a venue that championed freedom of speech” but went on to say that the material presented at this show did not align with their values.

I’m not comparing Rushdie to Sadowitz in terms of their value to art. But I am willing to wager that the Ayatollah was more offended by Rushdie’s words in a book I doubt he bought, than any of the ticket-buying public were by Sadowitz’s attempts at humour.

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I have only heard some of what Sadowitz said and I found it deeply offensive. But I find it hard to imagine that anyone would have bought a ticket for his show without being aware of what they were letting themselves in for.

To value free speech is to be prepared to defend those with whom we vehemently disagree, or feel repulsed and offended by. If we accept the principle that Sadowitz can be cancelled, how long before we see the same applied to someone like JK Rowling?

I wouldn’t be paying to go to a Jerry Sadowitz show, but it is not up to me to prevent others from doing so.

And Fringe venues’ claims to support free speech need to be more than a cheap joke.

Murdo Fraser is Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife

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