Salman Rushdie attack and threats to JK Rowling show fight for free speech is never ending – Scotsman comment

The attack on Sir Salman Rushdie and the deplorable threats made against JK Rowling in its wake are a horrific reminder that the most basic right to free speech can never be taken for granted.

British author Salman Rushdie was repeatedly stabbed during a public appearance in New York state (Picture: Herbert Neubauer/APA/AFP via Getty Images)
British author Salman Rushdie was repeatedly stabbed during a public appearance in New York state (Picture: Herbert Neubauer/APA/AFP via Getty Images)

Thankfully, the news yesterday was that Sir Salman had been taken off his ventilator and was talking as he recovers from being stabbed.

But Friday’s incident is a tragic wake-up call that the battle to protect free speech is ongoing, particularly in the social media age.

It was poignant that this weekend marked the return of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and the event itself began with a condemnation of the events across the Atlantic.

Director Nick Barley described how the event was being staged as an “act of defiance” in the face of threats and violence against writers.

The festival’s return, he said, was "a defiant moment" against "forces that want to silent us."

And most importantly, he stressed the importance of "listening to each other", adding: "You don't get discourse without disagreement."

"It's not always easy. We won't always find agreement with each other and sometimes we might even feel hurt or surprised by other people's views. But it's essential that we have those conversations right here. And that is the defiant spirit of the book festival.”

This is a lesson we can all learn from.

Being able to agree to disagree, particularly in such a tense political atmosphere as currently is vital, but it is a skill which is increasingly missing in discourse today. Differing points of view are shut down, attacks on policy or opinion quickly become personal, sometimes dangerous.

Social media is responsible for much of that trend of course but treating others with respect, and being seen to be courteous and understanding to those with whom you disagree should not be confined to public debate. It should inform every tweet, Facebook post, and TikTok.

Rushdie has spent his life fighting for free speech. It is on all of us, whether in the media or on social media, to continue to do the same.

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