BBC News

Sir Salman Rushdie: Pakistan on the road to tyranny

By Robin Banerji
BBC World Service

image captionSir Salman's memoirs are about his days in hiding

British author Sir Salman Rushdie has said that he fears that Pakistan is "on the road to tyranny".

"Loathing is a bit too affectionate" to describe how he feels about the country.

Sir Salman made the comments in a wide ranging interview with the BBC World Service to promote his new book, Joseph Anton: A Memoir.

The writer of the novels Midnight's Children and The Satanic Verses said that "the most frightening change" that he saw in Pakistan was that the mass of the people seemed to have given up the "very moderate" religious beliefs that they used to hold.

In a sombre tone Sir Salman said the murder of Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistani Punjab who was killed last year after opposing Pakistan's blasphemy laws, marked a shift in the country.

Mr Taseer "was murdered for speaking up for an obviously innocent woman, and the country… sided with his killer", he said.

"And this act of defending an innocent woman was thought to be sufficiently un-Islamic that not only should he be killed, but that people should celebrate that he was killed … And that is a sad thing."

Sir Salman, who is of Kashmiri descent, criticised both India and Pakistan over Kashmir, and called for Kashmir for the Kashmiris.

"The thing that Kashmiris say, and have said absolutely consistently and nobody has ever listened to them, is would you please both go away."

"In an ideal world you could reunite the Pakistan-occupied part of Kashmir with the Indian-occupied part and restore the old borders. You could have both India and Pakistan agreeing to guarantee those borders, demilitarise the area, and to invest in it economically. In a sane world that would happen but we don't live in a sane world," says Sir Salman.

In the real world Sir Salman sees numerous obstacles to peace in Kashmir.

"It is clear that India has not behaved at all well in Kashmir; that the Indian military forces seem like, feel like and behave like an occupying army; that there are too many accusations of violence, rape, and murder for it all to be made up; and the Pakistani side has constantly exacerbated the situation by the use of jihadist groups, and by the funding of groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad and so on," he says.

Defending Verses

In his new memoir, Sir Salman tells the story of his life in hiding after Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini pronounced the fatwa on him in 1989.

Despite his suffering and that of others, Sir Salman robustly defends The Satanic Verses.

image captionJoseph Anton was the name Sir Salman used while in hiding

"I am very proud of the novel. What I feel is that for 10 years or so, the people who didn't like the novel got to yell and scream and set the agenda, and it seems to me now that the people who do like the novel get a chance to speak. And actually lots of people like it: lots of people in many languages."

Sir Salman resolutely rejects any notion that his book and his exercise of freedom of speech has compromised the rights of others.

"Nobody has the right to not be offended. That right doesn't exist in any declaration I have ever read. If you are offended it is your problem, and frankly lots of things offend lots of people.

"I can walk into a bookshop and point out a number of books that I find very unattractive in what they say. But it doesn't occur to me to burn the bookshop down. If you don't like a book, read another book. If you start reading a book and you decide you don't like it, nobody is telling you to finish it.

"To read a 600-page novel and then say that it has deeply offended you: well, you have done a lot of work to be offended," Sir Salman says.

Asked why he had written a memoir under the name Joseph Anton, Sir Salman explained that that was the name he had used while in hiding.

The British police had asked him not to choose an Indian name for his pseudonym.

"It's a very odd thing to be asked to do, not only to give up your name, but to give up the ethnicity of your name. So I thought, 'if I can't have India, I can have literature', which is like another country of mine.

"I put the name together from the first names of Conrad and Chekhov. It was partly because it just sounded okay, and partly because I had felt a connection to both of them.

"Chekhov is this poet of melancholy and isolation and of wishing you were somewhere else than where you are. I felt a bit like that, I felt a bit Chekovian at times," Sir Salman admits.

"Conrad because there's a line from Conrad's novel The Nigger of the Narcissus, in which this sailor is dying of tuberculosis and one of his shipmates says to him, 'Why did you come on board?' And he says, 'I must live until I die, mustn't I?'"

Sir Salman Rushdie was talking to Newshour on the BBC World Service

More on this story

  • Meeting Salman Rushdie