Salman Rushdie spoke in my small town last week. So many people expressed interest in hearing him speak that his talk was moved to a local basketball arena that holds some 3500 people. And from what I’ve heard (I was planning on going, too, but the crowd made it near-impossible), the place was packed.
So why the interest? What was the draw?
Rushdie had tacitly answered that question previously, but to draw from his own words, writing and publishing are the last line of defense against not only terror but violence in general. Violence, you see, frightens. And the first reaction a society has to fear is to relinquish portions of its freedoms in hopes of supplanting them with protection.
Violence is with us everywhere these days. Not only the terrorism that non-state actors produce, but criminal violence. Police violence against the populace. Violence of the bullying sort against minority groups, against gays and transgenders. Violence in the home: children shooting siblings and parents. Men mistreating women. Even violence against animals, pets. And as sports such as soccer and football grow more violent, we share vicariously in the blood lust on one hand, and stand appalled at the human damage on the other.
And so, as Rushdie has said, we need writers. And we need them to challenge the urge to power that begets societal violence, from the most intimate domestic violence to the grossest, horrific displays of terrorism. Be brave, writers. Challenge such power. Bare it to your readers.
This, then, is the draw of such people as Rushdie. In the final analysis, people want brave and true challenges to the various strains of power that beget violence. So whether you write for a high school newsletter or novels of the highest order, we need such pronouncements from you. As Rushdie has put it:
“Literature may be weak because it has no real power in the world, but in a way it is the grandest narrative of all, in that it puts ourselves into question with fiction. We challenge ourselves and refuse to take the world as a given. We challenge all correctives of opinion, all appeasements, all fears. Literature is the unafraid form.”