One of our very favourite routines in England was heading out Saturday morning to get “the papers,” and returning to curl up with a coffee and the Books section of the Saturday Guardian. Now back in the States, I’m reduced to reading it online (which is a pretty sorry substitute, but I’ll take what I can get). A feature this week is an interview with Salman Rushdie. Commenting on fellow novelists like Martin Amis and Ian McEwan who, Hitchens-like, have been ranting about Islam, Rushdie protests:
“I thought the attack on Martin in the Guardian by Ronan Bennett [in an article published last November and condemned by McEwan] was out of order. To say he is racist because of that is wrong. I may not like the things you believe and, by the way, the fact that you believe them makes me think less of you as a person. I may despise you personally for what you believe, but I should be able to say it. Everybody needs to get thicker skins. There is this culture of offence, as though offending someone is the worst thing anyone can do. Again, there is an assumption that our first duty is to be respectful. But what would a respectful cartoon look like? Really boring! You wouldn’t publish it. The nature of the form is irreverence and disrespect.
“What pleases me, though, is that at least in Britain there is still the possibility of literary people writing on current affairs. Here [in the US], that’s much less true. Who wouldn’t have wanted to read Joan Didion’s take on Hillary Clinton, or Don DeLillo writing about the US election? In the past, Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal could be public intellectuals, but there is much less scope for that now.”