Rushdie at Albion


Salman Rushdie
 Visits Albion College

photo by Dave Trumpie

From the Battle Creek Enquirer, 25 April 2003


ALBION -- Salman Rushdie has survived a fatwa, been sought for his political commentary and dabbled in theater.

Now he has reclaimed his life as a writer.

"I'm going back to doing my day job," Rushdie said Thursday while visiting Albion College. "For four years I was doing this monthly column that the New York Times syndicate. I just got to the point where I thought, 'I've got novels to write.' I'd rather shut up for a minute.

The author spoke to a full house at Goodrich Chapel for the 14th-annual Albion College Elkin R. Isaac Research Symposium, which honors outstanding student research.

Despite his expressed affinity for urban life, he seemed relaxed as the guest of honor at the small, Midwestern campus and graciously accepted an honorary doctorate from the president of the college.

Rushdie said it is against the grain of writers to be thrust into the public spotlight, but it was a phenomenon he addressed privately and during his lecture.

The idea that an artist's public life has become almost indistinguishable from his private is a new phenomenon to writers, he said, and the end result adds nothing to the ideas set forth in a novel.

"The thing about being a novelist is it's invisible work," Rushdie said. "Nobody asks you to do it. Nobody makes you do it. And it takes a really long time. There are endless temptations to do much more visible types of work."

Rushdie's own life as a kind of celebrity began with his best known work The Satanic Verses, condemned by many in the Muslim community as being blasphemous to Islam and its prophet.

Ayatollah Khomeini, the religious leader of Iran, offered $1 million in 1989 to the Muslim who executed the writer, the fatwa that sent Rushdie into hiding. The Iranian government lifted the order in 1998.

Rushdie no longer shows any outward concern for his safety. Moe Arvoy, a college spokesman, said there were no special security requirements for Rushdie's visit.

The nine years Rushdie spent hidden away were "awful," he said. The time spent in hiding, trying to have the fatwa lifted, Rushdie estimates cost him at least one novel.

"It's very claustrophobic to live where there is no freedom of action," he said.

Rushdie's return to literature did not prevent him from addressing the current situation in Iraq. He had often thought Saddam Hussein's tyrannical regime should be ended, but had expressed concern with the aftermath.

"Right now there is no other civil authority," he said of the American's role in Iraq. "I don't think that anybody ever thought that the Iraqis would tolerate being run by the Americans for very long. My big concern before the war started was that the after-war scenario seemed to be very poorly thought through and I think that's what we're now discovering."

As an example he chose the museums of Baghdad, looted by what seemed to be professionals.

He said it would have taken a half dozen people to defend the county's cultural, historical treasures, but no thought was given to that aspect of the city.

"Meanwhile we were busily defending the oil ministry," he said.

Despite having returned to the public eye five years ago, Rushdie continues to illicit strong criticism from many Muslims.

During his lecture, Rushdie often joked about the protests against his book and suggested the fans and critics were divided into two camps, those with a sense of humor and those without.

"I don't think 1.65 billion Muslims all over the world lack a sense of humor. It frustrated me," said Ayla Malik, president of the Albion Muslim Association.

She initially had not intended to attend Rushdie's lecture, but decided to hear what he had to say. His flippant remarks reinforced Malik's disdain for Rushdie and his work.

Rushdie acknowledges his work is not popular among many, but makes no apologies for being a writer. The public is not the sole reason authors write books.

"Writers have no social responsibility," he said. "It seems to me the only obligation the writer has is to his imagination."

Christine Iwan covers Albion and Calhoun County. She can be reached at 966-0684 or

Originally published Friday, April 25, 2003


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