The World Daily
Are journalists and writers safe in the modern world?

Photo: TWD


By Patryk Krych | The World Daily | AUGUST 18th 2022 


With the recent, violent attack on novelist Salman Rushdie, certain questions have been tossed around between concerned journalists and writers. Is free speech under attack? Just how safe is it to be a writer or a journalist in the modern day, with attacks now occurring out in the open?

Salman Rushdie was taken off ventilators and talking only a day after his stabbing, making a remarkable recovery despite having been struck ten times. A recovery that may not have been quite so remarkable if the response had been slow. The attacker, 24-year-old Hadi Matar, attacked him in public and is pleading ‘not guilty’.

Rather ironically, Rushdie was giving a speech at the time of the attack, about the importance of protecting writers whose lives were in danger. Until this moment, the whole affair of the fatwa against him was, by many, thought to have been a matter left long behind.

“Iranian state institutions have incited violence against Rushdie for generations, and state-affiliated media recently gloated about the attempt on his life,” said Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state. “This is despicable.”

Rushdie had been under the scrutiny of Iran since the release of his book ‘The Satanic Verses’ in 1988, which led to Iranian president Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini announcing a fatwa -a sort of legal decree passed down by an Islamic leader- against Rushdie, sentencing him to death.

“I would like to inform all the intrepid Muslims in the world that the author of the book entitled ‘Satanic Verses’ ... as well as those publishers who were aware of its contents, are hereby sentenced to death,” Khomeini stated in February of 1989, according to Tehran Radio. “Whoever is killed doing this will be regarded as a martyr and will go directly to heaven.”

The debate about free speech has once again been started up as a result, with Iran evading blame for the attack, claiming Rushdie had brought it on himself. More recently, following the Harry Potter author, JK Rowling, voicing her support for Rushdie online after the attack, she too had received death threats as a result – which the police are now investigating.

Since the year 2000, a total of 16 UK journalists, including the United States born Marie Colvin, have been killed over their writings and reports. The majority of these were in conflict zones, and some, like Colvin, were even the results of targeted attacks, over the content of their writings. It can’t be denied that writing has power, and in an increasingly globalised world where information gets across in a matter of minutes, that power is starting to become a problem for dangerous people.


Perhaps the most brutal recent example of this is the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, when he entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey on October 2, 2018, but never re-emerged. According to Turkish officials, he had been killed and dismembered by Saudi officers, his body likely having been removed via a rolled-up carpet, but his remains to this day have not been officially found.

It was Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Arabian crown prince, who had ordered the assassination of Khashoggi according to the Central Intelligence Agency. Likely due to his many articles in The Washington Post that criticised the country. To this day, it’s surmised that the murder was an attempt to silence him.

Death among journalists is certainly nothing new. Even in March of 2022, the first journalist death had been reported in Ukraine, of US journalist and filmmaker Brent Renaud having been shot dead in Kyiv. Then there was Don Belles, an investigative reporter who died due to a targeted car bombing in Arizona whilst working on a domestic story.

What makes the attack on Rushdie so much more concerning, aside from the fact that he isn’t a journalist, is the public nature of the attempt as well as the fact that he was targeted over a book, rather than an intrusive piece of investigative media or news. An act of religious extremism on the part of somebody -or several people, in fact, including Khomeini- too unhinged to let an alternative opinion be heard.

It can’t be said that murder is the most effective form of censorship. Unlike a mere cancellation or suspension on a social media website, attempted murder garners wide attention. Though the attempt on Rushdie’s life is being celebrated by some media outlets in Iran, such as the Kayhan newspaper, it’s being widely condemned all across the western world, and support for Rushdie -and thus for free speech- is just as prevalent.

The fatwa set against Rushdie was a profound moment in history – here we had a country leader, Khomeini, whose face is still plastered all over some buildings in Iran even years after his passing, announcing a death sentence to a foreign citizen over a fictional piece of work deemed to blasphemous to allow him to live. Rushdie decided not to withdraw the book, having decided that such a move would itself be blasphemous to the very idea of free speech.

Rushdie didn’t let a threat sway him, and from the looks of his process to recovery as well as stabilising condition, he won’t let an attempt on his life stop him either. 


By Patryk Krych | © The World Daily 2022 

Source: The Guardian, Press Gazette, Financial Times