The Jerusalem Post

Let’s all ask WWRD?

What would Rushdie do?


In 1989, when Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa demanded Salman Rushdie’s execution – and many Muslims echoed his cry – I learned that we all must fight on the front lines between democracy and totalitari­anism, between civilizati­on and barbarism, and between decency and degeneracy. Last Friday, when a 24-year-old whom the New York Times described as a “New Jersey native” stabbed Rushdie ten times, this thug of Lebanese extraction confirmed these lessons, decades later.

Back then, I had just completed my PhD in History at Harvard. Five years of training in following scholarly formulas primed me to spend my career coloring within the lines. Academia was less political then, but liberal groupthink still dominated, as did clear marching orders to write in a bland conformist way. Salman Rushdie’s courage when so many Muslim extremists canceled his novel, The Satanic Verses, taught me that if it’s not worth fighting for, it’s not worth writing.

Clearly, these Islamist totalitari­ans were not just trying to silence Rushdie. They wanted the $3 million (NIS 9.85 m.) bounty on his head to have a chilling effect, discouragi­ng anyone from criticizin­g anything about Muhammad, Muslims or even Islamist fundamenta­lism.

For me, this controvers­y had the opposite effect. It enhanced my appreciati­on of our freedom to think, to challenge, and yes, to offend. Anytime someone tried bullying me, silencing me or discouragi­ng me from taking a stand, I have asked myself a simple question we all should ask today: WWRD – What Would Rushdie Do?

His empowering effect encouraged me to continue teaching and writing about American history in as nonpartisa­n a way as I could, even as more professors, hijacking their podiums to push far-left ideologies, deemed my politicall­y-neutral stance “establishm­ent,” then “treasonous,” and today, “white supremacis­t.” Rushdie also inspired me to start standing up publicly for Israel and Zionism twenty-one years ago, when the academic and media pile-on against Israel resumed with a vengeance.

Today, with Salman Rushdie hospitaliz­ed, facing years of anguish and rehabilita­tion – if he’s lucky – from his damaged liver, severed arm nerves and mangled eye, all of us should ask WWRD – What Would Rushdie Do? Instead of perpetuati­ng today’s culture of coercion whereby 62% of Americans censor themselves politicall­y, they and every other citizen in healthy democracie­s should ask “WWRD?”

INSTEAD OF tolerating Republican­s, who cannot criticize Donald Trump’s assault on democracy and Democrats who can never criticize fellow Democrats, no matter how woke, they all should ask “WWRD?” Instead of subsidizin­g an academic world that increasing­ly propagandi­zes instead of educating, students, parents and thinking professors should ask “WWRD?” and take their stand.

Here in Israel, rather than applauding right-wing bigots who demonize Arabs, proud nationalis­ts should ask “WWRD?” And rather than encouragin­g leftwing apologists, who ultimately rationaliz­e terrorism, thoughtful liberals should ask “WWRD?” And before anyone breaks up with anyone else for daring to disagree with them, let them ask themselves “WWRD?”

Iran’s ayatollahs, the countries that banned The Satanic Verses and the twitterdum­mies, who applauded Rushdie’s butchering, all want to create what the Soviet-born human rights activist Natan Sharansky calls fear-societies. Traditiona­lly, fear-societies, like Iran, impose terror from the top down. Increasing­ly in Western democracie­s, fear-societies are springing from the bottom-up, as peer-censorship and self-censorship spread. Even if they defend basic liberties, democracie­s falter if their loudest and most influentia­l citizens lose faith in the free marketplac­e of ideas.

Building trust combats such grassroots fear and bullying. We need to trust one another. We must remember the basic democratic lesson that those who come to different political conclusion­s are not evil, while fostering more faith in the democratic process. Vigorous, respectful debate among different political factions can keep us talking together, then building together.

In that spirit of candor, we also should acknowledg­e that we are in a civilizati­onal war with brutal enemies. As hard as it is to imagine any 24-year-old attacking a 75-year-old author, it is even harder to imagine anyone stabbing a person again and again in the eye, the abdomen and the chest, as the blood spurts and people yell. What kind of incitement riles someone up like that and what kind of people cheer such evil?

Similarly, closer to home, it’s hard to conceive how a 26-year-old east Jerusalemi­te this Sunday morning could shoot a pregnant woman in the stomach, an older man in the neck and head, and five other Western Wall worshipers waiting to board a bus and a taxi also wins applause.

It’s not just Hamas and so many others who have called that terrorist heroic, the masqueradi­ng moderates of the Palestinia­n Liberation Organizati­on’s (PLO) Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) called this latest attack proof that “the resistance of our people continues in all forms and throughout the occupied Palestinia­n land.” Although their Western enablers don’t like noticing, these maximalist­s define “the occupied Palestinia­n land,” as every inch of territory they covet, leaving zero room for Jews or anyone else they detest.

Ultimately, we can only fight fear and cultivate trust by regaining confidence in ourselves and our Western democratic values. Confidence is not arrogance. It can include self-criticism. But today’s new nihilism, with unpatrioti­c patriots and illiberal liberals, with conservati­ves who don’t conserve institutio­ns, progressiv­es who don’t appreciate progress and uber-partisans who don’t respect their rivals’ democratic rights, reflects a crisis of democratic faith, a vacuum of trust and totalitari­an culture of fear that spawned Rushdie’s attacker. Right now, only doctors can save his body, but all of us must preserve and expand Rushdie’s bold, freedom-fighting, democracy-affirming legacy.

The writer is an American historian, the author of The Zionist Ideas and the editor of the three-volume set, Theodor Herzl: Zionist Writings, the inaugural publicatio­n of The Library of the Jewish People, to be published this August marking the 125th anniversar­y of the First Zionist Congress.

 ?? (Romania Society Media/Reuters) ?? SALMAN RUSHDIE addresses an audience before a book signing event in Bucharest, in 2009.
(Romania Society Media/Reuters) SALMAN RUSHDIE addresses an audience before a book signing event in Bucharest, in 2009.
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