Salman Rushdie and The Freedom Of Expression

 On Velentine’s Day of 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie for his controversial work, the Satanic Verses.


If Salman Rushdi hadn’t bought a defective alarm clock, we would have never met.

On the flight 694 from London to Shanghai, Mr. Hope, my right-seat neighbor couldn’t stop talking about his longtime wish of visiting the Great Wall. “This is the longest wall ever,” he said. “And the oldest too,” I replied, while the man on my left snored and elbowed me one more time. Since the beginning of the flight, he’d been fidgety in his sleep, as if he was having a long nightmare.

Mr. Hope glanced at him. “He looks familiar,” he said.

I turned toward my sleeping neighbor. His balding head, his angular brows and his satanic face reminded me of someone, for sure. But it was his small wings that gave away his identity. “It’s an angel,” I declared.

The man opened his eyes, and glanced at us. “No, it’s Jean Paul Gaultier,” he whispered. “He designed this suit just for me. Do you know who I am? My name is…”

The sound of the pilot announcing the plane’s position and altitude covered the man’s last words. “We are flying over Iran, at 22,000 feet altitude, passing by the Lut desert.”

The man’s eyes grew wide. “Iran?” he asked, sitting up and wiping the window with the back of his Gaultier sleeve. “My flight was supposed to go to China without passing over Iran.”

That was the early morning flight, I thought.

“This one has a stop in Bombay,” Mr.Hope said.

Our left neighbor looked back at us with a horrified stare on his face. “Oh no! That damn alarm didn’t go off on time,” he said, before lifting his blue blanket up to his chin and turning his back to us, curling in his seat. His mouth smelled like alcohol and hunger.

Half an hour later.

The thunder broke, followed by a series of lightning. Everyone stirred in their seats, glancing out, but the sky was sunny, as if we were passing through the Bermuda triangle in the Twilight Zone. But why should we worry? The modern technology was going to keep us safe, so we calmed down and focused on the good snack we were going to eat soon.

The buzz of the pilot’s microphone and his short breathing stopped the hostesses in their task of distributing cookies. “Ladies and Gentlemen, Attention, Attention,” the Captain said. “We just received a communication from the Iranian Air Force.” The whole plane withheld its breath, and I just remembered where I had seen my left neighbor before. “No way! It can’t be him,” I thought, and this was how I missed parts of the Captain’s speech.

“Now we have to choose between dropping Mr. Rushdie to the Iranian’s authorities, or let them attack our plane,” the pilot said.

People went crazy. “Where the hell is this damned writer?” they screamed.

The man on our left was shivering like autumn leaves. It didn’t take too long for the rest of the plane to recognize him. “Drop him. We don’t want him in this plane,” a few shouted.

“Please calm down people,” a woman screamed from the back row. “Are you out of your mind? How about this man’s freedom of speech? He has the right to say and to write whatever he wants.”

“But his freedom of speech is going to kill us,” I yelled back.

Salman Rushdie shook his head. “It’s all a big misunderstanding,” he said, sinking in his seat. “You should blame the critics, or the dead Mullah who didn’t know how to interpret my protagonist’s message.”

“Who cares about the freedom of speech?” Mr.Hope said. “We just want to live.”

The Captain pushed away everyone and reached our row. “Let democracy decide,” he said. “We vote.”

Everyone agreed that the plane’s pilot had a right to tell us what to do.

“Are they going to give us the $25,000,000 too?” someone asked and it truly helped us to decide faster.

We voted and I have to say that the poor man fought pretty hard and hung to his chair for at least thirty second. The Captain ordered us to lock our seat-belts before pushing the lever down. He opened the exit door and forced the author of the Satanic Verses out. The air sucked our eyeglasses, papers, cookies, babies’ bottles and a man’s wig out, while Mr. Rushdie left us flying and falling, like a dead bird, in his Jean Paul Gaultier suit.

The mysterious lady began crying. “You bastards,” she said. “All this talk about freedom…just bullshit. We’re doomed.”

All of a sudden a loud explosion shook the plane. A woman’s hair caught fire and the middle rows disappeared with all its screaming voyagers. Was it the lightning or a bomb? The plane broke in two pieces and our seat belts didn’t help us anymore.

While falling down, we passed by Rushdie who – strangely – kept a lower speed toward his tragic death. “Don’t mess with writers,” he shouted at us from above, his small wings hiding his face. “Writers don’t die easily.”

     Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to analyze the deep meaning of what he was trying to convey.


About lifeacrossthesun

Writer/ 2011 PEN USA Emerging Voices fellow
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