Two years ago Salman Rushdie joined prominent cultural figures signing an open letter decrying an increasingly “intolerant climate” and warning that the “free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted.” It was a declaration of principles Mr. Rushdie had embodied since 1989, when a fatwa by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, calling for his murder, made him a reluctant symbol of free speech.
The letter, published by Harper’s Magazine in June 2020 after racial justice protests swept the United States, drew a backlash, with some denouncing it as a reactionary display of thin-skinnedness and privilege — signed, as one critic put it, by “rich fools.”
The reaction dismayed Mr. Rushdie, but didn’t surprise him. “Put it like this: the kinds of people who stood up for me in the bad years might not do so now,” he told The Guardian in 2021. “The idea that being offended is a valid critique has gained a lot of traction.”