Here’s a thought: did any of those who were outraged by the 1989 fatwa on Salman Rushdie object to the 1976 ban on Sinn Féin appearing on radio or TV in the south of Ireland? Or to the 1988 ban on republican voices on British radio or television by Tory Home Secretary Douglas Hurd? Because the fatwa on Rushdie was aimed at dissuading the expression of views contrary to the Muslim thinking of Ayatollah Khomeini, and the bans on Sinn Féin were aimed at dissuading the expression of views contrary to Irish and British governments.
I think I’ll go out on a limb here and say not one of the Rushdie supporters uttered a squeak at the silencing of republicans in Ireland.
You may retort that in Ireland the silencing was a political matter, whereas in Britain and world-wide, Rushdie was pronounced a marked man. Since he was attacked on-stage last week, there has been an outpouring of sympathy for him and commendation of his courage at writing what he believed, even when it clashed with the views of others, and as we see, clashed dangerously.
Maybe Rushdie’s many sympathisers hadn’t heard about the broadcasting ban(s) in Ireland. Or maybe they reserved their sympathy for Rushdie on the grounds that his life was threatened for expressing his views. Or maybe they hadn’t heard of Eddie Fullerton, or other Sinn Féin councillors who were attacked and in some cases killed for holding the political views they did. Or maybe they’d never heard the names of Pat Finucane or Rosemary Nelson, solicitors who were killed because they defended in court – among others – republicans. And I expect they knew nothing of the dozens of cases where Catholics were killed by the Glenanne gang, simply because they were Catholics.
It’s a fair bet Rushdie supporters missed out on all those killings in Ireland because of the way British media presented the Troubles, where often the victims were to blame rather than the perpetrators.
Salman Rushdie is courageous and, I’m told, a gifted writer. But does having a writing talent mean your life is more precious than anyone else’s? The truth is, a long time ago the British people gave up on the Irish – a slightly mad lot who killed each other, tit for tat, because they went to different churches.
It’s good to see the sympathy that’s been attracted to Rushdie – he deserves it and has shown great courage for many years. But don’t expect anything like the same interest in, let alone sympathy for those killed on this side of the Irish Sea, simply for holding republican views. Or in the case of Sean Brown, for daring to look after a GAA club.