Friday, October 10, 2008

Salman Rushdie on Censorship and Critical Thinking

I had the opportunity to hear Salman Rushdie speak twice on Monday at Central Michigan University. I even got to meet and speak with him briefly. It was amazing how what he talked about overlapped with many of the issues that librarians deal with on a regular basis.

Rushdie has had his books protested against and censored. He was even sentenced to death by the Ayatollah Khomeini (who issued a fatwa against him) in 1989 for his book The Satanic Verses. Some perceived his book as an attack on Islam.

As can be imagined, Rushdie is an outspoken critic of censorship. He noted that "being sentenced to death by a fanatical leader who sent people out to kill him" was "bad for his self-esteem." However, he also said he would write this book again and would not back down in the face of censors.

He also talked a great deal about using critical thinking skills when faced with information found online. When a student asked him about reports online that the United States (and not Al-Qaeda) was responsible for the 9/11 attacks he retorted, "This is just horse shit. Use your critical thinking skills, does that make sense? I saw the planes hit the buildings. Al-Qaeda has accepted responsibility for the attack. Did the United States attack Pearl Harbor to declare war on Japan? There are conspiracy theories about that too."

He also spoke against the US government and the responses made (including the Patriot Act) to 9/11.

His talks were very relevant for librarians. If you have a chance, I would encourage you to listen to Salman Rushdie speak.

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