First interview with Peace Prize winner Salman Rushdie

Rushdie: "Literature can spread the taste of freedom"

19. Juni 2023
von Michael Roesler-Graichen

Salman Rushdie, the passionate fighter for freedom of thought and literature, will be honored with the 2023 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. A first interview with the writer on his 76th birthday.

Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie

What does the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade mean to you? Are you happy to receive it?
This is one of the most important awards in the world of books and it’s a great honor to have my name placed alongside the extraordinary previous winners. Of course, I’m delighted.

And are you satisfied that this prize honors not only your literary work, but also your person and your commitment to a world at peace and mutual understanding?
I have spent fifty years trying to create the best work I’m able to make, so I hope the prize will draw attention to that work.  Mine is the life of an artist and that is how I hope the jury saw it also.  As a citizen, I am committed to the ideals you mention, especially at a moment when both peace and understanding seem to be distant dreams.

As a citizen, I am committed to peace and understanding, especially at a moment when these ideals seem to be distant dreams.

Salman Rushdie

In your life and in your writing career, you have always championed freedom of expression. Are you confident that the free word, especially in literature and the press, will withstand the temptation of authoritarian propaganda, illiberal tendencies in democratic societies and manipulation by artificial intelligence?
Nobody should be confident in the face of the attacks and dangers you mention. But that only makes the struggle more important.

33 years after the fatwa death sentence, you became the target of a knife attack with serious injuries in August 2022. Have you found a way to process this traumatic experience - including in your literary work?
I am writing a (nonfiction) book in response to what happened last August. The work is going well – so the answer to your question is, yes.

“Words are the only victors”. This is the last sentence in your latest book "Victory City". Literature cannot overcome political or military catastrophes - but can it spread the taste of freedom among people who have missed out on a free life so far?
Yes I believe it can. And as writers we can offer counter-narratives to the dishonest ones being spread by many unscrupulous elements.

As writers, we can offer counter-narratives to the dishonest narratives spread by many unscrupulous elements.

Salman Rushdie

You are a harsh critic of religion because of its totalitarian potential. Do you believe that a peaceful practice of religion is possible? Does this require a religion that focuses solely on the individual and not on society? Or is that just wishful thinking?
I have no problem with the private practice of religion. I believe we all should have a problem with the politicized versions of religion that are a feature of the present moment - versions which (literally) weaponize faith.