The Attempted Murder of Salman Rushdie and the Secret Service of the Imagination

Friday, August 12, 2021

I drove down to San Diego on Thursday morning to deliver the first increment of my literary archives to the Special Collections section of the Geisel Library of the University of California, San Diego. I wish to acknowledge n public my gratitude to Lynda Claassen, whose work as a librarian the past 40 years at UCSD has championed the writing of many poets working in Southern California, including Paul Vangelisti, Dennis Phillips, Mark Salerno, Holly Prado, and Harry Northup. For all of us to have our archives at one institution is an extraordinary confluence.

When I returned home early this afternoon, I should have been able to savor this development in my old age, but instead I found out that Salmon Rushdie had been attacked on Friday morning by a knife-wielding fanatic who is alleged to have sympathies with the Revolutionary Guard in Iran.

I will spare my readers the obvious commentary.

Instead, I will merely share the irony of receiving an email proof copy of an upcoming anthology, “BEAT NOT BEAT, edited by Rich Ferguson. My poem in it is entitled, “Good Work, If You Can Get it.” The poem begins, “I work for the secret service / of the Imagination.” If only I had been on duty…..

I’m afraid that we authors only have our reluctance to appear in public to save us from the perfidy of those who hate the Imagination. Except in my poem, there is, unfortunately, no secret service of the imagination to prevent acts of terrorism that should be prosecuted as intentional assaults on the Republic of Literature. I call on all authors to demand accountability from those ultimately responsible for inspiring this attack on Rushdie. Even as we focus on Rushdie, however, let us continue to remember that an American journalist-in-exile, Jamal Khashoggi, was murdered and dismembered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in October, 2018.

As articles have pointed out, the fatwa issued in 1989 has already had horrific consequences. In 1991, one of Rushdie’s translators, Hitoshi Igarashi was stabbed to death in an unsolved murder, and an Italian translator that same year was also stabbed by an assailant. Toward the end of the last century, the Iranian government claimed that it was retracting the fatwa, but obviously its ideological stench still is capable of agitating a religious fanatic..

I hope I do not have to revise the headline for today’s post by taking out the word “attempted.”

On 2 October 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident, journalist, columnist for The Washington Post, former editor of Al-Watan and former general manager and editor-in-chief of the Al-Arab News Channel, was assassinated by agents of the Saudi government at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

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