Salman Rushdie's memoirs look like they might be fun if only for his apparently inexhaustible capacity for grudge-jeeping keeping, but I cannot associate myself with this thesis:
Whether the battle over The Satanic Verses has ended “in victory or defeat” is, Rushdie writes, “hard to say.” Rushdie survived the fatwa,The Satanic Verses continues to be published. And yet, “a climate of fear” has developed that makes it “harder for books like his to be published, or even, perhaps, to be written.” There has developed over the past two decades a much stronger sense that it is morally unacceptable to give offence to other cultures or faiths. The campaigners against The Satanic Verses lost the battle but they have won the war. The fatwa has, in the West, effectively become internalized.
Leaving aside the obvious rhetorical warning signs here - starting the argument in the passive voice to make an assertion seem like an actual atate of affairs and ending it with an unfalsifiable claim - this is nonsense on the facts. When Rushdie was threatened with murder the response was incredibly grudging. You had Cabinet ministers like Geoffrey Howe and Norman Tebbit going to the media to distance themselves from the disagreeable necessity of protecting a British citizen – a respected author at that - who had no idea at all that his book would produce threats to kill him. These days, any bottom feeder can produce ‘speech’ with no other aim in mind than baiting Muslims, succeed in so doing with the help of sundry angry beards pleased with the opportunity to break stuff and derail US foreign policy, and have his right to do so publicly guaranteed by the President and the Secretary of State. This would indicate that the right to give offence is alive and thriving.
Or maybe not. But that’s nothing to do with any fatwas,'internalised' or not, or Rushdie for that matter. Starmer’s legal power grab here is based precisely on the fact that there’s more potentially offensive speech around these days.