"Nobody has the right to not be offended. That right doesn't exist in any declaration I have ever read. If you are offended it is your problem, and frankly lots of things offend lots of people.
"I can walk into a bookshop and point out a number of books that I find very unattractive in what they say. But it doesn't occur to me to burn the bookshop down. If you don't like a book, read another book. If you start reading a book and you decide you don't like it, nobody is telling you to finish it.
"To read a 600-page novel and then say that it has deeply offended you: well, you have done a lot of work to be offended," Sir Salman says.
Warning: this will be super long.
And nobody has a right to tell me whether or not I should or shouldn't be offended . Perhaps I was't offended until midway through, or perhaps I was only offended in retrospect when I thought about the book. (I'm pretty sure Rushdie wouldn't say not to think about a book.) Perhaps I read the book suspecting or knowing I would be offended, but to get a different point of view.
There are certain things that I believe that being offended does not give you a right to do: to harm, or threaten, someone, or even to destroy property belonging to another. (I've seen people so angry at the recent Captain America's that they burned it, videotaped it, and posted it online. They bought it, and they have a right to do what they like with their own property. They bought it in good faith, believing it would stay true to the character rather than pissing all over him like it did, so I actually understand their frustration and empathize with it.)
Not only that, by basically saying 'put down whatever offends you,' you argue that as soon as you're offended, put a book down. You could find that by the end, you aren't offended and learned something about a different point of view. Or not.
However, shutting down all criticism of something that offends someone smacks of at least as much censorship as trying to ban books you don't like. (For the record, I find Mein Kampf to be one of the most hideous books ever based solely on its author; I do not recommend censorship of it, although I've spoken out about how uneasy this book being published makes me. I understand the slippery slope that banning one book is, and I understand other inherent problems such as those who are offended by the book but read it to learn about history not being able to legally obtain the book if it is truly censored.) I'm not saying that Rushdie has said this himself; he implies that it's awful to do but doesn't come right out and say don't do it.
My problem is with others who are simplifying a lot about this quote. They believe that offense translates directly to censorship, as if as soon as anyone reads one scene they don't like, they turn into frothing, raving madmen who demand the books be taken off shelves, burned, and no one ever read it ever. Look, I'm kinda offended by dinosaur porn. I also love it so much because even the shitastic grammar - another layer of offense - amuses the fuck out of me. I certainly don't want it to go away! I'm more offended by Mein Kampf, and I don't burn it, don't make a fuss about it being in the stores - most times, but here it is to make a point - or refuse to find it for those who ask. People can be both offended and rational, rather than rabid little monsters. Or fascists.
Furthermore, offense can be the grease that turns the wheel. Offense can turn into positive action. Remember that really awful book that implied that Jews who were killed in the Holocaust were killed because they weren't Christian? Remember the healing power of Jesus, or the Jewish woman who fell in love with her captor in a camp? Yeah. That book. The conversion to Christianity really was the cherry on top. And yet it was up for an award. There was a lot of conversation about how antisemitic that book was, and if anything good can be taken out of that, it's that the book brought the continuing issue of antisemitism to light. Which wouldn't have happened, by the way, if people hadn't read the book and brought it up because they were offended.
I'm not going to lie and say I wasn't relieved when that book didn't win the award it was up for. And guess what happened:
The RWA’s board of directors said in a statement that it had received a “great deal of heartfelt and moving feedback” about some of this year’s finalists, but that “discussions about content restrictions inevitably lead to concerns about censorship”.
“Censoring entry content is not something the board supports. If a book is banned from the contest because of its content, there will be a move for more content to be banned. This is true, even especially true, when a book addresses subjects that are difficult, complex, or offensive,” said the organisation, which has now opened a forum for members to discuss their concerns online. “This is not a perfect solution, but we believe open dialogue, not the censorship of content, is the right way to handle the issues expressed.”
That's right. The book wasn't censored. Nor did the RWA apologize for its inclusion in an anti-censorship statement. I'm not sure how I feel about the forum: either the RWA doesn't mean what it said about censorship and will allow public opinion to sway the awards or else it feels like screaming into a void that will ignore me. At least they're trying to acknowledge that people were offended, and that makes me hold them in high esteem. It doesn't seem to be as passively-aggressively stated as Rushdie's statement either, where he seems to be concerned about anti-censorship but really takes a crack at critics who finish books - and are, oh, no, offended by them! (I'm going to cut him some slack; he was threatened, his life was in danger, and I can understand why he might lash out or lump critics who are offended as violent maniacs. It still drives me up the wall that people who haven't experienced this smugly use this as 'well, anti-censorship so stop reading if it offends you!' Especially when those same people criticize books that they finish or even start, because by their logic just shut up about it or you're in danger of censoring something I guess?)
The concept of not censoring or becoming violent when considering books I can get on board with. The concept of policing what people read and how they react to it is just as offensive to me.
And by the way, I will not judge someone for reading and even enjoying a book I hated. Or for being offended or hating books I love. There are certain exceptions, of course: if someone reads and enjoys something overtly racist and/or and makes it clear that it's because they have white supremacists leanings and/or are a misogynist and thus agree with the book because of that, then I will have squicky feelings and unfired them. It's all on a case-by-case basis, through, both on the boo and on the reaction to it. So far, I've been lucky enough not to have to drop anyone due to this.
I just wanted to point out that this quote does a lot of generalizing and when you generalize, a lot is simplified.