Salman Rushdie Weighs In on Death Threats Against Taylor Swift Critic

Comedy Central
Comedy Central

Jon Stewart seemed a bit sheepish when he asked famed author Salman Rushdie, a victim of murder attempts on account of his novel Satanic Verses, to weigh in on Paste’s byline-less Taylor Swift critique this week on The Daily Show, after the site chose to publish their scathing review of the singer’s latest album anonymously due to death threats sent to the writer of their previous Swift critique.

Rushdie was violently attacked and stabbed 15 times in 2022 while giving a lecture in western New York. The acclaimed author was 75 at the time and narrowly escaped with his life. His assailant was motivated by an order for Rushdie’s death by Iran’s leader in the 1980s, who deemed Rushdie’s novel Satanic Verses blasphemous. That assailant later admitted to only reading “a couple pages” of the novel before attacking him.

After experiencing the violence someone can be driven to based even on the smallest tidbit of information, Rushdie seemed to Stewart a good person to ask about our current climate, in which a music critic has to publish their work without their name. As Paste stated at the time, “We care more about the safety of our staff than a name attached to an article.”

“There was a critic—and this is gonna sound like a joke—a critic of Taylor Swift’s new music album, The Tortured Poets Department, they had to remove the critic’s name from the critique because of death threats,” Stewart told Rushdie on The Daily Show Monday night.

“Because he didn’t like the record?” Rushdie asked in disbelief.

“Everybody’s so angry right now, that nobody can listen or talk to anybody else,” he added. “Everybody’s an expert, everybody’s got an opinion, and hostility. The level of anger is crazy right now.”

Rushdie said that though he doesn’t have the “answer to the world’s problems,” he has a few theories about why people seem to be resorting to violence more often over the simplest of disagreements—such as whether Swift’s album was good or bad. “People have always disagreed and people have always said, ‘You can’t say that, you’ve got to say this.’ That’s not new,” he said.

“What’s happened [now] is the temperature has risen,” Rushdie continued. “What’s new is the volume and the heat—so what do we do about taking down the volume and taking down the heat, that’s the question.”

The writer added that the level of violence and anger we’re seeing now has to do with a society in which “we’re all very easily offended,” adding, “People have to stop having such thin skins.”

“What’s more is we also believe that being offended is a sufficient reason for attacking something—but actually, everything offends somebody, always,” Rushdie said, adding that the future under this kind of thinking doesn't look good because, “If you go down that road, then we can’t talk to each other anymore.”

He also gave Stewart an update on how life has been since the attack on his life nearly two years ago. “It did certainly have an impact [on me],” he said. “I actually got my life back really, I’ve been living in New York City for 25 years,” after those initial 80s death threats. “For 23 years it was fine. I was doing everything that writers do, book tours, lectures,” he said, “It was a shock when this thing out of a quarter of a century ago, more than that, 30 years ago, sort of came out of a crowd at me.”

Despite the incident’s impact, Rushdie said, “It’s now been around 20 months [ago], I feel like I’m pretty much back to myself I think.”

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