Salman Rushdie, looking rather austere in the picture captured by his very own web camera. Of course, human emotions being what they are, it might not be a look of austerity but rather a frown of concentration as the British author attempts to capture both his recognisable face and his palm adorned with the legend “SZFE” in felt tip pen at the same time. It’s possible that he managed to scribble the word ‘free’ on his other palm but that we’ll never know: that’s obviously his mouse hand, the one with which he clicked the shutter.
Towards the end of 2020, Rushdie, like many actors and actresses from Britain felt the need to express solidarity with the University of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest.
The story was promoted as a struggle for artistic independence. Obviously patronage doesn’t exist for Hungarian artists. Typically of all things Leftwaffe, the argument was that liberals understand art to a far greater depth than anyone who doesn’t identify as liberal. I kid you not, that’s the idea that they perpetually push down people’s throats. Ignoring that this concept is underpinned by a strange combination of sand and bollocks, let’s look at what happened. The government had long decided that education in Hungary needed to be better-suited to the needs of the employment market. The system of vocational schools was overhauled as it became obvious that plenty of school-leavers were finishing their studies with qualifications which suited neither them nor the employment market they were then thrust into. To a comparable extent, the same could be said of Hungarian universities. Typically some degrees enabled their holders to find employment, others came nowhere near. Qualifications from the University of Theatre and Film Arts fell into the latter category. Graduates from this university may have found employment, but it wasn’t as scriptwriters and directors. In essence, they left with a worthless piece of paper having spent years learning improvisational interpretive dance pieces. Nice, if that’s your thing, but a bit of a luxury for someone on the cusp of starting their own, independent life, surely?
When the government began the reform programme the staff and students of the University of Theatre and Film Arts occupied a campus building and appealed for support. Rushdie and others took the bait that was placed before them and signed a letter which was published in The Financial Times, under the title "Letter: Artists urge Orbán to end Hungary's university culture war"
But Rushdie and the others waded in, convinced that they, as subjects of the British, rather than the Hungarian state, were exclusively poised to recognise worth. Rushdie, back in 2012 spoke of the “outrage industry”, the organisation of actual or imagined hurt into something of use for political factions. Without seemingly noticing it, Rushdie is now doing just that. The FreeSZFE movement has taken a sense of outrage at university reform and has, in the manner of turning a molehill into a mountain, rushed, dewy-eyed to the Internet to appeal to international personages to add tonnage to their featherweight crisis. Not only was the movement organised at double speed, but tellingly, it was christened in English. That surely tells you at whom it was aimed. This was “manufactured outrage”, willingly assisted by foreign personalities, something Rushdie spoke about in 2012, mentioning, in passing, that
“... there is a great deal of publicity and political capital to be gained in claiming that sentiments are hurt”
Exactly Rushdie, and you’re assisting this process. Here’s Rushdie, ostensibly fighting the woke fight, fighting against state oppression, while all the time he’s being duped by those who are using “manufactured outrage” to assist them to “find their identity in their rage”. Quite apart from the fact that Rushdie has fallen victim to a tactic which he was aware of only a few years back, this is a man who, sadly, lacks the credibility to carry the argument forward. Born a Muslim, his book “The Satanic Verses” was deemed to be blasphemous, and a fatwa, an order to kill him, was issued with a reward of £2.2 million (later raised to £3 million). Now, that might appeal to the FreeSZFE crowd, that might provide them with the credibility they so desperately desire, but it’s not that simple. Rushdie went into hiding, and received police protection. Now, I’m not suggesting for a moment that he should have shunned police protection, but let’s not forget that this man, eagerly (if grumpily) stating his solidarity with a rag-tag band of unemployable actors in their fight against the state, was protected by the British state, by Special Branch, over a period of at least 10 years, at a cost to the British taxpayer of £11 million.
Today he lives in a secret location. As far as I can see, he’s indulging in nothing less than intellectual imperialism. He’s a member of the British state’s establishment. He’s aware of the existence of the ‘outrage industry’, but has chosen to ignore that idea where FreeSZFE are concerned.
And Salman Rushdie is no longer Salman Rushdie. Knighted in 2007 for services to literature, he is now Sir Salman Rushdie. He’s no more an anti-state rebel than you or I.
Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie FRSL (Rushdie has been a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature since 1983). A man who knows commercial success, a man who has won the Booker Prize and has been lauded as having written “the best novel of all winners” on two occasions, on the 25th and 40th anniversary of the Booker Prize. He supported the Labour Party in the UK in the 1980s, and the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. He is, in short, a member of the establishment, and yet has gone out of his way to support rebellion against the establishment in a country of which, presumably, he knows nothing.
This is cultural imperialism at its finest. A figure of the British establishment has been recruited by the ‘outrage industry’ that he previously decried. The logic behind this thinking is insulting: obviously in a state such as Hungary, only supporters of the government could be considered to form the ‘outrage industry’. That, after all, is what he’s read about Hungary.
Cultural fucking imperialism, nothing less.
Grumpy Rushdie, no doubt a master of interpretive dance himself, has no place here rushing to express dismay with our state. Knowing nothing of the situation, blinkered to the idea that ‘outrage industry’ can be found across the whole of the political spectrum, Sir Rushdie rushed in to show support, hoodwinked from the very start.
There’s egg on his face, obviously, but it goes both ways:
Salman Rushdie (@SalmanRushdie) September 29, 2012
If the FreeSZFE rebels had known of his love for football, they’d never have let him lend his name. Far too close a resemblance to Orbán.