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Twitter Owes Salman Rushdie an Apology

After the attack on Rushdie, will Twitter finally ban the man and the regime who are still calling for his murder?
[additional-authors]
August 13, 2022
Author Salman Rushdie attends the press conference of the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair (Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

Twitter must be the epitome of hypocrisy. It bans The New York Post’s reporting of Hunter Biden’s laptop, or bans columnist Paul Sperry because of his tweet on the FBI’s raid on Mar-a-Lago, but allows Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, leader of the world’s #1 sponsor of terror, to freely use its platform.

Khamenei, you may remember, endorsed Iran’s murderous fatwa against author Salman Rushdie with this tweet:

Now that Hadi Matar, an Iran sympathizer whose now-deleted Facebook page was plastered with pictures of Iranian politicians, has been arrested for stabbing Rushdie about 10 times at a conference in upstate New York, I wonder if Twitter will call an emergency meeting.

I wonder if the higher ups will ask things like: Are we going too far with our selective censorship? If we’re cracking down on speech we dislike here in the U.S., should we crack down harder on Islamist speech that may incite violence? Should we toughen our guidelines?

They might start by simply reading the first line of the fatwa that Khamenei endorsed on Twitter’s platform, calling for the heads of Rushdie and others associated with a book that offended them:

“In the name of Allah… I am informing all brave Muslims of the world that the author of The Satanic Verses, a text written, edited, and published against Islam, the Prophet of Islam, and the Qu’ran, along with all the editors and publishers aware of its contents, are condemned to death.”

It doesn’t matter if only a small percentage of Muslims are triggered by such calls to kill in the name of God. Violence is violence. Whether the incitement comes from an imam or rabbi or priest or white supremacist or anyone else, it is dangerous and unacceptable.

But because Twitter is a private company, it has the right to censor or allow any speech it likes. If it decides that “misinformation” regarding Hunter Biden’s laptop or COVID vaccines or election irregularities are more of a threat to society than the leader of a terror regime, that may be idiotic, but it’s their choice.

Just as Twitter has its rights, however, we have the right to publicly condemn the company for its brazen hypocrisy– for censoring speech that provokes dissenting thought while allowing hate-filled dictators who routinely incite violence against those it hates.

After the attack on Rushdie, will Twitter finally ban the man and the regime who are still calling for his murder? If there was any doubt about the Rushdie attacker’s connection to Iran, VICE reported that Matar had actually been in contact with the US-designated terrorist organization, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), prior to the assault.

And what about Asif Aziz, who tweeted “Don’t worry you are next” to J.K. Rowling after she tweeted her reaction to the attack on Rushdie: “Horrifying news. Feeling very sick right now. Let him be ok.” Does he not deserve to be banned?

Americans who champion fairness and liberty must hold Twitter’s feet to the fire and call out its blatant double standard and lack of transparency regarding what it chooses to censor. If it’s going to censor anything, it ought to at least target the obvious—speech that kills. I’m sure it already tries to do this, but as long as terrorist leaders like Khamenei are allowed on its platform, Twitter’s anti-violence efforts won’t be credible. Just ask Rushdie.

“Last year, Twitter asked for public input on policy for world leaders. I can tell you that it’s past time to drop Khamenei and stop amplifying the violent and antisemitic voices from Iran,” ADL leader Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted after the attack on Rushdie. He added in a subsequent tweet: “Inexcusable that @Twitter continues to amplify Khamenei’s #antisemitism. The Iranian autocrat flagrantly promotes violence & endorses terrorism. What explanation could [Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal] have for not suspending a leader who chronically posts abusive & hateful content?”

Ironically, before he was attacked, Rushdie was scheduled to discuss the United States as a refuge of free expression for writers and other artists. Even more ironically, Twitter, an American company that enjoys the fruits of this refuge, is censoring free speech while enabling those who aim to destroy an author’s very freedom of expression. Maybe Rushdie is getting some consolation from the fact that the attack has spurred sales of his banned book.

Twitter must surely be counting its blessings that Rushdie will survive his horrific ordeal. For now, while it reexamines its overall policy, it should immediately ban those calling for violence against Rushdie and send him flowers and an apology. 

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