Gavin Mortimer Gavin Mortimer

France’s support of Rushdie puts Britain to shame

Why won't politicians confront the barbarism of extremism?

(Photo by Hannelore Foerster/Getty Images)

If any further evidence was needed of the moral cowardice of the British political class it has been provided in the wake of the appalling attack on Salman Rushdie at the Chautauqua Institution.

There were of course messages condemning the atrocity in New York, although notably it took Sir Keir Starmer and Sir Ed Davey the best part of 24 hours to find the time to react. One might have expected the leaders of two of the three main political parties in Britain to consider such a sinister assault on Western values worthy of immediate comment.

From Mark Drakeford, the first Minister of Wales, and Nicola Sturgeon there has been only silence, although Scotland’s leader did tweet a photo of herself with Basil Brush on Saturday afternoon. She also retweeted a news article that said simply ‘Please let him ok.’

Boris Johnson reacted promptly to the news, saying he was ‘appalled that Sir Salman Rushdie has been stabbed while exercising a right we should never cease to defend’. But the Prime Minister didn’t elaborate on what the right was, nor why Rushdie’s defence of it resulted in his being stabbed multiple times.

The two people vying to replace Johnson as PM, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, were also trite in their response to the attack, as were Priti Patel, the Home Secretary and Nadine Dorris. ‘Horrifying,’ tweeted the Culture Secretary. ‘An awful attack on a literary giant and one of the great defenders of freedom of expression.’

Yes, but against whom was Rushdie defending the freedom of expression? This was a question no British politician has been courageous enough to answer. Contrast their pusillanimity with the unambiguous response of French politicians.

France is well used to such barbaric assaults on the freedom of expression, having experienced in recent years the slaughter of the staff of Charlie Hebdo, and the savage murder of Samuel Paty, the schoolteacher slain on a suburban street two years ago.

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