British-Indian author Salman Rushdie reiterated his concern over the dangers that Mexican journalists face during his appearance at the Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL) this week.
The author of the polemic novel The Satanic Verses, Rushdie was one of the most high profile speakers from the United Kingdom, this year’s special guest country, at the FIL, the world’s second largest literature festival.
Speaking in a packed auditorium at the Expo Guadalajara convention center on Sunday, Rushdie expressed concern over the number of disappearances, threats and attacks against Mexican journalists.
In a speech that also addressed recent atrocities committed by ISIS and Donald Trump’s “completely stupid and inexplicable” behavior, Rushdie reflected, “there’s a battle between right and wrong, tyranny and liberty, intolerance and respect … a battle that’s been fought throughout the history of humanity.”
Concern for journalists in Veracruz
Rushdie, who himself has been the target of numerous death threats and assassination attempts by Islamic extremists, said he became aware of the dangers facing Mexican journalists after attending the Hay Festival in Xalapa in the eastern state of Veracruz last year.
Veracruz is the most dangerous place for journalists in Mexico. Just last month the missing photographer Juan Carlos Landa Domínguez was found dead beneath a bridge in Córdoba, Veracruz, with his body showing signs of torture.
He was the 17th journalist who had worked in Veracruz to be murdered since the state governor, Javier Duarte, took office in December 2010.
In August, Rushdie was among 500 famous writers, journalists and artists from around the world to sign a letter to President Enrique Peña Nieto, calling on him to stop the violence against Mexican journalists.
The letter was penned partly in response to the killing of Rubén Espinosa, another photojournalist who was brutally murdered alongside four women at an apartment in Mexico City shortly after fleeing Veracruz.
Rushdie himself was the subject of a fatwā calling for his assassination issued by the Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 in response to the publication of the Satanic Verses, a magic realism novel that outraged many followers of Islam.
Having been placed on an Al-Qaeda hit list and survived several assassination plots, Rushdie told the audience in Guadalajara that “without doubt these things that we go through affect us as writers, but I’m not interested in reflecting that in my literature. That’s what journalism is for.”
Rushdie’s love of Latin American literature
Rushdie, who is currently promoting his latest novel, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, told the crowd at the FIL that he first visited Guadalajara 20 years ago, when he tried tequila for the first time with his friend Carlos Fuentes, the great Mexican writer who died in 2012.
Rushdie’s magic realism style shares some similarities with that of Latin American authors like Gabriel García Márquez ,but he revealed that rather than taking it as a direct influence he felt he could identify with literature from the region because it reminded him of what it was like growing up in India.
Given that both regions were heavily influenced by colonialism and religion, Rushdie said “the first time I arrived in Mexico I felt that it was a familiar place apart from the fact that everything was in Spanish.”
“The first time that I came to Latin America it was to write about a war in Nicaragua in 1986. I went to Nicaragua and I felt that it was exactly like what I had read in magic realism,” Rushdie added. “It’s a not a question of influences, but of recognition. That’s why I like Latin American literature so much.”