Adnan Sarwar writes a rather remarkable apology to Salman Rushdie, whose death he once demanded as an 11-year old Muslim back in 1989. He now regrets having blindly followed his religious leaders and says that it has taken far too long for someone to apologize, which he did when he attended a talk given by the author.
He wasn’t just a name to shout, he wasn’t “Salman Rushdie,” “Rushdie,” “Devil,” “Shaythan,” wasn’t just some lone writer. There was a family here, a wife, a son, people he cared about, people who cared about him and went cold inside as I marched streets. Why was I allowed to? Somebody should have stopped us, but the blame’s not theirs, whoever they are — the police, the government, the public — it’s ours. We made it ours when we put on our chappals that day and decided to use our hours to shout for death. The Imams we followed should have stopped us, but it was them we were following. They were at the front of the march with the megaphones leading the children and back here men taking their chappals off their feet and waving them in the air. But then what do eleven-year-old boys know? Not much. They can be led by old men who should know better. But then what do old men know if they never read and just follow orders of other men? They knew nothing, but this was nothing new. Men have been led by men forever. Men who follow rules will be ruled. They’ll be led, be bled, and time’s wheel will turn on after they’ve gone. There was nothing new they could show me.
A Muslim who was higher up than other Muslims, though everybody was equal, said it was bad, so all the Muslims who were equal to him and should have made their own judgments followed his, because his was more equal than theirs was, and the mosques which were there for guidance guided them down streets in English towns, and so eleven-year-old boys like me shouted “Kill Him!” It was only after reading that I saw. A man writes a book, not to make the world cleave open but to write, because that’s what he is — a writer. Some people are born to write; it comes to some. And what a majesty to find the thing that you can do and want to do and that will give you enough to make it through until you’re through. So he writes this book with as much love and effort as a human can have at the point of where he is: he’s more than yesterday, less than tomorrow, but in today, in this day he gives his all. He writes the first draft and then, no, it’s not good enough, tears it up. It’s rubbish, he thinks, I am and have nothing. Later he rescues it from the bin. Right, nobody will read this but I’ll write it. I’ll write it because of all those who’ve gone before me who had to write. I’m one of those in the middle, and there will be others who will come after me who will write because I did. Wouldn’t that be a dream?…
David says to Salman that there were people who hated you and wanted you dead. My shame here is complete. What was this thing we did? And why haven’t we said sorry? Do we still believe it was the right thing to do? Or are we just ashamed? Do the right thing. I want to tell him I’m sorry. Not to absolve myself of the crime or to separate myself from the march — no it was me, so lay that at my door forever, but I just want to say sorry, don’t want anything back, just want you, Salman, just want you to know that here’s at least one of those idiots and he’s sitting here listening to you with a dry mouth wishing you just knew that he didn’t mean it, that you’re not evil, that your words are beautiful, that, that you were right and I, we, were wrong, we were wrong and you were right, I just want you to know that, maybe it’ll help you rest, maybe it will do nothing after all these years after which the bark must have grown thick and our words scraped into it do nothing to you, because you grew through it anyway. But we did wrong you, didn’t we? Back in 1989. I remember it like clear cold water. David, why did you have to say it? Why did you say there were people who wanted Salman dead? I can feel my shame….
I’ve got the book in my hand and raise it and say I protested against the book in 1989. His sister, his sons, now two of them, Zafar and Milan, and friends are seated on the front row. There’s no panic. People must know I’m no threat, my voice gives me away. I confess I was ignorant. I say I’ve read the book and it spoke to me and that’s why I have to stand here today. I have no questions for him, I have an apology — I tell him I’m sorry. And sit down. Anything could happen. There’s a space here, the bit before something happens and anything could. There’s no immediate connection just because we’re both brown. That doesn’t make us close. He’s not my brother. He’s the posh kid who went to Cambridge and won the Booker; I’m the poor kid who joined the army and got a medal. He’s the man who wrote a book that was fiction but true; I’m the boy who said to kill him but my words were a fiction. He’s the one sat on the stage being listened to by five hundred people; I’m down here in the seats looking up saying sorry — we are worlds apart. All I’ve done is said sorry, but it feels like I’m going to fly.
He ended up getting Rushdie’s autograph in his copy of The Satanic Verses. And the world today is just a tiny bit more hopeful now.