Home » Ai Weiwei: “Rushdie has always fought. The attack shows that the West must defend its freedom”

Ai Weiwei: “Rushdie has always fought. The attack shows that the West must defend its freedom”

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Ai Weiwei: “Rushdie has always fought. The attack shows that the West must defend its freedom”

LONDON. Eleven years ago, Salman Rushdie published a worldwide appeal – even on the pages of Republic – for the release of Ai Weiwei, who has just been arrested by the Beijing regime for his ideas. “That was our first contact,” he says now to Republic the 63-year-old Chinese dissident artist now moved to Cambridge, “and yet another confirmation: Salman has always been the leader of freedom of expression in the world. This is why I hope for everyone that he will continue to live ”.

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I imagine the shock and horror, Ai, hearing the news. After one day, what do you feel?

“We are a very open society, unfortunately also to violence. Brutal acts like these remind us how vital freedom of expression is and how brave people like Rushdie, who constantly pursue truth and free expression of ideas, risk every day. I hope this tragic episode reminds us all of how hard the struggle is to constantly defend our rights ”.

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Can such episodes of violence instill even more fear in free and rebellious citizens and intellectuals, like yourself?

“No. Indeed, personally they give me even more courage. Because they expand our struggle to the rest of society, which often in cases like this understands how precious freedom of expression is and how much positive force the ideas of a writer or an artist can have. That these killers resort to violence is another sign of their terrible weakness ”.

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Do you personally fear that one day it might happen to you too? Or to her family?

“The danger is always there, because freedom of expression and thought are too precious a commodity, and therefore continuously exposed. However, even after dramatic events like the one that happened to Salman, I no longer feel weak or vulnerable. A single life may be fragile, but in this case it is part of a larger humanity to defend. And then no one will ever be able to kill the ideas inside you ”.

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Initially, the uproar that caused Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” angered the British establishment. Do you believe that the West is in a new phase of self-censorship today?

“It is an extremely delicate moment. Because now there are several issues that can no longer be discussed, and some ideas must dominate over others. All this is very dangerous for me. It seems to me another “cultural revolution” (the Chinese one, ed) “.

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What do you mean specifically?

“If the West proves that it is unable to protect its freedom of expression, even when it may be controversial, it not only divides its society even more but tragically offers its side to extremists and the standard bearers of physical violence that lurk in them. . For this, it is essential to be adamant on freedom of expression, on the part of a Western state or government ”.

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Are you afraid of the phenomenon of “cancel culture”, ie removing passages and episodes of your own history and culture if controversial or offensive?

“It is the demonstration of how much intellectual thought has been devastated in recent decades in the West, especially by politics. It is a struggle for power, not for ideology. Education, since high school, has become self-complacent and tries less and less to confront, or even intellectually clash with, the other, or an uncomfortable aspect of a topic. Thus society and citizens are less and less stimulated to have critical thinking and debate. It seems to me a very weak generation from an intellectual point of view. As a result, culture has put the reverse in the West ”.

But are ideas even stronger than actions?

“There is no way to stop the violence, there has never been. But there is a way to prevent it by demonstrating that you fully embrace freedom of expression, which unfortunately does not always happen, and this is disturbing. Also because this makes the free thinker a victim even before this becomes the target of the extremists ”.

Will freedom win in the end?

“Freedom is not something abstract, or finite. Freedom is a constant battle, which continually crosses generations and which values ​​humanity. Salman is one of those who has always taken it upon himself to fight. But we cannot be alone in the battle ”.

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