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I have seen dictators rise and fall; America, don't believe that it can't happen here: Salman Rushdie

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on June 05, 2020 Published on June 05, 2020

British Indian novelist Salman Rushdie. File Photo   -  Reuters

In the wake of massive protests across the United States over George Floyd’s killing by the Minneapolis police, Indian-origin British novelist Salman Rushdie remembered how revolutions in the past had changed the world’s dynamics, and eventually led to the fall of tyrant leaders.

He wrote: In my life, I have seen several dictators rise and fall. Today, I'm remembering those earlier incarnations of this unlovely breed.

Citing examples of India and Pakistan, he wrote: “In India in 1975, Indira Gandhi, found guilty of electoral malpractice, declared a state of emergency that granted her despotic powers. The "emergency," as it became known, ended only when she called an election, believing she would win, and was annihilated at the polls. Her arrogance was her downfall. This cautionary tale formed a part of my novel Midnight's Children.

“In Pakistan in 1977, Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq staged a coup against Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and executed him in 1979. This dark story was the inspiration for my novel Shame. The circumstances of my life have given me some understanding of the dictatorial cast of mind,” he added.

The writer also quoted events unravelling in the present that could bring far-fetched changes in the future. He wrote: “Extreme narcissism, detachment from reality, a fondness for sycophants and a distrust of truth-tellers, an obsession with how one is publicly portrayed, a hatred of journalists and the temperament of an out-of-control bulldozer: These are some of the characteristics.”

Rushdie also criticised US President Donald Trump and called him a tinpot despot. He added: Trump is, temperamentally, a tinpot despot of this type. But he finds himself in charge of a country that has historically thought of itself - by no means always correctly - as being on the side of liberty. So far, with the collusion of the Republican Party, he has ruled more or less unchecked. Now an election looms, and he is unpopular and flails about looking for a winning strategy. And if that means trampling over American freedoms, then so be it.”

Reminiscing his 20 years in America, the writer stated: “I have lived in the United States for 20 years and been a citizen for the past four. One of the most important reasons for becoming a citizen was my admiration for the ideas of freedom embodied in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Trump, whose regard for the Second Amendment is well known, needs reminding of the First, which, if I may help, states in part that "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

He also mentioned that the US President failed to contain the coronavirus crisis in the US that made it the most-affected region in the world. However, Trump knows how to glamourize his image in front of the camera.

Adding on Trump’s failures, he wrote: “This man who, before he got his present job, was almost never seen inside a house of worship, then holds up a Bible outside a church to demonstrate his piety, and if the bishop of the diocese denounces him soon after, accusing him of misusing the church in the service of "a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus," what of it? Once again, he has the pictures, and they speak louder.”

“We are so inured to the behavior of this man, so used to his lies, his inexhaustible self-regard, his stupidity, that maybe we are tempted to think of this as just another day in Trumpistan. But this time, something different is happening. The uprising that began with the killing of George Floyd is not fizzling but growing. The man in the White House is scared, and even, for a time, takes refuge in the basement and turns out the lights. What is such a person to do at such a time?” he added rhetorically.

Rushdie further mentioned the systemic racism still entrenched in the US and said: “If he (Trump) is allowed to use the actions of a tiny minority of criminals and white extremist infiltrators to invalidate the honorable protest of the vast majority against the murder of Floyd, the violence of the police toward the black community and the entrenched power of American racism, he will be on his way to despotism. He has threatened to use the Army against American citizens, a threat one might have expected from a leader of the former Soviet Union, but not of the United States.”

“In my most recent novel, Quichotte, I characterized the present moment as the ‘Age of Anything-Can-Happen.’ Today I say, beware, America. Don't believe that it can't happen here,” he concluded.

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Published on June 05, 2020
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