Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recently appeared in a BBC lecture on freedom of speech, and talked about the “epidemic of self-censorship". Best known for her novels, Half Of A Yellow Sun and Americanah, the author was speaking in the first of the four annual Reith Lectures for Radio 4. She mentioned that young people are now “afraid to ask questions for fear of asking the wrong questions."
Adichie said, “No human endeavour requires freedom as much as creativity does." She continued that Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel The Satanic Verses would “probably not" be published today, due to this on-going struggle with self-censorship.
Back in 2012, even Salman Rushdie had mentioned it himself. The fourth novel of the author led to him receiving death threats from Iran in the 1980s. The novel was considered blasphemous by some.
Salman Rushdie was attacked on stage at a literary event, earlier this year. He suffered a damaged liver, severed nerves in an arm and an eye.
Talking about the controversial novel, Adichie questioned, “Would Rushdie’s novel be published today? Probably not. Would it even be written? Possibly not." According to her, literature was now increasingly being viewed “through ideological rather than artistic lenses".
She also mentioned that this is best demonstrated in the phenomenon of “sensitivity readers” in the world of publishing. People now erase potentially offensive words to cleanse unpublished manuscripts. To her, this is an undoing of the very idea of literature. She maintained that it seems people do not speak up out of fear of being criticised or becoming the next target of the ongoing “cancel culture”.
Adichie said that there is a difference between valid criticism and ugly backlash. While the former should be part of free expression, the latter is personal insults. If anyone thinks someone deserves the backlash, the author says they are wrong. This not only aims to silence the person who has spoken, but also creates an atmosphere that deters others from speaking.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Rowan Williams, author and musician Darren McGarvey, and Dr Fiona Hill, former White House adviser to the President on Russia, are also set to deliver lectures inspired by Franklin D Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, during the other Reith Lectures. This covers freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
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