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Culture

"A Great Day for Orhan, But We Have to Go on Pushing"

On a book tour in Germany promoting his latest novel "Shalimar the Clown," acclaimed writer Salman Rushdie talked to DW-WORLD about his Kashmiri origins, ignored conflicts and the triumph for freedom of speech in Turkey.

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Literary heavyweight Salman Rushdie

DW-WORLD: What was your impetus to write a book about Kashmir ?

Salman Rushdie: It's a place that has had a big impact on me all my life. It's where my family is from. One of the reasons I am light skinned is that I am Kashmiri. And Kashmiris are somewhat ethnically different than other even North Indians. It's true that Kashmiris are very distinct in India. As a result if you come from a Kashmiri background it's an important aspect of your identity because you look different from other people. So I grew up being very certain that I was a Kashmiri. We used to go (to Kashmir) all the time in my childhood and I've continued to go as an adult, and I felt that I needed one of these days to take on the subject.

With your background, what is your sense of a solution for the conflict?

There is a certain beginning to the suggestion that both India and Pakistan are inching towards each other. But it's very slow. The truth is that I think the real solution is the one nobody discusses, which is that both sides need to back away and restore the ancient frontiers. You'd get rid of the Line of Control, reunite Kashmir and have India and Pakistan both jointly guarantee the borders.

Indien Kaschmir

The Kashmir conflict has been raging for decades

And I think that is the long-term stable solution, because that gets the jihadists out of Kashmir. The problem is, yes, the Indian army needs to retreat but while you've got these groups composed of international guerrillas, it's very difficult for the place to really be pacified. The only way to do it is reunite it. That’s what Kashmiri people have always said they wanted, but nobody ever pays attention to them.

The first step is to begin the demilitarization. And it does seem as if India and Pakistan are inching towards that, but even this earthquake catastrophe didn’t persuade them to sink their difference and that shows you how intransitive the subject is.

Shalimar the Clown has been described by some critics as a reaction to 9/11 and the war on terror. Do you agree with that?

No. Because the simple reason is that I conceived the book almost entirely before 9/11. What I think has changed is the way it is read. That's because everybody else's concerns caught up with the book's concerns. I've been writing about this stuff for more than 20 years. But I think what happened on 9/11 is everybody else got interested in the subject. So I think the same book word for word published in 2000 would have been read differently. Now because everybody is agitated about these matters, the reading, not the writing has changed.

So basically what you're saying is you where ahead of the times?

Yes, exactly. It's not really surprising, though, because I'm from there and I've been thinking about these things all my life and it's not surprising when you think of something all your life that you're sometimes ahead of the game compared to people who only started thinking of these things after they were attacked. It's still the case that the western world has remarkably ignored the subject of Kashmir given that's it’s the only place in the world where two nuclear powers are facing each other across a heavily militarized ceasefire line, you would think it would be of interest to the rest of the planet. But no. One of the little things for five minutes that this book is able to do is allow me to talk about Kashmir and get it in the newspapers. It'll be out again next week, so it is really a forgotten crisis and that is too bad

You've been living in the US for seven years now, how has that experience changed your writing? Are you still a British-Indian author? Are you an American author now? Will you become one?

I don't consider myself an American author, but I do consider myself to be a New Yorker. There are all kinds of people in New York and they are all there telling you their stories. I don't know how it's (writing) changed. I just knew it was a place that I felt would be good for me to spend time there and so I did that, and I feel that I work very well in New York. The last three novels that I've published all have more or less substantial passages that take place in the United States. I suppose what I'm saying is that an important part of the subject for me has been to look at how different bits of the world join up and what is it about the West and the East and where do you find the connections and how can one make stories which explore those connections. So I have spent a lot of my time looking East and West at the same time. I don't know how long I'll go on doing it; it's very rash to predict your future writing but certainly that has been a real concern over the last 10 years expressed in those three novels.

I think the bedrock for me has always been that I am an Indian novelist. I am an Indian novelist who like many Indian novelists lives in many different places. But if you look at the history of literature, western writers always gave themselves the right to live any damn place they chose. If Earnest Hemingway or Gertrude Stein wanted to live in Paris they didn't become French. To my mind it's not a very big subject when a writer moves house, it's only a change of address. The question is whether the books are truthful or not. If they're not truthful they can be untruthful even if the writer has never left his home country.

You have called on the EU to push the Turkish government to end the trial of Orhan Pamuk. The Turkish court has now called off the trial. Are you satisfied with that? Is Turkey in your opinion a European country and should it become a member of the EU?

Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels an Orhan Pamuk

A Turkish court has dropped all charges against Orhan Pamuk for a reference he made to the mass killings of Armenians 90 years ago

Orhan is a friend of mine. And I'm delighted he doesn't have to face this ridiculous trial. But as he would be the first to say, there are many, many other less internationally well-known writers and journalists up under the same article of the penal code – there are a lot more cases pending which will now not get international attention because Orhan is the most famous of writers and that case has been dropped. Speaking as the president of PEN in America, we feel it is really important at this point to increase the pressure, because clearly the retreat on this case shows that Turkey may be prepared to drop the article of the penal code which allows people to be jailed for being rude about Turkey.

Turkey clearly needs to bring its penal code into line with international norms about freedom before it even has the faintest chance of European Union membership. It's a great day for Orhan, but we have to go on pushing.

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