Why I can’t condemn the attack on Salman Rushdie

Paul Cotterill
3 min readAug 14, 2022

Martin in Montmouthshire thinks Owen Jones should condemn the attack on Salman Rushdie, presumably because if Owen Jonesdoesn’t condemn it, then Owen Jones must support it.

This may be a trolling account, but I think may be indicative of how the attack on Mr Rushdie will be fitted the the new discourse, whereby anyone either Muslim or ‘woke’ is cast as a supporter of terrorism if they do not submit to demands for performative condemnation.

Obviously the much bigger target for this ‘discourse’ will continue to be Muslims, and the pattern will follow that identified by several Muslim writers in the excellent book of resistance ‘I refuse to condemn’, edited by Asim Qureshi

But it is instructive to see that in this phase of the culture war, the dividing line marked by the question: “Why won’t you condemn this thing you have nothing to do with?’ will divide the ‘anti-woke’ from both Muslims and progressives’, in a way which also reinforces an idea that Muslims and ‘wokes’ are in conspiracy with each other to eliminate Western civilization. Muslim wokes will be an obvious target, but it will, I suspect only be about 48hrs before we get a publication like Unherd publishing an article linking trans people directly to the Rushdie attack.

Indeed, there is perhaps a scent of this new discourse trend here, where comedian David Baddiel, I’m sure not deliberately, seems to forge a ‘mind link’, for those minded to follow the link , between extremists who have indeed said what he says they’ll say, and others who will be taken to have ‘said’ it by their refusal to condemn.

And there’s a subtle, second-order variation on the method here from journalist Tim Shipman, who accuses Keir Starmer of insulting “Muslim voters and Labour members” by not condemning the attack quickly enough:

The second order method here lies in the suggestion that all Labour members and Muslim voters will need to display their condemnation of Starmer if he does not fulfill his obligation to condemnation of the attack on Mr Rushdie and that, if they do not condemn the non-condemner, that must mean that they support the attack.

On the other hand, this attack on Mr Rushdie and this kind of new extended bad faith journalistic discourse of condemnation-or-not may, perversely, though in a way Mr Rushdie might well support [1], an opportunity for ‘woke’ institutions to forge more effective links of solidarity.

And so in that spirit, and for the little that it is worth , I refuse to condemn the vicious and unprovoked attack on Mr Rushdie. I do so as a tweet act of solidarity with others whose reasoned refusal to condemn will put them in much greater danger than does my paltry, & of course hedged, performative refusal

I also, of course wish Mr Rushdie as full a recovery as is possible, and I hope he will write again. I have not read Satanic Verses, but Midnight’s Children was formative for me back in the day.


[1] That, at least, is what I take from this now well-used 2021 quote from Salman Rushie

Wherever there has been censorship, the first people to suffer from it are underprivileged minorities. So if in the name of underprivileged minorities you wish to endorse a suppression of wrongthink, it’s a slippery slope.



Paul Cotterill

Secretary General, Habermasian Labour (UK). Indefatigably focused on the promotion of ethical discourse in the public sphere, except when there's cricket.