If Jerry Sadowitz is cancelled, how long before JK Rowling is too? – Murdo Fraser MSP


Salman Rushdie, 75, pictured at an event in Germany, is recovering after being stabbed multiple times (Photo: Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

Rushdie’s most famous novel, The Satanic Verses, published in 1988, led to a fatwa issued by then-Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini calling for the author’s death. For years, he had to hide as his life was in danger.

It’s been encouraging since Friday’s attack to see the nearly unanimous reaction around the world in support of Rushdie and in defense of free speech. President Joe Biden of the United States was unequivocal in his statement supporting the author as championing “the ability to share ideas without fear.”

So it was somewhat ironic that just a day after Rushdie’s attack, Edinburgh’s Pleasance canceled a performance by controversial comedian Jerry Sadowitz following complaints from audience members about offensive material in his act.

In an extraordinary and contradictory statement to the press, Anthony Alderson, the director of Pleasance, said it was “a place that stands up for freedom of expression”, but went on to say that the material presented during this show does not did not correspond to their values.

I don’t compare Rushdie to Sadowitz in terms of artistic value. But I’m willing to bet the Ayatollah was more offended by Rushdie’s words in a book I doubt he bought than any ticket-buying public was by the attempts to Sadowitz humor.

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Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Jerry Sadowitz hits back at critics of ‘extreme’…

I only heard part of what Sadowitz said and found it deeply offensive. But I find it hard to imagine that someone would have bought a ticket for his show without knowing what he was getting into.

Valuing freedom of expression means being ready to stand up for those with whom we disagree vehemently, or with whom we feel repulsed and offended. If we accept the principle that Sadowitz can be canceled, how long before we see the same thing apply to someone like JK Rowling?

I wouldn’t pay to go to a Jerry Sadowitz show, but it’s not up to me to stop others from doing so.

And Fringe sites’ claims to support free speech must be more than a cheap joke.

Murdo Fraser is Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife

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