AS a former journalist, few things are more important to me than free speech.
It is the bedrock of every democratic country and to be safeguarded at all costs.
However, it’s under sustained attack and the appalling stabbing of Sir Salman Rushdie is a chilling reminder of an intolerance that is flourishing.
And, far from protecting our right to express ourselves, we are moving to a ‘consequence culture’.
Yes, say what you want, but you might lose your job, your income, your social media accounts, your friends and even your life.
Fortunately, Rushdie was not killed, but lies in a US hospital bed with life changing injuries.
He was speaking at a literary event when his assailant jumped on the stage wielding a knife.
Ironically, Rushdie’s subject was freedom of expression, in a country which protects free speech under the First Amendment.
The attacker is thought to have been following a ‘fatwa’, or religious edict, imposed on Rushdie for blasphemy by Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini more than 30 years ago after the publication of The Satanic Verses.
Imposed in 1989, the fatwa was reaffirmed in 2005 as “solid and irrevocable”, with the sinister threat that the “arrow” shot by Khomeini would “one day find its target”.
Regrettably, after half a lifetime hiding in the shadows, moving between safe houses and bodyguards, Rushdie has been hunted down.
His attacker has been showered with “a thousand bravos” by hard-line Iranian news outlets, while the country’s foreign ministry has blamed Rushdie himself, saying free speech has consequences.
Writer JK Rowling was told, “Don’t worry, you are next,” when she expressed her shock at the attack on Twitter.
We cannot let the risk of offending destroy one of our most precious values.