New York

Salman Rushdie warns America of a despotic leader

New York: In the wake of massive protests across the United States over George Floyd’s killing by the Minneapolis police, Indian-origin British novelist Salman Rushdie remembered in a Washington Post op-ed how revolutions in the past have changed the world’s dynamics, and eventually led to the fall of tyrant leaders.

He wrote: In my life, I have seen several dictators rise and fall. Today, I’m remembering those earlier incarnations of this unlovely breed.

Citing examples of India and Pakistan, he wrote: “In India in 1975, Indira Gandhi, found guilty of electoral malpractice, declared a state of emergency that granted her despotic powers. The “emergency,” as it became known, ended only when she called an election, believing she would win, and was annihilated at the polls. Her arrogance was her downfall. This cautionary tale formed a part of my novel Midnight’s Children.

“In Pakistan in 1977, Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq staged a coup against Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and executed him in 1979. This dark story was the inspiration for my novel Shame. The circumstances of my life have given me some understanding of the dictatorial cast of mind,” he added.

The writer also quoted events unravelling in the present that could bring far-fetched changes in the future. He wrote: “Extreme narcissism, detachment from reality, a fondness for sycophants and a distrust of truth-tellers, an obsession with how one is publicly portrayed, a hatred of journalists and the temperament of an out-of-control bulldozer: These are some of the characteristics.”

Rushdie also came down heavily on President Trump and minced no words in his criticism. He added: Trump is, temperamentally, a tinpot despot of this type. But he finds himself in charge of a country that has historically thought of itself – by no means always correctly – as being on the side of liberty. So far, with the collusion of the Republican Party, he has ruled more or less unchecked.

Rushdie further mentioned the systemic racism still entrenched in the US and said: “If he (Trump) is allowed to use the actions of a tiny minority of criminals and white extremist infiltrators to invalidate the honorable protest of the vast majority against the murder of Floyd, the violence of the police toward the black community and the entrenched power of American racism, he will be on his way to despotism. He has threatened to use the Army against American citizens, a threat one might have expected from a leader of the former Soviet Union, but not of the United States.”

“In my most recent novel, Quichotte, I characterized the present moment as the ‘Age of Anything-Can-Happen.’ Today I say, beware, America. Don’t believe that it can’t happen here,” he concluded.

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