New Delhi: In an open letter published in Harper’s Magazine, eminent writers, artistes, academics such as Margaret Atwood, JK Rowling, Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, Anne Applebaum, Gloria Steinem, Noam Chomsky, Atul Gawande, Farid Zakaria among others, have expressed anguish over an “atmosphere of intolerance to opposing views” by the radical right, and the rising “forces of illiberalism....throughout the world,” which have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, “who represents a real threat to democracy.”
Commenting further on the “stifling atmosphere” that will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time, the eminent writers pointed out a recent trend noticed worldwide.
”Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes,” said the open letter signed by over 150 eminent personalities from across the world.
In a report in The Guardian newspaper, Rowling, even compared the current climate to the McCarthy years. She said: “To quote the inimitable Lillian Hellman: ‘I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions’.”
Coming in the backdrop of growing protests against racial discriminations and the Black Lives Matter movement following the brutal killing of George Floyd by a policeman in the, the letter says: “Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society”.
Headlined, “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” it cautions that “resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion—which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting. The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.”
Reiterating that “the free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted,” the letter adds that the “way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away.”
The letter concludes by saying that “as writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes. We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences.”
However, according to The Guardian’s report, the open has been inviting a fair share of criticism on social media and has run into some controversy.
Free speech advocate and whistleblower journalist Glen Greenwald tweeted: “As is usually the case for people who manifest in favor of free and open debate and against repression, several of the people on this @Harpers Open Letter have behavior in their past that reflects the censorious mentality they’re condemning here.”
The report also claimed that one of the signatories to the letter, historian Kerri Greenidge, had retracted and saying she did not endorse it. Another signatory, writer Jennifer Finney Boylan, said she had not known who else had signed the letter. “I thought I was endorsing a well meaning, if vague, message against internet shaming. I did know Chomsky, Steinem, and Atwood were in, and I thought, good company. The consequences are mine to bear. I am so sorry.”