Mumbai-born British author Salman Rushdie is to share the 2014 PEN Pinter Prize celebrating freedom of speech with a jailed Syrian journalist, lawyer and human rights activist, it was announced Friday, the same day that an Indian children’s rights campaigner and a teenage Pakistani education activist were declared co-winners of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
Rushdie named Mazen Darwish as the international recipient of the Prize he won back in the summer.
The PEN Pinter Prize – named after author and Nobel Literature Prize-winning British playwright Harold Pinter and awarded by the literary – is awarded annually to a British writer who champions free speech and is then shared with an ‘International Writer of Courage’ who has been persecuted for speaking out about his beliefs.
Darwish was the director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression when he was arrested in February 2012 along with two colleagues.
The three have been charged with “publicizing terrorist acts.”
Rushdie said Darwish “courageously fought for civilized values — free expression, human rights — in one of the most dangerous places in the world.”
He said he hoped the prize would bolster calls for Darwish to be released.
In a statement read out at a ceremony at the British Library this week, Mr. Darwish referred to the fatwa issued against Mr. Rushdie in response to his novel “The Satanic Verses,” which led to the author spending years in hiding.
“Although we may have deeply disagreed with your views, we committed an unforgivable sin in the Arab world when we responded with indifference to the fatwas and calls for your death,” he said.
The violence in Syria is partly a result of that “collusion,” Mr. Darwish’s statement continued.
“What a shame this much blood has had to be spilled for us to realize, finally, that we are digging our own graves when we allow thought to be crushed by accusations of unbelief, calling people infidels, and when we allow opinion to be countered with violence,” he said.
“The disastrous consequences of this are clearly evident today across the Arab world, and especially in Syria, my country, where the ugliest forms of fascism and the dirtiest kinds of barbarism are practiced in the name of both patriotism and Islam in equal measure.”
Rushdie condemned Mr Darwish’s imprisonment as “arbitrary and unjust” and warned of a “new age of religious mayhem and of the language that conjures it up and justifies it”.
He attacked the “hate-filled religious rhetoric” that is influencing scores of young British Muslims to join what he called the “barbarians of ISIS”.
The language of religion, said Rushdie, “has been horribly mangled in our time”, by Christian extremists in America and by Hindu extremists in India, “but the overwhelming weight of the problem lies in the world of Islam, and much of it has its roots in the ideological language of blood and war emanating from the Salafist movement within Islam, globally backed by Saudi Arabia”.