US media such as NBC were referring to Rushdie last night as "the controversial author" — controversial, like someone whose views are outside the mainstream...rather dodgy.
Controversial, perhaps then to the same extent as the American "stand up" comedian who has just had his show cancelled at The Edinburgh Fringe.
You can read the report on the BBC News website and end up none the wiser about the severity of dodginess involved. It's beyond the pale, yet the Beeb won't, for example, tell you that he flashed his dick at the audience or that he referred to Rishi Sunak as a Paki.
And in between the shock factor of the intermittent stabby, shooty attacks, this is one of the main problems that free speech faces today: a self-censoring panic about causing offence, even in the business of reporting the verifiably offensive.
Salman meanwhile, is an apostate, a committed atheist with long-standing and firm convictions. And JK Rowling is a children's author who advocates for fact over ideology. Yet both can end up in mortal danger, at the very least culturally-tagged as "controversial", because we are afraid of pissing off the organised dickheads.
As Slavoj Žižek explains in his new book, all would-be 'free' speech is now emitted into a space patrolled by a newish species of listener...
“The basic characteristic of today’s subjectivity is the weird combination of the free subject who experiences himself as ultimately responsible for his fate and the subject who grounds the authority of his speech on his status of a victim of circumstances beyond his control... The notion of subject as a victim involves the extreme narcissistic perspective: every encounter with the Other appears as a potential threat to the subject’s precarious imaginary balance."