Safety concerns loom as writers show public support for Rushdie

While the death sentence, or fatwa, ordered on Rushdie by Iran was among the most high-profile threats, many authors say harassment and calls for violence have become part of the experience of being a writer.

Love Is An Ex-Country author Randa Jarrar said in an email interview this week that she had to learn how to “better aim a gun” and prepare physically in case of attack after a tweet about former first lady Barbara Bush prompted threats.

When Bush died in 2018, Jarrar described her as an “amazing racist” for a comment about the majority-Black communities displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

The Muslim author said she feared for her life when critics posted her home address and phone number online. She and her child began receiving death threats.

Every threat she received mentioned that she is Muslim and warned her to go back to where she came from, Jarrar said. She moved, and hired a company to scrub her private data from the internet.

Queer Chicana writer Myriam Gurba faced threats after she criticised author Jeanine Cummins in 2020 of cultural appropriation in writing the novel American Dirt, which focused on a Mexican woman who escaped a drug cartel to build a new life in the United States as an undocumented immigrant.

Gurba said many people supported her, but she also received threats of violence on her phone and the internet.

“The first death threat that I received stated that the police should execute me for my stupidity,” she said.

This week, police in Scotland said they were investigating a threat against Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling following her tweet voicing concern for Rushdie.

At least one upcoming literary festival is tightening security. Organisers of September’s National Book Festival, hosted by the Library of Congress in Washington, had already planned to require bag searches.

Now, the festival is working with law enforcement to add extra measures, a spokesperson said.

At the New York Public Library, some writers said they did not fear gathering in public.

“The only time I got anxious was when they told us how much security there was going to be, thinking maybe there have been some threats, but I doubt it,” author Paul Auster said.