Imran Khan Cancels India Trip in Salman Rushdie Protest

Pakistani opposition politician Imran Khan has said he will not participate in a conference in India because author Sir Salman Rushdie is due to speak there.

Pakistani politician and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf leader, Imran Khan refused to attend the India Today Conclave being held from March 16-17. His reason for not attending the literary festival is the presence of author, Salman Rushdie. Rushdie penned the 1988 controversial book The Satanic Verses, which ignited much criticism at the time of publishing from the Muslims due to what they considered to be blasphemous content of the book.

All set to attend and speak at the literary festival, Imran claims he was unaware of Rushdie’s presence at the event and pulled back as soon as he found out. According to a statement from his party, he could not imagine attending an event that also had Salman Rushdie in it as well.

Imran Khan’s reaction has caused some stir; however, it is not that surprising. Rushdie’s presence at any event or place that has a Muslim representation, especially of fundamentalist tendencies often brings about such reactions. The Satanic Verses author was made to pull out of another literature festival held in India at Jaipur due to threats to his life earlier this year. His video address was also cancelled after several Islamic groups protested vehemently against it.

However, Imran Khan’s reaction to Rushdie’s presence at the Conclave has raised some serious questions.

Was such a harsh reaction necessary? Isn’t that giving too much importance to something that should be forgotten rather than dragged on? And wouldn’t dialogue and even confrontation been a better option, especially at a forum being held for the purpose of open and free exchange of expression? And lastly, wouldn’t Imran have helped portray a tolerant image of Pakistan and Pakistanis if he had indeed attended the event?

More importantly however, is the question that’s plaguing everyone’s mind: Is his reaction a personal choice or influenced by the right wing support he so heavily relies on for his political aims?

And if it indeed the right wing inclinations have influenced the decision, is it a glimpse of the fundamentalist that he is under the suave veneer?