Salman Rushdie Delivers Keynote Address at National First Amendment Summit

Salman Rushdie delivers keynote address at the National First Amendment Summit in Philadelphia
Salman Rushdie delivers keynote address at the National First Amendment Summit in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Sept. 13, 2023. Courtesy of the National Constitution Center.

Celebrated author and free speech advocate Salman Rushdie warned of the rise of global authoritarianism in a virtual keynote address at the inaugural National First Amendment Summit in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

The event, hosted by the National Constitution Center in partnership with a coalition of leading free speech organizations, including First Amendment Watch, addressed the increasing threats to freedom of expression and the looming challenges posed by new technologies.

Rushdie, who lived in hiding for several years due to the threat of assassination in the wake of the publication of his 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses,” survived an attempt on his life in August 2022 during a speaking engagement in upstate New York. The attack severely injured his hand and left him without sight in one eye.

The 76-year-old writer was asked by interviewer Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, what he saw as the greatest threat to freedom of expression today.

“If you asked me 10 or 20 years ago, I would probably have said that the main problems facing freedom of expression emanate from religious extremism,” Rushdie said. “I think now we’re facing another old enemy, which is authoritarianism. I think there’s a real rise in authoritarian movements around the world, populist authoritarian demagoguery.”

“Coupled with that,” he continued, “[there is] a willingness amongst at least some part of the population to cease to value the democratic values enshrined in the First Amendment. So I think the problem is, I would now say, political more than primarily religious.”

You can watch Rushdie’s full address below or watch the National First Amendment Summit in its entirety here. The event also featured three expert panels, in which leading free speech scholars tackled major issues and controversies. You can watch those discussions by following the links below.

1. The Origins of the First Amendment

2. Technology’s Impact on the First Amendment

3. Campus Speech Controversies