When I Met Salman Rushdie

The following is based on a true story. Although the dialog has been edited for readability it is based on the transcripts taken from surveillance cameras that captured the incident.

The Scene: I was doing laundry in the basement when I heard the dogs barking outside the window. I looked outside and saw that they had surrounded something in the woods. Judging by the ferocity of the barking I knew it was something big, and with bears in the area I ran upstairs, told the Kid, grabbed a spotlight and opened the gun safe to arm ourselves. I like bears, especially teddy bears but out here the only type of bears we have are the hungry ones that kill dogs and attack people. Armed with an assault rifle and a Russian-made semi-automatic shotgun the Kid and I went outside. I flashed the spotlight on the dogs, and found they had surrounded a well dressed man with spectacles. I instinctively leveled my weapon and bellowed in a theatrically booming voice that I save for scaring the crap out of children or startling inattentive adults, “FREEZE!”

Man (raises hands): “Excuse me sir, I need your help.”

Me: “Do. Not. Move.” I called the dogs off, which wasn’t easy. Their adrenaline was pumping as much as mine. I advanced on the man and motioned for the Kid to stay back in the shadows in case the man tried something, or was bait for a home invasion by a group of people. He is a much better shot than I am and would have no problem taking out the old man from a distance.

I advanced closer to the man, and lowered my weapon as I recognized him. The dogs had pulled back in a broad circle awaiting my hand signal but I waved them off.

Man: “My entourage has been,well they’ve come upon some difficulties. Could I borrow yours?”

Me: “My what?”

Man: “Your entourage.”

Me (motioning around with rifle):  “You’re looking at it.”

Man: “This is your entourage.”

Me: “Mr. Rushdie, let’s move over to the deck. We can call the police from there.”

Sir Salman Rushdie (eyes widening): “You know me?”

Me: “Of course I do. I recognize you from the U2 videos. I also read the Satanic Verses.”

SSR: “Did you like it?”

Me: “Honestly, I don’t recall it much. I was on a Milan Kundera kick around the same time, and I don’t remember much of his work either. Just lots of sex and Soviet tanks. But you didn’t deserve a fatwa for it. So what brings you out this way Mr. Rushdie?”

SSR: “I was on my way to speak when my entourage was attacked by men with guns. We tried to outrun them but in the process my entourage protecting me was killed and our car crashed nearby. They are all dead. They were a good entourage. But I’ll call for another. Maybe I can still make it to my engagement. Can I borrow your phone?”

Me: “Don’t you have a cell phone? I’ve noticed you tweet a lot.”

SSR (waving an iPhone):”Ahh this thing. It’s great for texting and tweeting but it’s terrible at making phone calls.”

The Kid (keeping distance between me and Rushdie as he has been trained): “You know this guy?”

Me: “Of him. He’s Salman Rushdie. SIR Salman Rushdie. A British Indian novelist most famous for writing a novel that many felt blasphemed Islam. Scores died protesting it. Several people associated with publishing it were murdered. Rushdie himself got a death threat from the Ayatollah Khomeini who died soon after, making it impossible for the threat to ever be revoked.”

The Kid: “Sucks to be you dude.”

SSR: “Since then I have lived in hiding. Protected by my entourage of armed bodyguards.”

The Kid: “Sounds expensive.”

SSR: “No, no, not at all. I don’t pay for it.”

The Kid: “Then who does?”

SSR: “My friends, my fans, my publisher. Well, now that you ask I’m not really sure. I’ve had them for so long you see. Who pays for yours?”

Me: “I do. I buy the guns, pay for the ammo, training, dog food and vet bills.” I told my son to put down his gun and call 9-1-1. “It’s going to take awhile for the police to come.”

SSR: “The police? I cannot rely upon the police. The police will be good at investigating my death, not preventing it. That is why I need my entourage. You have no armed men?”

Me: “Just the Kid and I and my dogs. What more do you need?”

SSR (a bit panicked):  “You don’t understand. These men who are after me are bad men. They have guns.”

Me: “So do I.  I have trained to use them, reading books on them and learning from some of the best marksmen around. I also have dogs trained by an ex-Mossad agent. Some of whom now eat only kosher dog food. You know how difficult it is to find kosher dog food out in these parts?”

SSR: “I can only imagine.”  His eyes dropped down to my rifle.

Me: “You want one? I’ve got more in the house.”

SSR: “More? But there are only two of you. How many of these instruments of death does one need?”

Me: “Ask a mechanic how many tools a man who fixes his car on weekends needs. Or ask a carpenter how many the average homeowner needs to be handy around the house. They are just tools, and like tools they differ depending on the task they were designed for.” I raised the gun. “Take this American made semi-automatic rifle. It carries about 25 rounds and is extremely accurate out to about 100 yards. Now the Kid’s gun, it’s a Russian made semi-auto shotgun. It’s job is to put up a curtain of lead between you and the bad guys. Each gun is different because each has a different purpose.”

SSR: “The only purpose a gun has is designed for is to kill. And to do so as efficiently as possible. I would sooner touch a gun than a rotten corpse.”

Me: “That is a very common perception about guns, and a very wrong one. Look into the darkness surrounding us. There are things out there that seek to do us harm. For you it’s Iranian and Hezbollah agents. Me it’s the occasional bear or drugged up local. You are here by accident, I am here by choice. This is my home, a place I have chosen to live out my days in peace. I mean no one harm, and have been known to throw firecrackers to startle the bears away rather than shoot them. Ironically the firecrackers are illegal while shooting at the bears is not, but that’s the government for you.”

SSR: “You admit you chose this place. You live far from the police by choice. Perhaps you wouldn’t need guns if you lived in the city.”

Me (sighing): “No wonder Ted Nugent cleaned your clock on Bill Maher. Are you listening to yourself? The Aurora shooting was done within blocks of a police station. The cops were their literally within seconds of the first shots. Yet a dozen died. I’d have to live in a police station to be afforded the protection of the police. There are whole countries designed that way. They’re called police states, and are generally not nice places to live. I’ve lived in cities. I’ve been robbed at gunpoint a few blocks away from a police station. A man was stabbed to death in the atrium of my apartment building and another, a teenager was beaten to death with baseball bats by a gang out for some “fag bashing.” I can’t argue that America is a more violent society than other nations. But how is banning guns going to change this?”

SSR: “By taking guns out of the equation. Say you’ve been drinking and your wife comes home. She smells funny and won’t look you in the eye when you talk to her. You think she’s been out with another man. What do you do? You grab a gun and shoot her.”

Me: “Okay, take the gun out of the equation. I grab a knife and stab her 20 times in her heart.”

SSR: “That is much more difficult than pulling a trigger.”

Me: “I’m not so sure. There is something visceral about plunging a knife into a beating heart. Something primal, the smell of the blood, the shock in the eyes before they dull, the feel of the last breath on one’s cheek.”

(Silence)  Me: “I’m a writer too, only a bad one.”

SSR: “So what about Aurora? How many people would the madman have killed with a kitchen knife?”

Me: “None. He wouldn’t have used one. He would have gotten hold of guns whether they were legal or not. You know this is moonshine country and moonshine is illegal. I’ve been sober for over a decade but I know where to get some if you are interested. It’s also meth country. I think that stuff is pure crystallized Evil yet people around here have no problems finding it. So why would guns be any different? Or perhaps I didn’t want to go through all that trouble to find an illegal gun. I could do what Timothy McVeigh did and build my own bomb.”

Me: “You have to understand Mr. Rushdie that I appreciate where you’re coming from. I used to be a strong advocate for gun control and didn’t touch a gun until I was middle aged. I think I’ve changed my views because I’m coming to understand that there is real danger in this world. I hesitate to use the word “evil” again but as you have proven there are people who will do anything to get their way in the world and have no respect for the rights of others. If you write something that offends them, they are justified to kill you. If you have something they want, they are justified in taking it. If you think differently from them, you are fair game for them.”

SSR: “A failed writer, you say. Why am I not surprised with a broken monologue like that?”

Me: “My apologies. The words have never come easily for me. Gun control will not stop the Auroras, the Columbines, the Fort Hoods. All it will do is change their means.”

SSR: “How so?”

Me: “It is difficult to attribute rational motives to irrational people. But in general guns are only a means to an end for these massacres. Without guns explosives would be used, or poison gas as used by Aum Shinri Kyo in the Tokyo subway attacks and prior incidents in the Japanese countryside. The reaction is the goal, the horror, the notoriety, the pain. All these things can be achieved quiet easily with public knowledge available on the Internet and basic chemistry skills.”

SSR: “So ban the knowledge as well as the guns.”

Me: “Just as your work was banned? Is such a thing even possible? Has anything ever been banned out of existence? I have advocated for years an end to the War on Drugs. Why? Because heroin is as cheap as it has ever been on the street. Meth too. These are powerful drugs that kill thousands of people every year in my country, yet decades of bans have not stopped their availability. Banning isn’t the solution.”

SSR: “Then what is?”

Me: “I don’t know. I don’t think there is one. I think there will always be madmen among us and the least we can do is learn to protect ourselves.”

SSR: “This is what your friend Ted Nugent suggested. The solution to America’s gun problem is even more guns.”

Me: “Exactly.”

SSR: “Now it is your turn to listen to yourself. What you are advocating would lead to a free for all with people shooting each other.”

Me: “That’s the same argument I’ve heard against drugs. ‘Legalization will result in everybody becoming addicted to heroin.’ It’s not true. It didn’t happen after alcohol was legalized and it won’t happen after drugs are legalized. As for guns, people who advocate for gun control don’t understand guns or the people who have them. They don’t even try. Instead they build up acres  full of straw men to attack with no basis in reality.”

SSR: “Isn’t that what you are doing with me? Assuming that you understand where I am coming from?

Me: “I know very little about you, Mr. Rushdie, but what I did know impressed me. Someone of your stature, your native intelligence should have instinctively known that the violence issue is much more complex than simply banning guns. Maybe you’ve gotten intellectually lazy, or maybe you have forgotten that there are still people actively plotting to kill you.”

SSR: Trust me sir, I am well aware of that.

Me: Are you really? You have – or rather had – private security protecting you. For roughly the past quarter century you have received special protection that only the wealthy can afford. I’ve traveled in what used to be called the “Third World” and saw societies where the wealthy surrounded themselves with gates and walls, expensive security systems and battalions of armed security forces. Everyone else had to live with underpaid and easily bribed police who more often than not caused the crime they were employed to prevent. In almost all of these societies private ownership of guns was banned, and the people were left defenseless against criminals and their own governments. All the people, that is, except for the wealthy.

SSR: So your solution is to provide them arms?

Me: Yes.

SSR: That’s insane.

Me: I hear that all the time from advocates of gun control but no one tells me why. If I’m a robber, who am I going to target: an unarmed man or an armed one?

SSR: If you have a gun it will most likely be used against you either through accident or suicide.

Me: A spuriously sourced statistic that avoids the question. If the Aurora shooter knew that he was going to enter a theater where he had at least a significant chance of facing resistance, of being shot at, would he have done it?

SSR: You would have to ask him.

Me: I don’t think I have to. Men like him always choose soft, easily attacked targets. Schools. Churches. Public spaces where they are unlikely to face any type of resistance. When is the last time you heard of a massacre at a gun show or at an NRA shooting competition, or any event where guns abound? Even the Ft. Hood shooter chose an area where he knew the soldiers were completely disarmed.

SSR: What you suggest requires skill, and most gun owners lack such skills.

Me: How do you know? How many gun owners – besides your security guards – do you hang with? I doubt Bono carries.

SSR: Of course not because the Irish have sensible laws.

Me: Which may explain why the country is still occupied. Or at least that’s what some believe. Me? I’m not a fan of any of the terror groups Republican or Unionist. They should get down to doing what the Irish are best at, drinking and leaving the country.

SSR: How sweet of you.

Me: And what about those men you hired, those that protect you?  Men like you have always relied upon others to protect you, yet you denigrate them at every turn. Those men who died protecting you. They have people who loved them. Each was someone’s  brother, someone’s son, someone’s father. Yet you used them as cannon fodder in your own personal war.

SSR: You make me out  to be a war-mongerer? I wrote a piece of fiction, one that has been misinterpreted by Muslims who haven’t even read the book. I didn’t declare war on anyone.

Me: No you didn’t, but your actions caused one. Wars start many ways, and many begin completely innocently or unintentionally. So you found yourself in war, and instead of doing what Pym Fortuyn or Theo Van Gogh did by taking their own fates into their own hands, you outsourced it to a “rough and ready” type – someone willing to touch guns, a man willing to make the corpses that you find so repugnant.  As Churchill once said, “We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” You are nothing more than a parasite who feeds upon the honor and sense of duty of greater men then yourself.

SSR: Look what happened to those men, Fortuyn and Van Gogh. They are dead.

Me: Yes they are, but they died on their own terms. They chose to protect themselves, but did so in a society where self-protection isn’t possible. Both should have come here, a nation that is perhaps unique in the world as recognizing that self-defense is a human right. Still, they died with their beliefs intact and without denigrating those of us who value our right to protect ourselves. Unlike you.

SSR: Are you saying I should have let Khomeini kill me?

Me: Absolutely not. You can employ all the security guards you want. But where you cross the line is when you forget that all of us do not live in a cocoon of  safety and make fools of us for bearing the burden of self-protection. You seek to disarm us and subjugate us to your own power and childish attitudes towards authority.

A dull roar gradually grew as a long convoy of cars arrived, their headlights cutting through the heavy hair. One by one I counted no less than 3 black Suburbans with the entire county sheriff’s department in tow. I quickly put my rifle inside the door, as the dogs greeted the line of vehicles passing my gardens and pulling onto my driveway. I called them off.

SSR: It appears my entourage has arrived.

Me: Yes it has.

SSR: Well mister…

Me: Ockham. Bill Ockham. You can call me Bill.

SSR: Thank you for the conversation and… protection during my time of need.

Me: Just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean that I want to see you dead.

SSR: I appreciate that.

Me:  Can you say the same about me? Shab be kheyr!

I spoke to the men briefly and soon found myself alone in the darkness, back in my own fog wrapped cocoon. What I find fascinating is the chaos of the event – any event where normality is thrown out the window. 9-11 is the best example of this. I remember the internet and phones being jammed, and rumors filling in the information void as the event unfolded in my office. I also remember watching my son play at the playground in northern Delaware and the sky’s silence because all air traffic was shut down. Usually there are at least a handful of planes in various states of takeoff and landing at Philly Int’l. For days there was nothing, and the silence hurt.

I don’t mean to imply that the two events are equivalent, just that we have a mental picture of the world and when that picture becomes scrambled it is extremely difficult to operate. I was scared but I couldn’t show it. I had a terrible hollow feeling in my gut that made my knees weak and want to shake, but I had to stay cool. I started by controlling my voice, moving slowly (I tend to speed up when I’m excited) and speaking clearly (I tend to fall into my midwestern twang). I also added a flavor of authority to it. I used to flip out before I had my kid, but since I’ve realized how important it is to keep your wits about you.

Normality seeps in and the everyday pattern reasserts itself. The events get categorized and compartmentalized over and over again until they are woven into the very fabric of normality. Then we go on, believing we have control and that tomorrow will be just as today was except with a few minor changes.

And then Salman Rushdie appears in your backyard, and normality evaporates leaving the natural order in its place. And that natural order is nothing of the sort. It is Chaos. Some refuse to believe that this Chaos exists, and when it appears they are stunned, incapable of reacting to it. Others are stunned at first, but quickly change, accept the situation, and try to adapt to it.

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