Salman Rushdie – An Eloquent Voice of Conscience and Courage 

Entrepreneur, Life

A week after being viciously assaulted on August 12, 2022, Salman Rushdie remained hospitalized with severe injuries he sustained during the stabbing, but appeared to be regaining strength daily. 

According to his agent, the 75-year-old author sustained liver and nerve damage. Moreover, doctors feared that he would lose an eye. But within 48 hours of being seriously injured, Rushdie was already off a ventilator, addressing investigators’ questions and even joking. 

A 30-Year-Old Threat Almost Fulfilled 

Rushdie had just been about to speak at the Chautauqua Institution in Upstate New York when a 24-year-old man rushed the stage and struck him multiple times about the head and upper body with a knife. Audience members threw themselves upon and subdued the attacker and rendered first aid to Rushdie until authorities took over. 

Indicted by a grand jury, the alleged attacker, a New Jersey resident and the American-born son of Lebanese parents, has entered a plea of not guilty. His mother has indicated that he may have absorbed radical ideas on a 2018 visit to his estranged father in a part of Lebanon dominated by the Iran-supporting extremist group Hezbollah. 

The young man in question almost achieved what numerous others have aspired to for more than 30 years, namely, to carry out the 1989 death sentence imposed on Rushdie by The Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Khomeini for the “blasphemous” content of his critically acclaimed novel, The Satanic Verses. Because the fatwa has never officially been lifted, a $3 million price on the author’s head remains. Iran’s current rulers have denied any direct knowledge of Rushdie’s attacker. 

As the horrifying situation unfolded, fellow artists, leaders, and readers from all over the world condemned the attack in print and on social media while praising Rushdie for his extraordinary gifts as a writer and unceasing championship of freedom of speech. 

Looking for Light in the Shadows 

Shortly after the fatwa’s issuance, Rushdie became a global cause celebre and went into near-complete isolation for several years. His whereabouts near London were a closely guarded secret, and he had round-the-clock protection and communication with Scotland Yard. 

Rushdie’s whole life, wrote PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel after the attack, has been “an act of defiance.” At the time of the Chautauqua attack, he had just reached out to Nossel hoping to get help for Ukrainian writers. 

Born to a well-to-do Muslim family in Mumbai in 1947, Rushdie was educated in the United Kingdom. He has created lyrical, expansive, surrealistic novels exploring serious philosophical and political issues. In 1981, he won the prestigious Booker Prize with the publication of Midnight’s Children, which deals with the early days of an India free from colonial rule, and in 1983, he went on to write Shame, a novel about political life in Pakistan. 

Then, The Satanic Verses came out, and Rushdie’s life changed forever. Issuing the fatwa, the Ayatollah called the book “an affront to Islam.” Riots took place in Muslim communities everywhere, with people burning copies of the book and effigies of Rushdie. “Rushdie, you are dead,” read a handmade poster at one protest. 

In 1990, Rushdie told 60 Minutes interviewer Mike Wallace that, though the book had become an international bestseller, he would trade his new fame and fortune for his old life. 

Even with so much violent rhetoric directed at him, Rushdie said he did not think the problem lay in Islam per se. The vast majority of his family and friends were Muslims. “What created this,” he told Wallace, “was a specific event in one country.” 

Despite his longstanding atheism, Rushdie said, “I’m not an enemy of Muslims.” What he claimed for himself was simply the right to write as his imagination and conscience dictated. Answering the question, “What is freedom of expression?” he said, on behalf of himself and other writers, “Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.” 

“If I felt that I couldn’t write as myself, I would stop writing,” he continued. 

  

In the 1990 interview, Rushdie became visibly emotional talking about being forced to live in isolation away from his 11-year-old son. His first book written from that exile was the children’s book Haroun and the Sea of Stories. The main characters are a storyteller, his son, and the Prince of Silence, who attempts to keep the storyteller from telling his stories. The book, said Rushdie, expressed a “war between language and silence,” “light and dark.” 

A Life Celebrating Freedom and Creativity 

In recent years, Rushdie has appeared to enjoy the normal life of a celebrated writer, apparently without tight security. His more recent books include The Moor’s Last Sigh (1995), The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999), and The Enchantress of Florence (2008). Shalimar the Clown (2005) delves into the subject of terrorism in North India. Joseph Anton (2012) is a pseudonymous memoir about his life in hiding, referencing the alias he used during that time. 

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Rushdie’s life had recently become so near-normal that probably neither he nor anyone else around him thought an ordinary literary event at a quiet artists’ retreat like Chautauqua could possibly pose any danger. But the attempt on his life shows that those who fear and hate freedom of expression can’t ever be dismissed. 

Rushdie, along with other writers of courage and conscience, and organizations like PEN America that champion the right to write, read, and speak freely, deserve our support. One way to show it is simply to read writers like Rushdie and to stand up for and cherish our freedom to do so. 

How Black Women Entrepreneurs Are Still Facing an Uphill Battle

Entrepreneur, Race

A 2021 Harvard Business Review report revealed that Black women in the United States are starting businesses at a higher rate than white women and white men. The HBR report, produced in collaboration with the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, found that 17 percent of Black women in the US are involved in founding or nurturing businesses. By comparison, only 15 percent of white men and 10 percent of white women are starting or running a business. 

There’s one problem here, though: Despite their demographic being one most likely to start companies, only 3 percent of Black women end up operating fully fledged, mature businesses. 

Analysts point to several factors contributing to such a substantial drop-off.

Less room to maneuver

Black female founders are over-represented in businesses dealing with wholesale or retail and those operating in the social service, government, healthcare, and educational sectors. Less than half of white female founders operate in these sectors, contrasted with more than 60 percent of Black women who are founders in these areas.

These business sectors so heavily chosen by Black women entrepreneurs tend to be already well-populated marketplaces, and hence offer stiffer competition and lower margins. Businesses in these sectors also tend to be smaller and more informal, accounting for a big part of the lack of traction. 

Fewer resources to draw on

Black women in particular tend to encounter barriers to accessing business capital. Part of this is because, in the Black American community, there is far less generational wealth than among other ethnic groups. 

Historically, majority groups in the US have enjoyed liberal and consistent access to capital, key relationships, and other societal resources necessary to successful entrepreneurship. This uneven situation simply continues to reinforce a cycle in which a lack of resources puts limits on the ability of Black entrepreneurs to build successful companies, which in turn hinders their access to resources.

In 2019 the average Black family in the US possessed only about one-tenth of the wealth of the average white family. Due to formalized and informal discrimination, segregation, and other forms of systemic racism, little has changed on that front in the more than 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1863 Black Americans owned an estimated one-half of 1 percent of all the national wealth in the US; in 2019 that figure had risen only to slightly more than 1.5 percent, although Black Americans make up about 14 percent of the population.

All too many Black American women have faced obstacles specific to their demographic when they decide to start a business. And one common refrain is that this lack of generational wealth is one of the main hindrances in getting them started, and supporting them as they continue. 

Running up against outdated thinking

One of the other factors standing in the way of Black female entrepreneurs is that venture funders and investors tend to be wary of extending funding to them. Despite recent gains in society’s understanding of the importance of diversity, along with the particular strengths of Black women, many funders still see a white male when they picture a founder to whom they would extend capital. That is beginning to change, though, as more opportunities and grants are becoming available to founders from non-white backgrounds. 

In 2021 Black women founders raised $494 million in the first half of the year. This represents almost $200 million more than the total raised by Black women in all of the previous year. But these gains were still only a small part of the total funding dollars directed to female-led start-ups in 2021. To be precise, businesses with one or more Black female founders took in only 2.6 percent of the funding extended to all female founders in the first half of the year.

Because of the difficulty they can experience in accessing capital of any kind, about three-fifths of Black women founders provide 100 percent of the start-up capital for their entrepreneurial projects themselves. This is despite the fact that Black professionals are disproportionately struggling under debt. Black Americans are more likely to assume higher levels of debt to fund their college educations, and they are less likely to be homeowners, additional factors tracking as part of the lack of generational wealth and collateral.

Realistic solutions 

First, lenders and funders need to immediately confront and challenge their own innate biases when it comes to non-white and non-male founders and entrepreneurs. They also need to ask themselves whether the questions, procedures, and requirements they present to all applicants are the same. If they’re not doing it already, these power players need to implement an education and training program that will create a more equitable and fair experience for all entrepreneurs.

University-based incubators and other institutional resources in higher education can also play a role by reaching out to Black female students and alumni with support for entrepreneurial ventures. Studies show that about 75 percent of Black female entrepreneurs have earned at least a four-year degree. Their schools are well-positioned to assist them with collaborative projects and resources for building entrepreneurial skills and accessing needed connections to capital.

When banks, venture capital funders, and educational institutions make connections with Black female founders, they also stand to gain from the entry of a greater diversity of viewpoints, experiences, and ideas into their ecosystems.