The Indian-born British author Salman Rushdie was honoured with the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in Frankfurt on Sunday at an event clouded by current conflicts in the world, reported dpa.
Speaking in the city's historic St Paul's Church, Rushdie, 76, said he was "immensely grateful for this great prize" but that "peace right now feels like a fantasy."
"We live in a time I did not think I would see in my lifetime, said Rushdie. "A time when freedom — and in particular freedom of expression, without which the world of books would not exist — is everywhere under attack from reactionary, authoritarian, populist, demagogic, half-educated, narcissistic, careless voices."
In clear reference to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, he cited the war raging "not very far away" that was born of "one's man's tyranny and greed for power and conquest — a sad narrative that will not be unfamiliar to a German audience."
Citing also the conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip, Rushdie said that art and artists are a means to protect civilization and "keep the barbarians from the gates."
He acknowledged the strength of people seeking individual joy in their own lives amid the current global strife. There is a simple yearning to "feel ourselves at peace with our lives and with the little world around us," said the author.
In his case, writing had given him a good life doing the only work he had ever wanted to do, said Rushdie, who became famous with his 1981 masterpiece "Midnight's Children."
In 1989, the then Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini called for the assassination of the author because of his novel "The Satanic Verses," which was deemed blasphemous and insulting to Islam.
Rushdie has been blind in one eye since he was stabbed multiple times by a Muslim attacker in the United States in 2022. His next book, "Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder," is about the stabbing. Rushdie's attacker has entered a plea of not guilty to charges of attempted murder.
Despite the threats to his life, Rushdie said he wrote books "without any restraint."
The Peace Prize is endowed with €25,000 and is considered one of the most important awards in Germany.
The prize jury said earlier they were honouring Rushdie "for his indomitable spirit, for his affirmation of life and for enriching our world with his love of storytelling."
"In his novels and non-fiction, he melds narrative foresight with unfailing literary innovation, humour and wisdom," the jury wrote in a post on the prize's website.
- Salman Rushdie
- Frankfurt Book Fair