March 26, 2011


Rushdie, Young discuss democracy, globalization

The beauty of a democracy is that it encourages healthy, civilized debate, the freedom to agree or disagree with the person across the aisle.

In that spirit, author Salman Rushdie, Emory's Distinguished Writer in Residence, and former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Morehouse College, shared the stage on March 23 to discuss past and current freedom movements, the revival of religion in public discourse, persistent economic inequalities and the changing face of U.S. foreign policy.

Provost Earl Lewis moderated the event, held at Morehouse's Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel. Sponsored by Emory, Morehouse and the Andrew Young Foundation, the dialogue will lead to future partnerships between the two Atlanta universities, Lewis said.  

Born in 1932 in the segregated South and raised 30 yards from the American Nazi Party's New Orleans headquarters, Young learned at an early age that discrimination was a "sickness."

"My father would say, ‘Don't get mad. Try to help them'," he remembered.

Fifteen years later, halfway across the world, Rushdie was born in Bombay as India was gaining its independence from British rule. As a child, he recalled reading early history books presenting Indian revolutionaries as villains before replacement texts depicted them as heroes.

While Mahatma Gandhi is revered as a "father figure" in India, the country's economic rise is more reflective of its first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rushdie said.

Acknowledging the growing hostility among economically destitute youth toward authoritarian regimes, both men still expressed surprise at the revolutions sweeping Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and beyond.

 "The people who lose out big time are the terrorists," explained Rushdie, who was forced into hiding for a decade after the release of his controversial novel, "The Satanic Verses." "This is a secular revolution by young people who want jobs. It shows the Arab world that you don't have to be a jihadist."

Religion has informed public life from the concept of Jeffersonian democracy, to Martin Luther King Jr. relating religious elements of the U.S. Constitution to the underprivileged minority, to President Barack Obama invoking Jesus in a number of high-profile speeches, said Young, who is also a pastor.

 "You can't be elected dogcatcher in America unless you go to church on Sundays," joked Rushdie.

Added Young: "You don't have to go to church. You just have to say you go to church."

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