In the middle of November 1997 a slanging match between John le Carré and Salman Rushdie raged across the letters pages of the Guardian. This row followed an article printed in the newspaper where le Carré complained that he had been accused of anti-Semitism. Rushdie was not amused. He reminded readers that le Carré had failed to support him when he was sentenced to death by the Iranians and hence would not receive his sympathy. The argument that ensued became increasingly vituperative and it set the literary world abuzz. Below I copy an extract from Rushdie’s magnificent final volley.
If he wants to win an argument, John le Carré could begin by learning to read…. It’s true I did call him a pompous ass, which I thought pretty mild in the circumstances. “Ignorant” and “semi-literate” are dunces’ caps he has skillfully fitted on his own head. I wouldn’t dream of removing them.
Le Carré’s habit of giving himself good reviews (“my thoughtful and well-received speech”) was no doubt developed because, well, somebody has to write them. He accuses me of not having done the same for myself. “Rushdie,” says the dunce, “does not deny he insulted a’ great world religion.” I have no intention of repeating yet again my many explications of The Satanic Verses, a novel of which I remain extremely proud. A novel, Mr. le Carré, not a gibe.You know what a novel is, don’t you, John?
“Letters to the editor,” Guardian, November 22, 1997, p22.