American Artists In A Campaign Against “Liberticidal” Laws

In an initiative led by Salman Rushdie, writers challenge the Patriot Act, the anti-terrorist legislation adopted in the wake of September 11, 2001. Musicians, brought together by Bruce Springsteen, go on tour to support John Kerry, George Bush’s democratic challenger.

New York — One can’t say they are the first, but, with less than three months before the Presidential election, a number of artists and intellectuals are taking a stand against George Bush and the war in Iraq.

The most famous one is the singer Bruce Springsteen, who announced in an August 5th New York Times column a series of “Concerts for Change” to start this October. About fifteen writers, Salman Rushdie and Paul Auster among them, did their part by hosting a public reading in New York on Wednesday, August 4th to protest against the various “liberticidal” provisions of the antiterrorist law created in the wake of the September 11th attacks, the so called Patriot Act.

These positions come at a time when democratic candidate John Kerry is gaining a slight boost in the polls while President Bush is hardly being helped by the news that arrive about two aspects of the campaign. Regarding Iraq, on August 9th, television did nothing but broadcast images of ex- Pentagon protégé Ahmed Chalabi, who is now subject to an arrest warrant after having been received with honors in Washington in January. Regarding the economy, a dark cloud settled over Wall Street after Friday’s unemployment statistics were announced.

The only good event could have been the marriage of Prescott, the President’s nephew and son of Jeb, the governor of Florida, on Sunday, but the Bush clan, oddly, chose not to publicize the event.

With three weeks to go until the Republican Convention in New York, John Kerry wraps up a trip out west on a special train. On Monday, he flew over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter, accompanied by Teresa, who was seen dancing all night to the sounds of a Mariachi band in New Mexico.

Meanwhile, George Bush embarked on a tour of nine states; John McCain, his opponent of four years ago, joined him in three of these to support him. Thursday night, he appeared on CNN’s Larry King with his wife, Laura. It was time to move on to the counter-attack., one of the groups on the left who is working for his defeat –and who is no stranger to Springsteen’s initiative- prepared a publicity campaign to showcase the “loss of affection” surrounding the president today. A few months ago, he was abandoned by officials in his own camp (Richard Clarke, the former antiterrorist czar; Paul O’Neill, the Secretary of the Treasury?). Today, defectors are found at the ground level: Anthony Pirro, a teacher; Richard Dove, a retired colonel; Connie Cominski? the real constituents who have made up their minds and whose testimonials has succeeded in using as part of its pro-Kerry publicity.

The Republican Convention is set to begin on August 30th. The choice of New York, the September 11th capital, seemed like a good idea at first. Today, the opposite is true. In this democratic city, the prospect of gathering the Republican establishment has mobilized artists. Hundred of cultural protests have been announced in addition to a major protest on August 29th. Street theater, Anti-Bush popcorn? An Arts and Ideas Festival only planned for about fifty events. The artists, fearing the appearance of being too political, now seem to have rejoined the mainstream, the majority view, and are less afraid of taking a stand. “The climate has completely changed,” Valentna Fratti, one of the organizers of Theaters against War (THAW) confided to the New York Times. THAW brings together 200 troupes formed a year and a half ago.


On Wednesday, August 4th, the American branch of the PEN Club, PEN American Center, led by Salman Rushdie, hosted a public reading in one of the most prominent sites of American counter culture, Cooper Union. One could call it the New York Union. In front of a packed house, writers Laurie Anderson, Paul Auster, Russell Banks, Don DeLillo, and Eve Ensler read texts they had chosen around the theme “State of Emergency.” “Terrorism is the greatest test to civilization in our time,” said Mr. Rushdie, and the United States “is failing.”

PEN American Center is leading a campaign against the Patriot Act. Like the librarians and independent booksellers, they are asking for a review of section 215, which allows the FBI to spy on what citizens are reading or what they borrow from libraries in connection with antiterrorism investigations. Attorney General John Ashcroft has repeatedly stated that this article has never been used. That’s more of a reason to repeal it, in the opinion of Salman Rushdie and his friends.

translated by Anna Kushner, PEN Staff