Yesterday night at the PEN Literary Gala and Free Expression Awards, J.K. Rowling decided to voice her very topical concern both over Trump’s politics — as well as over the potential silencing of Trump’s politics. In January 2016, British Parliament held a debate over a petition — signed by over half a million people (and any petition signed by over 100,000 is given Parliament consideration) — to prevent Donald Trump from entering the country on the grounds that he’s a propagator of hate speech.
David Cameron had lambasted Trump — and especially the presidential candidate’s suggestion of a ban on Muslims from entering the U.S. — but had also argued against a ban on Trump himself in the UK, saying, per CNN, “If he came to visit our country, I think he would unite us all against him.” In the past, the likes of a Quran-burning pastor and a KKK leader had been banned — and just recently even Azealia Banks seemed to be under investigation by the Home Office following her racist Twitter rant against Zayn Malik.
So yesterday night, PEN honoree (receiving the 2016 PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award) Rowling, voiced her opinion on Trump’s right to voice his opinion. (In the past, Rowling has been candid about her disdain for Trump, tweeting that he’s “worse than Voldemort.”) After being introduced by Sarah Jessica Parker, she gave a speech saying, among much else, “[Trump’s] freedom to speak protects my freedom to call him a bigot. His freedom guarantees mine. Unless we take that absolute position without caveats or apologies, we have set foot upon a road with only one destination.” She noted that she herself is speaking somewhat from experience — she’s on a number of banned book lists.
However, she also admitted that her own expression is rarely limited by higher powers and that she can take these things relatively lightly as they apply to herself, and that mostly she has to deal with the likes of Christian fundamentalists — like one she met in a toy shop in New York — saying “I’m praying for you” in a surprisingly “intimidating” fashion. She noted that her critics “are at liberty to claim that [she] is trying to convert children to Satanism, and [she’s] free to explain that she’s exploring human nature and morality, or to say, [you’re an idiot]…” Rowling continued, emphasizing the importance of not taking these liberties — for her and for her fundamentalist critics — for granted:
The tides of populism and nationalism currently sweeping many developed countries have been accompanied by demands that unwelcome or inconvenient voices be removed from public discourse. Mainstream media has become a term of abuse in some quarters. It seems that unless a commentator or television channel or newspaper reflects exactly the complainers’ worldview, it must be guilty of bias or corruption. Intolerance of alternative viewpoints is spreading to places that make me, a moderate and a liberal, most uncomfortable… Now, I find almost everything that Mr. Trump says objectionable. I consider him offensive and bigoted. But he has my full support to come to my country and be offensive and bigoted there. If my offended feelings can constitute a travel ban on Donald Trump, I have no moral grounds on which to argue that those offended by feminism or the right for transgender rights or universal suffrage should not oppress campaigners for those causes. If you seek the removal of freedoms from an opponent simply on the grounds that they have offended you, you have crossed a line to stand along tyrants who imprison, torture and kill on exactly the same justification.
Watch the author’s speech (couched within the entirety of the ceremony) below in its entirety: