NewsWorldHow Iran Exploited Salman Rushdie's 'The Satanic Verses'

How Iran Exploited Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Satanic Verses’


This is how Salman Rushdie’s condition is reported after attack 0:40 (CNN) — Nearly 10 years after he was driven into hiding, Salman Rushdie believed he was free. The perpetrator had been living under heavy security and the highest secrecy in London. But in 1998, the Iranian government of President Mohammad Khatami publicly distanced itself from the religious fatwa calling for his assassination. The move was part of a historic deal with the UK. Iran issued a public guarantee not to push for Rushdie’s assassination in exchange for improved diplomatic relations between London and Tehran. “Well, it looks like it’s over,” Rushdie told reporters at the time. “It means everything. It means freedom.” But there was a catch. The 1989 murder decree on Rushdie’s satirical novel “The Satanic Verses” could not be officially revoked because the source of the fatwa, Iran’s first Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini, had died. At least that’s what Rushdie was told, according to his biography. It was a cleverly crafted ambiguity that has defined Iran’s policy on the issue, and many other issues, in the intervening years. In 2006, Hassan Nasrallah, secretary general of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, publicly lamented that the fatwa against the perpetrator had not been carried out, stating that he encouraged others to “insult” the Prophet Muhammad. In 2019, Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reminded his followers that the ruling against Rushdie was “strong and irrevocable,” in a tweet that led to his account being shut down. Khamenei still tweets from other accounts. Salman Rushdie Four months before Rushdie was brutally stabbed at an event in New York on Friday, an Iranian media outlet, Iran Online, published an article praising the fatwa. Amidst all this, Iran seemed to insist on continuing to brandish the hangman’s sword in front of Rushdie. Regardless of his motivations, Iran’s cynical exploitation of some Muslim sensibilities is evident. “The Satanic Verses” is based on a deeply controversial story from early Islamic tradition that claims that Satan momentarily interfered with divine revelations to the Prophet Muhammad. Iran did not immediately ban the book; The country’s rulers only took action several months later, after the book inspired protests in Pakistan. The subsequent fatwa proved to be politically useful. It elevated Khomeini in the eyes of Islam’s fundamentalists throughout the Muslim world, including among Sunnis. Yet then, as now, he had his prominent Muslim and regional detractors. Robin Wright of The New Yorker reports that Khomeini’s closest protégé at the time, Ayatollah Ali Montazeri, criticized the decree. Montazeri, who also opposed the mass executions of Iran’s dissidents, fell out of favor with the regime and was placed under house arrest in 1997. A 1989 letter published in The New York Review of Books signed by Arab and Muslim scholars also denounced the campaign against Rushdie. “This campaign is done in the name of Islam, although none of it gives Islam any credit,” said the letter signed by five prominent intellectuals, including the late Indian poet Aga Shahid Ali and the late Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said. “Certainly, Muslims and others have the right to protest ‘The Satanic Verses’ if they feel the novel offends their religious and cultural sensibilities,” the letter’s authors added. “But bringing protest and debate into the realm of intolerant violence is, in fact, antithetical to Islamic traditions of learning and tolerance.” In Rushdie’s biography, “Joseph Anton,” the Mumbai-born author is described as openly questioning whether the 1998 London-Tehran deal was “selling” him out just days after he declared that the threats on his life were “over.” . Joseph Anton was Rushdie’s pseudonym during his time in hiding, and he refers to himself in the book in the third person. Despite recognizing that the death sentence would still hang over his head, he chose to leave his life in hiding and settle in New York, where decades later he would be brutally attacked in front of horrified onlookers. The suspect in last week’s attack was identified by authorities as Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old from New Jersey. Matar pleaded not guilty Saturday to attempted murder and other charges. True to form, Iran denied involvement in the attack and said only Rushdie and his “supporters” were to blame. Hezbollah also said it had no information about the attacker and the plot in comments to CNN. “Nothing was perfect, but there was a level of imperfection that was hard to accept,” Rushdie wrote in his biography of the 1998 decision. “Still, he stood his ground,” Rushdie added, referring to himself. “He had to take his life back into his own hands. He couldn’t wait any longer for the ‘flaw factor’ to drop to a more acceptable level.”

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