On July 18, 1988, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, accepted a United Nations resolution calling for a cease-fire in the eight-year-old Iraq-Iran war. His nation had been brought to the edge of chaos by the costs of that war and desperately needed to be revitalized. Although Khomeini felt that dealing with the Western powers represented a corruption of his Islamic revolution, everything signaled that Iran must break out of its isolation for improved relations with both the Soviet Union and the Western powers. Yet Khomeini could not do it. He was opposed to any borrowing from the West. He simply wanted returned the money which the United States had frozen when the shah tumbled. His legalist scholars and he wanted scrupulous observance of the Koran and the whole body of Islamic tradition, theological and legal. The decadent West was the enemy; the hostage situation had not been resolved.
Iran's leaders, particularly the ayatollah, desired their world to stay fixated in the seventh century. But West Germany is Iran's biggest trading partner and ahead loomed the Open Market of a unified Europe. Unable to overcome their abhorrence for the West, these leaders could only long for unification of all Moslems against the great Satan: modern civilization. Iran, however, was basically a Shiite nation, representing at most a mere 10 percent of the Moslems of the world. Khomeini, eager to unify all the Moslems in support of his reactionary revolution, preferably under his sole leadership, had to make his reputation and his word felt. He had not done this through war with Iraq; he proposed to do it by fiat. He felt that he did not need an economic rebuilding of his nation's economy; he needed only devotion to Islam to effectuate his miracle of faith.
It was obvious to the world that with the end of the war with Iraq, certain ill defined factions were forming in Iran. After all, the imam was now eighty-eight years old. A clear succession of power had to be structured and the nation needed to be able to face the inevitable: modern technology and the culture erected around it were here to stay. In the latter part of 1988, Iran reestablished diplomatic relations with France and Britain and somewhat improved its relations with the Western world in general. The hostage release problem -- that cultural lag into example -- until then, however, remained completely unresolved.
It was just at this propitious time, that in September 1988, Viking Penguin, Inc., in London, England, published a novel titled The Satanic Verses, written by a well-known English literary figure, Salman Rushdie, a scholar and member of the elite, the recipient of the most prestigious literary awards in that country. The book just issued had, in fact, won the "new novel section" of Britain's respected Whitbread Prize ($36,000) for 1988 and was runner-up for the prestigious Booker Prize.
It takes only a half dozen fanatics to set the world on fire. They are unopposed by the genteel, who do not want to lower themselves to get into "a street fight," an ugly brawl in which they might necessarily need to wrestle with life. They are also supported by those in political power, as they are ballasts to maintain existing order. But, hearing about the book, in this case these classic half dozen fanatics began their work, aided by the new technologies of communication and the interest of balanced state power structures.
The book war rumored to hold Islam in disregard. The specifics of the alleged insult were not in the fall of 1988 yet abroad in the world but an insult to the sensibilities of the Moslem religion was a sufficient fuse to light.
October 5, 1988
The book was banned in India by direct order of Rajiv Gandhi, after a successful fight against the book by Sayed Shahabuddin, an Indian Moslem. This man, who claimed he would never read the book, told the New York Times in October 1988 that:
“You must look at this in the context of how the Moslem regards the Prophet. As far as the Moslems are concerned, there is no divinity about the man. He is a man. But he is the messenger of God, and the entire Islamic faith is based on this notion: that he is the Prophet and that what you find in the Koran is the word of God."
We also regard the Prophet's own life as the model for the rest of humanity, and for all times. To a believing Moslem, you can jest about a lot -- but you cannot jest about the person of the Prophet.”
When the book was banned in India, Salman Rushdie wrote a letter to Rajiv Gandhi, which was printed months later in the February 17, 1989, issue of The New York Times under the title "My Book Speaks for Itself." In the letter he noted that India banned his book from that country under Section 11 of the Indian Customs Act at the behest of two fundamentalist Moslem members of the Indian Parliament, Sayed Shahabuddin and Khurshid Alam Khan, neither one of whom had read the book. He challenged Gandhi to rise to a higher stature than agreeing with them.
In 1989, the reactionaries had the most sophisticated of all weapons: instant communication. So they went to work with it, knowing that the governments of states having sizable Moslem populations did not want any quarrel with their undisciplined inhabitants. By the end of that month, the controversy had surfaced everywhere: in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, India, and South Africa, every country or city with an expansive Moslem population, including London, as Moslem masses were inspired to take to the streets to show a protest. It is instructive to look at the events as they occurred.
In Bradford, West Yorkshire, northern England, the city with England's largest Moslem population (10 percent), 1,500 Moslems held a demonstration called by the Bradford Council of Mosques. Copies of the book were nailed to a stake and burned outside the town hall and a police station. Rushdie was burned in effigy. The organizer behind the rally was the secretary of the organization, Abdul Quddas. Had the demonstration not taken place in Bradford, with its attendant media coverage, it is improbable that the Ayatollah Khomeini would have ever heard of the book.
Just several days after the widespread news of the riot, a count was taken of the books sold in England: forty thousand copies. And the New York Times was reporting that there were two million Moslems in Britain.
More than 8,000 Moslems demonstrate in Hyde Park in London. The person responsible for the local thrust against Rushdie in London was Ali Mugram al-Ghamdi, director general of the Islamic Cultural Centers in Regent's Park. He called the novel, "the most offensive, filthy and abusive book ever written by an hostile enemy of Islam."
In Egypt, the prominent feminist, Nawal El Saadawi, a member of American Atheists, abandoned a novel in progress titled The Book of Satan which would have imagined Satan's views on issues in the Bible and the Koran. But even though she backtracked, she received so many death threats that the police had to provide her with round-the-clock protection.
Early February 1989
At this time, about 3,000 Moslems demonstrated in the city of Birmingham, England, where the government did not even slap a wrist.
The Pakistani National Assembly voted unanimously to condemn the book and its author. In fact, a Pakistani senator proposed formally from the senate that the government send two assassins to kill Rushdie.
An early February issue of Newsweek was banned in Pakistan because it contained a detailed account of the book.
Leaders of Islamic groups attended the annual Conservative Party convention in Brighton and called on the Thatcher government to ban the book, but Thatcher never issued a word on the matter. The attorney general of England was asked to begin criminal proceedings against Rushdie under the archaic blasphemy laws. The current law says that blasphemy occurs:
“when there is published anything concerning God, Christ, or the Christian religion in terms so scurrilous, abusive or offensive as to outrage the feelings of any adherent of or sympathizer with the Christian religion and would tend to lead to a breach of the peace.”
The protest was put into process.
A Moslem delegation then went to the British government to demand that the Blasphemy Act be rewritten to protect Islam, Judaism, and other religions. Church of England leaders (including Rober A. Runcie, the archbishop of Canterbury) and members of the Parliament echoed that demand. Pentecostalist and Jewish organizations also agreed that the law should be expanded. The archbishop of York opined that expanding the law was worth the effort, while alternately abolishing the law altogether:
“Would be to signal ... that our society holds nothing sacred, apart from the freedom of writers to write whatever they like.”
The Pakistani Maulana Kausar.Niazi, in Islamabad, a former senator in Pakistan, reported that Islamic fundamentalist hit squads had been sent to kill Salman Rushdie. He then organized a protest of about 8,000 young male demonstrators (the United States Center report estimated 10,000) in Islamabad outside the American Center, a United States government information office, combination library and cultural exchange building. The demonstration left six people dead and sixty-five (or eighty) wounded when riot police fired into the stone-throwing crowd. At first tear gas canisters had been utilized, but the protestors picked them up and hurled them back at the police, occasioning the shooting into the crowd. This all went on for a chaotic ninety minutes. Niazi had formed a "Movement for the Protection of the Honor of the Prophet" and staged the demonstration in its name. At least twenty-five of the protestors were arrested. Two opposition National Assembly members and prominent political leaders participated in the protest. Allegedly the rally was called to protest the release of the book in the United States (scheduled for February 22), but the march quickly took on an anti-American political tone. Marchers carried signs in both English and Urdu which read, "American Imperialism Out of Pakistan" and yelled "American Dogs" and "God is Great." Niazi had been scheduled to present a petition to the United States diplomats who were standing outside the building waiting to receive it, but the chaos surrounding the shootings prohibited that. The modern building sustained substantial damage. Every window was smashed, as were some doors; two fires were set inside the building; the United States flag was torn down and burned (without a murmur from President Bush); and the satellite dish was damaged. But since the office held only six employees at the time, no one was injured (other media reported three Americans and fifteen Pakistani employees). Several motorcycles, however, were burned. By the end of the day, the Pakistani government announced that the publishers of the Rushdie book, Viking Penguin, must destroy all copies of the book. If it did not, all books by Viking Penguin would be proscribed in Pakistan.
A Pakistani protestor carries a wounded comrade during a violent demonstration against The Satanic Verses outside the U.S. Information Center on February 12, 1989.
The amazing part of the uprising in Islamabad was that The Satanic Verses had not been translated into Urdu, which is the Pakistan language, had not been distributed in Pakistan, was banned from being sold in Pakistan, and had, consequently, not been read in Pakistan. It could only be surmised by informed concerned Pakistanis that this was another effort for a retrogressive uniform Islamic state and that Prime Minister Bhutto would try to forestall the Islamic campaign by giving in to the fanatics on certain issues -- such as banning of the book. Her election to office in 1988 had been a political setback for the reactionaries, but her position was, in fact, tenuous.
United States officials at the Cultural Center then invited Niazi to return on February 15, but he did not appear. He was too busy organizing a half-day afternoon strike by merchants and businessmen to protest the police clampdown on the protest the day before. More than 4,000 people marched in a funeral procession for the five (other reports said six) persons dead. Interviewed in London by the Guardian, Rushdie was quoted as being "very upset" at the deaths in Islamabad.
Prior to this large eruption the book had touched off protests at the American Center in Lahore, Pakistan, but those demonstrations ended peacefully.
On the same day a Moslem protest erupted in a second Pakistani town, Rawalpindi, where again a strike had been demanded. Some of the marchers stoned shops, banks, and hotels which had not observed the strike, forcing them to close.
In a sermon in Teheran, broadcast by the Islamic Republic News Agency (monitored in Cyprus), Iran's Parliament speaker, Hashemi Rafsanjani, made the statement that:
“The ground has been laid for a vast battle between Islam on the one hand, and paganism and arrorogance on the other.”
Rafsanjani wanted to know if Western governments supported what the book said about Islam:
“so that we know what our duty is regarding those who are partner in cursing the prophet.”
The willingness or the unwillingness of these Western governments to turn Rushdie over to the Moslems seemed to be implied in this statement.
On Valentine's Day, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, finally having the book, The Satanic Verses, in hand, ordered its author, Salman Rushdie, killed for affronting Islam by writing the book. He effectuated this by issuing a religious edict, a fatwa, which could not be revoked except by Khomeini himself. No one has the authority to challenge or question a fatwa.
It needs to be noted that at this time, Rushdie was identified as a Kashmiri Moslem apostate. (Khomeini's grandfather had been born in Kashmir.)
At the same time, Khomeini condemned to death all persons involved in the book's publication.
“I call on all zealous Moslems to execute them quickly, wherever they find them, so that no one will dare to insult Islamic sanctity. Whoever is killed doing this will be regarded as a martyr and will go directly to heaven.”
Apparently behind Khomeini's order was the intenseness of Iran's Interior Minister Ali Akbar Mohtashami, a former ambassador to Syria, and Prosecutor-General Musavi Khoeiniha, a cleric. Also some media reported that Khomeini's son, Ahmad, and "three hard-line ministers" (unnamed) had persuaded Khomeini to make the death call in order to undermine his, and their, political rivals.
Concerning the death threat, Rushdie retaliated:
“Obviously, at a personal level, it's very worrying. But I think beyond that. It shows that this is the latest stage in a campaign that began with smears and vilifications and distortions of the book, which has escalated through all sorts of levels of violence.”
To the BBC, he commented:
“It's horrifying that people are willing to proceed in this way against what is -- after all -- one novel in the face of the entire history of Islam.”
Simultaneously, the Moslem who had initiated the rioting in Bradford, West Yorkshire, England, in mid-January, Abdul Quddas, vowed that he would act on Khomeini's order.
“Every good Moslem is after his life. I am a family man, but I would sacrifice mine.”
On the same day, James Baker, the secretary of state of the United States, issued a feeble response that the edict was "regrettable" and Bush, characteristically, said nothing.
Plans to issue a French version of the book were dropped that day and a Spanish version was indefinitely postponed.
The senior Iranian cleric, Hojatoleslam Hassan Saneie, said the charity he leads, the June 5th Foundation, would pay $1 million to whatever non-Iranian would kill Rushdie and 200 million rials (the equivalent of $2.6 million) to the killer if he were Iranian.
Teheran Radio reported that the Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Velayati, told diplomats in that city that his government would order the closure of cultural centers belonging to nations that permitted publication of the book.
About 2,000 Iranians protested outside the British Embassy in Teheran chanting "Death to England" and "Death to America." The official Iranian press agency quoted Fakhreddin Hejazi, a member of the Iranian Parliament, as telling the demonstrators that Britain
“was the enemy of the Koran and Islam and the manifestation of all things evil.”
Whereupon the crowd began to chant "God is Great."
Subsequently, February 15 was declared by Iran to be a day of national mourning for the novel's
“... poisonous and insulting subject matter concerning Islam, the Koran and the blessed prophet.”
From Britain came the announcement that 100,000 hardback copies of the book had now been sold from the time it had been published in Britain in September 1988 and up to February 15, 1989.
Wallowing in money, Viking had Rushdie issue a statement about the book which said, substantively, that the book
is not an attack on Islam or any other religion but an attempt to challenge preconceptions and to examine the conflict between the secular and religious views of the world. Ironically, it is precisely this conflict that has now engulfed the book.
The fury of Khomeini, some media suggested, was directed toward a dream sequence in the book wherein prostitutes take the names of Mohammed's wives. Also The Satanic Verses insinuates that Mohammed wrote the Koran himself rather than received it from god.
Interviewed by the "CBS This Morning" television show, Rushdie added:
“Frankly, I wish I had written a more critical book. I mean, religious leaders ... who behave like this, and then say that this is a religion which must be above any kind of whisper of criticism, that doesn't add up.
It seems to me that Islamic fundamentalists could do with a little bit of criticism right now.”
“When the news got around Jahilia that the whores of The Curtain had each assumed the identity of one of Mahound’s wives, the clandestine excitement of the city’s males was intense. ... The men of Jahilia flocked to The Curtain, which experienced a three-hundred per cent increase in business. For obvious reasons it was not politic to form a queue in the street, and so on many days a line of men curled around the innermost courtyard of the brothel, rotating about its centrally positioned Fountain of Love much as pilgrims rotated for another reasons around the ancient Black Stone.”
-- “Return to Jahilia”
The Satanic Verses
An Egyptian Islamic theologian opined that Khomeini had erred in sending death squads after Rushdie without first giving him a chance to repent. Sheik Mohammed Hossamel-Din said the book should be banned and burned, but executing its author would be "virtually impossible" under the tenets of Islam.
Threats to Britain's airlines caused London's Heathrow Airport and British Airways to tighten security with bag-by-bag searches on its evening flights to India and the Far East.
Iran's lone diplomat, a chargé d'affaires, summoned to the Foreign Office in London, told reporters that the "decrees or verdict" had been delivered "after careful consideration" and "it has nothing to do particularly with your country."
Viking Penguin cancelled Rushdie's projected U.S. tour after becoming the target of a bomb threat. It was forced to vacate its headquarters on the fifth floor, 40 W. 23rd Street, in Manhattan about 2:30 p.m. after a telephone bomb threat was received. Two hundred employees from the building shivered in the cold outside for over an hour while the building was searched. Three similar threats against the publisher had occurred in January and three in December. In December the firm had been forced to vacate the building twice; therefore, the company hired plainclothes security officers who were posted at the front and rear entrances of the building. The formal announcement said the threats
have led us to conclude that the current climate is not appropriate for a promotional tour in the United States as previously planned.
Rushdie himself then cancelled the three-week speaking and promotional tour which was to begin February 24 in the United States.
The head of an American Moslem organization, Dawud Assad, president of the Council of Masajid of the United States, announced that he welcomed the cancellation.
Iran's ambassador (chargé d'affaires) to Britain, Mohammad Akhoond Zadeh Basti, reiterated that Khomeini's order to kill Rushdie was a purely religious statement and was not interference in Britain's internal affairs.
If the purely religious-based opinion of a religious head is going to be interpreted politically, it is very unfortunate. We think we have to make a line between the religious beliefs of the people and their political activities.
But the situation was that by this time the bounty on Rushdie's head, placed by religious leaders, had risen to $5.2 million.
February 17 marked the beginning of a "Freedom to Read Week" in Canada, a national campaign against book censorship, but it was on this day that Canadian customs officials ordered that any copies of Rushdie's novel must be impounded at the border under provisions of Canada's hate literature law. This is a federal statute which outlaws publications that advocate genocide or "hatred against any identifiable group." It had been used heretofore against pornographic and anti-Semite materials. Yet the law does contain specific exemptions for opinions expressed "in good faith" about religious subjects. One private citizen, however, after February 3, had asked that any further shipments of The Satanic Verses be detained until customs inspectors had examined the book. At the time, the Canadian Booksellers Association estimated that more than 5,000 copies had been sold in Canada. It soon developed that Mohammad Ashraf, the director of the Islamic Society of North America, had been the person who lodged the complaint.
Later the same day Canada's Department of External Affairs expressed its official concern over Khomeini's death threat to the Iranian chargé d'affaires in Ottawa, Ontario. The prime minister of Canada, however, has never been heard on the subject.
In Chicago, Judith Krug, director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, reported that she was besieged by calls from librarians seeking advise as to what they should do concerned with Rushdie's book. Her advice was, she said, "Treat the book as you would treat any other. You acquire it and make it available." The Chicago Public Library then disclosed that it had ordered, on February 8, seventeen copies for its permanent collection.
There were some problems brewing for Iran. On this day, West Germany became the first nation in the economic alliance to recall its chargé d'affaires from Teheran.
Publishers in France (the Christian Bourgeois press), West Germany, Greece, and Turkey decided not to issue the book. Greek publishers said they would postpone its release out of fear for their lives. The publishers of Finland, Norway, and Italy (Arnoldo Mondadori Editore Spa) remained unswayed.
The book chains B. Dalton and Barnes & Noble through their chief executives made the initial decision they would block the sales of the book in about 2,200 of the United States' roughly 7,000 general-interest bookstores. B. Dalton-Barnes & Noble operate about 1,000 stores, Waldenbooks (a unit of K-Mart), about 1,200, with 8,500 employees, and Crown about 200 stores; and account for nearly 45 percent of the general-interest fiction and non-fiction works known as trade books.
The book had just risen from ninth to sixth place on a major best-seller list and gone into an eighth reprint in the week preceding the book burning. After considerable criticism of W. H. Smith, by January 18 the book was back on sale in the Bradford stores -- albeit under the counter, rather than on display.
The media had now discovered that Rushdie received $850,000 for English-language rights to his book. From the continuing stories it became apparent that Rushdie had not written a critical analytical attack on Islam, but rather -- with profits in his eyes -- had simply issued another of his fantasy novels which sniped at the heels of religion, in this case Islam. In none of his rejoinders to the attacks did he speak of either freedom of the press or freedom of speech.
The 6,500-member Authors Guild and the National Writers Union demanded that President Bush publicly condemn the threats by Iran against Rushdie and his publisher and warn that the United States would respond if any harm came to any American citizen. The Guild's telegram to Bush asked for a "forceful statement" -- but, of course, for that it asked the wrong man. Also the Guild adopted a resolution calling on all authors to request their publishers not to distribute their books to the chain stores which were saying that they would not sell the Rushdie book. The resolution also called on the public to "not patronize those stores until the ban is lifted."
Cody's Books, Berkeley, California was firebombed about 4:30 a.m. when a pipe bomb was hurled through a back window just thirty seconds before a similar attack occurred at a nearby Waldenbooks store. One of the world's finest general bookstores, Cody's was bombed just fourteen days after Khomeini sentenced Rushdie to die. There was about $1,000 worth of damage. During the cleanup another bomb was found on the floor in the poetry section of the store. The owner of the store, forty-two-year old Andy Ross, stood across the street while the bomb squad worked with the bomb and as it exploded. His later, total sale, was of 1,200 volumes.
Firebombs damaged two bookstores in Berkeley, California, and heavily damaged the office of a small newspaper, the weekly Riverdale Press in Upper Manhattan, New York, which had defended Rushdie's right to publish.
As the media checked independent rather than chain stores, it found that the book was selling well in Lemuria Bookstores in Jackson, Mississippi, and in the Zion Book Stores in Salt Lake City. The owner of the Bookland stores in Yuba City and Marysville, California, received five personal death threats during the week before the Cody's bombing. The Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver, Colorado, sold 950 copies, although the store received three anonymous threats. The furious owner spent $100 on an ad in a Denver newspaper supporting freedom of speech. Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, received five telephone bomb threats.
At this time, the reports in the American media became so jumbled that it was difficult to sort out the sequence of events, or what event actually occurred. The following is an approximation.
About mid-February, President Ali Khomeini gave a sermon at prayer at Teheran University reported by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) and broadcast by the official Iranian media that:
This wretched man has no choice but to die. Of course he may repent and say "I made a blunder" and apologize ... Then it is possible that the people may pardon him.
Later, allegedly an Iranian official said the reward for killing Rushdie might be cancelled if Rushdie apologized. On February 18, Rushdie actually did express "regret" but didn't specifically apologize. His exact statement was:
I profoundly regret the distress that publication has occasioned to sincere followers of Islam.
I recognize that Moslems in many parts of the world are genuinely distressed by the publication of my novel.
Living as we do in a world of many faiths, this experience has served to remind us that we must all be conscious of the sensibilities of others.
The publisher considered labeling the unsold copies with the apology in order to defuse the protests. But in London a senior Viking Penguin editor attending an emergency meeting of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain said that the hardback copies were selling so well that the paperback edition due out in August might be delayed for "crude commercial" reasons.
Meanwhile, back in Iran, at first the IRNA criticized Rushdie's remarks. Hours later, it said that Rushdie's
statement, although far too short of a repentance, is generally seen as sufficient enough to warrant his pardon by the masses in Iran and elsewhere in the world.
Then late in the evening of the same day, IRNA released a "clarification" saying the earlier pardon was a "personal observation" by one of its writers and that it did "not allow for any specific interpretation whatsoever." Later again the same evening, the Iranian response was that the nation was not appeased.
“If Mahound recited a verse in which God was described as all-hearing, all knowing I would write, all-knowing, all-wise. Here’s the point: Mahound did not notice the alterations. So there I was, actually writing the Book, or rewriting, anyway, polluting the word of God with my own profane language. But, good heavens, if my poor words could not be distinguished from the Revelation by God’s own Messenger, then what did that mean? What did that say about the quality of divine poetry? ... It’s one thing to ... have half-suspicions about funny business, but it’s quite another to find out that you’re right.”
-- “Return to Jahilia”
The Satanic Verses
The following day, the Ayatollah Khomeini declared:
The imperialist foreign media are falsely alleging that the officials of the Islamic Republic have said that if the author of The Satanic Verses repents the execution order against him would be abolished.
This is denied 100 percent. Even if Salman Rushdie repents and becomes the most pious man of time it is incumbent on every Moslem to employ everything he's got, his life and wealth, to send him to Hell.
If a non-Moslem becomes aware of his whereabouts and has the ability to execute him quicker than a Moslem, it is incumbent on Moslems to pay a reward or a fee in return for this action.
Immediately, in London, trying to get in on the publicity, newspaper magnate Robert Maxwell pledged $10.6 million to anyone who could "civilize" Khomeini, one of his papers, The People, a London tabloid, stated. The money was to be paid to anyone who could persuade the Moslem leader to repent "his wicked ways" by persuading him to publicly recite the sixth and ninth of the Ten Commandments: "Thou shalt not kill" and "Thou shalt not bear false witness."
The reward was double that put on Rushdie's head.
Meanwhile the Canadian Customs had decided that The Satanic Verses contained no hateful propaganda and that copies could continue to be imported.
In Yugoslavia, the leading Communist Party daily newspaper Borba began printing excerpts of the book on the date that Iranian president Ali Khomeini arrived for a three-day visit to that nation.
The European community foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, belgium, decided to withdraw their ambassadors to Iran "for consultations," but no heads of state anywhere issued any statements in respect to either freedom of speech or freedom of the press. Britain went further by shutting its embassy in Teheran entirely, but the problem of Terry Waite and other British hostages still held by Moslems is well known. Britain had just three months prior to this, in January, opened its Iranian embassy for the first time since 1979 and had three diplomats stationed there. Now it recalled them all.
Mehdi Karrubi, the deputy speaker of Iran's Majlis (parliament), on this day told an assembled crowd:
Salman Rushdie and others who think in the same way will definitely have no fate but death, annihilation, and eternal hell.
The crowd broke out into cries of "Allah-o Akbar (God is Great)."
Back in the United States a spokesman for New York's John Cardinal O'Connor criticized both The Satanic Verses and those who threatened its author, but seemed to imply that Roman Catholics should avoid reading the novel in that he
encourages everyone not to dignify the publication of this work, which has been viewed by Moslems as highly sacrilegious and offensive.
The Vatican, at this point, remained silent.
The Japanese had an unnamed official issue a remark that the Rushdie death threat was "not something to be praised." But then the estimated reconstruction contracts for Iran and its war-torn economy are estimated at $190 billion and Japan wants a sizeable bite of it; the country could not afford to offend the ayatollah. But two Japanese foreign book dealers did stop selling the book "for safety reasons" until the controversy blew over.
On February 20, Imam Abdullah Ahdal, the Saudi leader of Moslems in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, appeared on a television program of the government French-language television network in brussels (the RTBF), to criticize Khomeini's call for the death of Salman Rushdie. Ahdal had lived in Brussels for six years, heading the Moslem community of 225,000 persons living in the three nations. He directed the Islamic Cultural Center, set up by the late Saudi ruler, King Faisal, in an effort to unite the Moslems in that area. It is sponsored by the Moslem World League which is based in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. On the show he spoke in Arabic and his own translator spoke in French. He criticized Khomeini, saying that Rushdie should have been given a trial and an opportunity to explain himself and to repent. Four days after the show, Ahdal received a telephone threat because of his disagreement with the ayatollah. He still, however, told a Brussels daily newspaper that he would not oppose the book's publication in Belgium.
Spain announced that the European Community cultural ministers would boycott an international book fair opening on May 27 in Teheran. Libya announced that it had taken measures to "confront publication" of the novel. The dispatch by the official Libyan JANA agency did not elaborate.
The archbishop of Canterbury, Robert A. K. Runcie, appealed to the leaders of the estimated 1.5 million Moslems and the 25,000 Iranians in Britain to "contain their anger within the bounds of the law." He had nothing to say on Rushdie's behalf.
Abu al-Qasim Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib ibn Hashim
Arab prophet and founder of Islam
Mohammed, of the semitic tribe of Qureyh, was born at Mecca, in Arabia, ca. 570. He grew to manhood riding merchant caravans to Syria, during which time he married a wealthy widow old enough to be his mother. With her fortune, he remained a rich merchant until about age forty when he began, in a series of trances or seizures, to receive revelations from the angel Gabriel which informed him that he was a prophet of god. in his own words, he then became "The Slave of Allah." Being himself illiterate, another needed to record the words he received from god through Gabriel.
His ministry and role as a prophet were not at first accepted. As acts of vengeance were visited upon him and his converts, he found it necessary to flee to Medina, where he formally inaugurated the Moslem Era as the ruler or head of state. This state, a theocracy, established publish worship based upon the Koran, Mohammed's interpretation and additions to the Old Testament. By force of arms, Mohammed enlarged his territory, finally capturing Mecca and converting its citizens. At this time, he ordered his followers to change the Qiblah (the place toward which they turned their faces in prayer) from Jerusalem to the Ka’bah at Mecca.
Mohammed enlarged the religion (Judaism) of Abraham to designate it finally as the only true religion -- Islam -- that religion that consists in the surrender of Man's will and Purpose to the Will and Purpose of the Lord of Creation, as manifested in his Creation and as revealed by way of guidance through successive prophets.
Mohammed died in 632, after which time the fragments of the Koran were put together into whole cohesive form to be used as the foundation for the Islamic religion, begun as a political force and taken over by his successors.
February 22, 1989
H. Morsi of the Islamic Cultural Center of Chicago came forward to announce:
One can only blaspheme against God. Prophet Mohammed was a human messenger of God and not a deity to be worshiped by Moslems.
Islam, however, calls for the complete acceptance of god's law. The way of life is the attainment of peace, both inner and outer peace, by the submission of oneself to the will of the one and only god.
The fight, it appeared, is for the Moslems to retain their faith intact; their fear is that they may lose their moral environment, that is, their self-protection. The book was an assault as to how they perceived themselves and it was incumbent on them to eliminate the threat. The book was a catalyst -- the perceived menace of all that they believe. To kill Rushdie was to kill their self doubt and in this sense it was an assertion of their orthodoxy, an attempt to regain self regard.
With the advent of international uproar in progress over The Satanic Verses, and faced with complaints within their ranks that they had been slow to support Rushdie, several authors' organizations scheduled supportive "readings" of the book in several cities across the United States. There were twenty-one in attendance in New York, including Normal Mailer, Joan Didion, E. L. Doctorow, Larry McMurtry, Diana Trilling, and Susan Sontag. Rallies went on at the same time in Boston, Washington, Chicago, Minneapolis, and San Francisco. The meetings were suggested by John R. MacArthur, the publisher of Harper's magazine, and jointly sponsored by American Pen, the Author's Guild and Article 19, a newly created organization based in London that keeps track of censorship around the world.
The meeting was under tight security in the loft of a downtown Manhattan building that is the home of several art galleries. Police used dogs to sweep the hall of bombs before the meeting. Only five hundred persons were given entry to the event and these turned out to be mostly media. How brave can one be? Three thousand other persons stretched up Broadway and around the block.
Early in the morning about three hundred members of the National Writers Union, made up principally of freelance writers, demonstrated in front of the Iranian Mission to the United Nations on Third avenue between fortieth and Forty-first Streets. The participants tried unsuccessfully to deliver a letter to the Iranian Mission which declared, in part:
The attempt by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and others to force withdrawal of Rushdie's book is repugnant to Americans and, more important, in violation of our rights.
Those involved included Abbie Hoffman, onetime anti-Vietnam War activist, and Normal Mailer.
There are an estimated 250,000 Moslems in Los Angeles. The Islamic Center of Southern California held a press conference to indignantly note that the media was concentrating on what Khomeini had said rather than on the insult which Rushdie had inflicted upon Moslems with his book.
Sometime after the bookstore bombings, President Bush directed Attorney General Dick Thronburgh to use the resources of the FBI to identify and prosecute the bombers if it was determined that federal laws were being violated. Bush emphasized his "realization that the book offends some Moslems," but added:
I can be sensitive to that. But we cannot and will not tolerate and ... condone violence and lawlessness in this country.
It was the usual bush wimp-out. After that what could one expect of others? Only three United States lawmakers had anything to say: Senator Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vermont) called the death threat against Rushdie "an act of international terrorism" and Senator Clairborne Pell (D-R.I.) denounced the threat generally. Senator Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) opined that any Iranian-directed action against the novel in the United States "could well fall into the category of an act of war" and said that the threats against Rushdie and others were "open brazen aggrandizement" which could not be tolerated. Our other 432 representatives and senators said nothing; not one governor opened his mouth; and most men of opinion were equally quiet -- except, of course, Patrick J. Buchanan. In his column of February 19, he wrote:
Sal has written a defamatory novel, a blasphemous assault on the faith of hundreds of millions. ... The Satanic Verses is an act of moral vandalism by an artistic delinquent. ... the moral equivalent of an anti-Semitic book.
As usual, Buchanan had his Roman Catholic blinders on. As far as he was concerned, Salman, a moral barbarian, had provoked the retaliation against himself -- a classic inquisitional stance.
The formal issue date in the United States was February 22, but the book was available in stores for several weeks before that. The initial printing for the United States was to be 50,000; but by February 16, there were 72,500 copies in print. Sister companies had published the novel in Britain in September and Canada in October.
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