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Red Herring Rushdie II
Red Herring Rushdie II
In France, Cardinal Albert Decourtray, head of the French Roman Catholic church, noted, "Once again believers have been offended in their faith." Elsewhere in France, the daily newspaper Liberation and the two weeklies, L'Eventement du Jeudi and Le Vouvel Observatuer, announced jointly that they would each publish a chapter of Rushdie's novel on February 23.
By this time, Chicago had finally come alive and most of that city's most prominent writers met in the Chicago Public Library's Cultural center to protest against the death threat.
On the same day, Waldenbooks announced that it would reorder the Verses and would sell it to customers who asked for it, but would not put it on display. Its executives spoke about the "protection of our employees" and insisted that they had "fought long and hard against censorship," that theirs was not a freedom of speech issue, but an employee protection issue.
Next, a spokesman for the company that operates B. Dalton and Barnes and Noble announced:
At the urging of an overwhelming majority of its store managers ... and in light of the statement yesterday by the president of the United States, B. Dalton will resume sales of The Satanic Verses.
However, the spokesman asked for anonymity.
The incident emphasized that chain bookstores have the power to sentence a book to extinction. In this case, and by this time, the chains had discovered that support for Rushdie was a virtually risk-free token of intellectual and physical gallantry, bound by special precautions as they were.
At the same time Cat Stevens, who gave up a successful music career in 1977 after becoming a Moslem, gave a statement of support for Khomeini to Reuters News Service in London:
The Koran makes it clear. If someone defames the prophet, then he must die.
Subsequently WCXR-FM, a radio station outside of Washington, D.C., that plays old rock music, pulled albums by the former pop singer. The station said it could not "in good conscience program the music of any artist who advocates the taking of a human life."
Retaliatory words and phrases rebounded across the nation. In San Francisco there was a demonstration and march from M. Justin Herman Plaza to the British consulate on Sansome Street. At this, the secretary general of the Council of Muslim Associations, Shamin H. Zaidi, called The Satanic Verses "the greatest injury in the history of Islam from the days of the Prophet Mohammad until today."
The Soviet ambassador to Britain, Leonid Zamyatin, said the controversy "clearly shows the need for respect for religious feelings and traditions as well as tolerance for the politics and values of others." Gorbachev failed to open his mouth.
Two thousand Moslems rallied in Manchester, England, and called for Rushdie's book to be withdrawn from library shelves.
On the other hand Japan's Foreign Minister, Sousuke Uno, finally criticized the death threat saying, "Such suggestions of murder cannot be accepted among modern society." But Japan did not follow the European countries with a withdrawal of its diplomats.
In Bombay, India, 5,000 people, following prayer services, staged a march in the violence of which forty persons, including eleven police officers, were injured and three hundred arrested. The protestors ignored a ban on the assembly of more than five people in public places on Friday, Islam's holy day. They set fire to several state-run buses and other vehicles and attacked the police. Press Trust reported twelve killed; United News of India put it at ten, but the police commissioner estimated eight had died. Simultaneous demonstrations broke out in New Delhi, Calcutta, Darjeeling, Varanasi, Patna, and Siliguri, India. In New Delhi the head of the seventeenth-century Jama Masjid Mosque, Syed Abdullah Bukhari, the nation's most powerful Moslem leader, publicly congratulated Khomeini on the death sentence and added, "No leniency should be shown him [Rushdie]." After his holy day service, the police stopped about four hundred Moslems from marching on the British High Commission.
February 26, 1989
Iran's Cabinet declared that it was united behind Khomeini in respect to the international furor over Rushdie.
During the period from Valentine Day forward, Rushdie and his wife were put into a series of houses operated by the Special Branch and MI5, units of Scotland Yard, being moved every several weeks. They were not permitted telephone calls, and mail had to reach them via the police. They could not have expected many calls, since few prominent politicians, clerics, and intellectuals rallied to the defense of Rushdie.
A number of Islamic scholars had, at this point, pointed out that anyone accused of apostasy must first be brought to trial and found guilty or confess to the crime "before there's any question of execution."
Yet, thousands of demonstrators appeared in the holy city of Qom on February 26 chanting slogans declaring their readiness to carry out the ayatollah's edict and kill Rushdie. A senior cleric, Ayatollah Ali Meshkini, told the demonstrators that Iran preferred the sanctity of its religion to relations with countries that failed to respect Islam.
The 2,200-member PEN American Center issued a statement in support or Rushdie.
In Karachi, Pakistan, a bomb blast rocked the British Council library, killing a Pakistani guard.
Rushdie was burned in effigy on Fifth Avenue in New York.
In France, Prime Minister Michel Rocard formally warned that "appeals for murder, under whatever form, will be prosecuted."
Britain's Home Office minster, Douglas Hurd, warned Britain's Islamic community that violence or the threat of violence in protest against Rushdie's writings was intolerable.
Rushdie's eighty-year-old mother, who lived in Karachi, had to be flown out of Pakistan because authorities could not ensure her safety.
Nazia Hassan, the demure female star of the television show, "Music 89," was so harassed by the Moslem fundamentalists and the television authorities that the program was gutted in April and she was removed. Miss Hassan, although a rock singer, had always covered her hair and showed only her hands and face. Her only distributed remark about the episode was
Everything in Pakistan, even the way you sing a song, is highly politicized now.
French singer Veronique Sanson pulled a pop song titled "Allah" from her repetoire after bomb threats to the Paris concert hall where she was performing. "Allah" was a protest song against intolerance and religious fanaticism. But by the time she pulled it from her repetoire, many record stores had already pulled the song.
Two hundred university students in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur rallied against the book, carrying banners with the message, "Kill Salman Rushdie."
Swedish publisher Bonnier said it would advance the Swedish-language release date from autumn to summer.
Britain, after Khomeini's 100 percent statement, pulled its five diplomats in Teheran and expelled two Iranian diplomats from London, making the threatened break a formality.
Undaunted the Majlis Resolution said that ties with Britain would be cut within a week unless London
declared its opposition to the unprincipled stands against the world of Islam, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the contents of the anti-Islamic book, The Satanic Verses
Two telephone calls were subsequently made to the British Foreign Office to deliver the resolution. But Britain said it would refuse to meet the Iranians until Iran and its leader, Ayatollah ruhollah Khomeini, withdrew the death threat.
Next, the Iranian Majlis (parliament) voted overwhelmingly (100 out of 270 members for a total breach) to break diplomatic ties unless the British government would denounce Rushdie's book and withdraw its condemnation of Khomeini's judgement.
Widening the rift, Iran's Foreign Ministry said in a statement declaring the end of the relations:
In the past two centuries, Britain has been in the front line of plots against Islam and Moslems.
The Iranian daily Abrar newspaper opined that the decision by the Iranian Parliament to sever ties with Britain should also apply to west Germany since West Germany was among twelve European Community nations to recall their top diplomats and their ambassadors from Teheran. The move was taken at Britain's urging. Canada and Sweden also ordered their diplomats home from Teheran. Britain stated that to resume normal relations with the nation, Iran must
declare its respect for international obligations and renounce the use or threatened use of violence.“At the centre of the storm stands a novel, a work of fiction, one that aspires to the condition of literature. It has often seemed to me that people on all sides of the argument have lost sight of this simple fact. The Satanic Verses has been described, and treated, as a work of bad history, as an anti-religious pamphlet, as the product of an international capitalist-Jewish conspiracy, as an act of murder (“he has murdered our hearts”), as the product of a person comparable to Hitler and Attila the Hun. It is felt impossible, amid such a hubbub, to insist of the fictionality of fiction.”
Essay in Newsweek
In a joint resolution the European community member nations further said that Khomeini's death edict represented unacceptable violation of the most elementary principles and obligations that govern relations among sovereign states. Does any of this sound as if the member nations were interested in anything other than their own sovereignty?
Forty people were injured when police in the northern India city of Srinagar clashed with stone-throwing demonstrators. (Other reports spoke of at least fifteen being injured.) In India's Bengal state, Moslem demonstrators blocked roads and burned effigies of Rushdie -- fifty people were arrested.
In Stockholm, Sweden's Nobel prize-awarding literary academy defended free speech but did not explicitly support Rushdie, although it had been under pressure from literary and other organizations to take a clear stand for Rushdie.
The spiritual guide of the pro-Iran Hezbollah, Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah issued an attack on The Satanic Verses in Beirut, Lebanon.
In Teheran, Iranian president Ali Khomeini denounced the "West's cultural aggression against Islam through its support for The Satanic Verses." The minister of Culture and Higher Education, Mohammad Farhadi, then urged the United Nations Educational, Scientific and cultural Organization to condemn the book.
In a newspaper interview Egypt's Nobel Prize-winning author, Naguib Mahfouz, urged Moslem countries to condemn the death sentence by Khomeini but proposed a boycott of Viking Penguin.
Back in England, Britain's Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, was quoted in the media saying that Rushdie's right to free speech was fundamental but that the book is offensive, and not just to Moslems.
Freedom of speech is important, even in relation to a book which has plainly caused offense in the Moslem community, and is capable of causing offense to others.
About this time in Britain, some people of influence and in the government were reading the book and finding it not palatable. They discovered that Rushdie characterized Britain as racist society and referred to Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher as Mrs. Torture. Additionally they felt that it compared Britain with Hitler's Germany. Subsequently three Labour Party members of Parliament, all from constituencies with large numbers of Moslems, introduced a motion calling for the withdrawal of The Satanic Verses.
Immediately, Salman Rushdie telephoned Paddy Ashdown, the leader of the Social and Liberal Democratic party, an opposition member of Parliament, worrying that Britain was backing out in the diplomatic crisis over Iranian death threats. It was not true, he argued, that he had compared England and Nazi Germany and if even one sentence could be found in the entire book, he wanted to see it. Apparently these three Labour members of the Parliament had urged a ban that day on the "producing of more or new editions of The Satanic Verses."
Full-page advertisements appeared in newspapers in sixteen countries signed by more than one thousand writers from nations around the world, supporting Rushdie. These included from the
Saul Bellow, Normal Mailer and Elie Wiesel
Joseph Brodsky and Andrei Sinyavsky
Athol Fugard and Nadine Gordimer
Graham Greene and Harold Pinter
Eugene Ionesco and Milan Kundera
Suprisingly, one of the harshest criticisms of Rushdie came from the honored and acclaimed The Christian Science Monitor, which printed a very lengthy "opinion" letter of a doctoral candidate in Islamic history at Princeton University. The thrust of this was that Rushdie had abused his freedom by ridiculing Moslem beliefs in a way which was certain to offend.
But for this he should be murdered?
The Moslems, the article holds, have a reality which is founded on absolute submission to the will of god, as it was elucidated through centuries of Islamic jurisprudence. As to Rushdie:
To communicate one's own doubt is one thing, but to do so by deliberately debasing and demeaning what others still cherish as sacred is to cross an altogether different line.
March 5, 1989
L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, said that millions of Moslems had been offended by the rushdie novel.
The very attachment to our own faith induces us to deplore that which is irreverent and blasphemous in the book's content.
Pope John Paul II said nothing on the subject even as late as this. L'Osservatore Romano did not even mention the death sentence imposed on Rushdie by Khomeini. Criticism of Rushdie dominated the article.
It is certainly fair to ask what kind of art or liberty we are dealing with when, in their name, people's most profound dimension is attacked and their sensitivity as believers is offended.
Dante, the author of the Divine Comedy, died over six hundred years ago, but if Moslem fundamentalists have their way he will be on the current list of banned authors.
In Reggion Emilia, Italy, unknown attackers smashed the windows of four bookstores that displayed the novel. A fire broke out at a bookshop owned by Mondadori, Rushdie's Italian publisher. In Ravenna, Italy, a group calling itself Guardians of the Revolution threatened to blow up the tomb of Dante Alighieri unless the mayor of the city disavowed Dante's description of the Prophet Mohammed. In the Divine Comedy, Dante had described Mohammed as condemned to one of the lower circles of hell, split in two, for having promoted schism.
The Akademie der Kunste in West Berlin refused to allow a reading from the book on its premises "for security reasons."
People for the American Way took advantage of the Salman Rushdie affair to appeal for new membership with a full-page ad in The New York Times.
Bush took weeks to get around to acknowledging that something was amiss and then only said, in a weak-kneed fashion:
However offensive that book may be, inciting murder and offering rewards for its perpetration are deeply offensive to the norms of civilized behavior.
Jimmy carter, who studied the Moslem religion when he was preparing for Middle East negotiations, wrote to the New York Times that Rushdie's book "is a direct insult" to millions of Moslems.
Another protest broke out in Rushdie's native land, India. In Srinagar, capital of Jammu on the Pakistani border, and Anantnag, in norther Kashmir, demonstrators threw stones at cars and shops -- with at least fifty persons sustaining injuries as the police used tear gas and bullets to quell the uprisings. Markets, stores, businesses, and offices where shuttered as the clashes proceeded.
Ahmed Jebril, the leader of the Popular front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, who opposes Yasir Arafat, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, threatened, to the British Reuters News Service, to personally kill Rushdie, "... in defense of religion, God and His prophet." The State Department of the United States immediately condemned this language and called on Syria to make certain that the Palestinian did not carry out his threat. The group, based in Damascus, is within the jurisdiction of the Syrian government.
The British Library put Rushdie's book on its "restricted" list, meaning it could be read only on request, in a guarded room.
The chief rabbi of Israel's Ashkenazim, Avraham Shapira, announced that the book, which he described as "an affront to the dignity of religious belief," would be banned in Israel because it "offends religious sensibilities." The chief rabbi cited
a law in Israel which states that it is forbidden to publish books that offend the sensibilities of believers in any religion.
But an Israeli company, Keter Publishing, had planned a Hebrew version, giving a translator a sizeable advance for his work. Nonetheless Shapira spelled out his views in an article in the popular Hebrew daily Maariv about the "inhuman and immoral" book.
Every religious person everywhere in the world feels personally offended by its publication.
Haaretz, a liberal Hebrew daily, took issue with Shapira, basing Rushdie's right to write on the principle of freedom of thought. Nonetheless, the new Flag of the Torah Party's head Rabbi Avraham Ravitz said he would be appalled if anyone would describe Moses as having enjoyed the company of prostitutes and he also condemned the book. Even Yael Lotan, a left-wing literary critic and proponent of dialogue with the PLO, expressed opposition to the publication of the book based on "local Moslem religious sensibilities." Only Aharon Amir, whose works include both poetry and prose, opposed any concession to religious orthodoxy -- Islamic or Jewish.
The Revolutionary Justice Organization, based in Lebanon, announced that it had completed plans to kill Rushdie.
Britain expelled about thirty Iranians on security grounds because of the death threat to Rushdie. That nation also closed the Iranian consulate in Hong Kong, which is still a British colony.
The United States announced that 30,000 Iranian citizens are in the United States on student visas, with some 10,000 to 15,000 being activists with sympathies for Khomeini's fundamentalist Shiite regime.
In the Malaysian city of Kota Bahru, an estimated 10,000 Moslems burned United States flags and pictures of The Satanic Verses. The gathering in that nation was organized by the opposition Pan Malaysian Islamic Party. There were no reported disturbances.
The speaker of the Iranian Parliament, Hojatoleslam Hashemi Rafsanjani, opined that the furor over the novel could be resolved by burning all existing copies of the book and banning it forever. His statement, made during prayers at Teheran University, was that the solution to
the strangest and rarest crisis in history is to issue a strict order to seize all copies in the entire world and burn them.
If it stays, it will remain forever a source of rebellion and it would be impossible that peace would come between real Moslems and the supporters of this book.
If those who ignited this flame do not find a suitable solution, no one knows where it will lead to.
The March 13 issue of Newsweek was banned in Malaysia, and the March 9 issue of the Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review, for printing extracts from the book.
The kingdom of Saudi Arabia refused to support Iran's death order against Rushdie. Two Iranian government envoys had been touring Islamic states seeking support for Iran's stance on the Rushdie affair: Ahmad Jannati, who was in Bahrain on March 12, and Mohammad Yazdi, who was in Nigeria.
Indonesia and Singapore banned the book on this date.
Iran was unable to convince the forty-six-member Organization of Islamic Conferences meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to uphold Khomeini's death sentence. Iran's foreign minister did not attend. But Mohammad Khodadadi, head of the Foreign Ministry's Islamic Organization Affairs representing Iran, said that Rushdie's book would be "the most important issue to be debated by the conference as far as we are concerned. We will address the conference for their support for Iran's views on this score." He failed completely in this task.
Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto sent police to protect the United States Embassy during a demonstration; right wing political foes now cast her as a westernized defender of Rushdie. There was a demand for the resignation of Interior Minister Aitzaz Ashan who was accused of ordering the police to suppress the march.
Fifty thousand Moslems left their mosques and marched through the capital city of Dhaka to the Bangladesh government's headquarters to demand the death of author Salman Rushdie.
Rioters broke windows and spray-painted buildings in a Moslem neighborhood in Sheffield, England, Media reporters saw windows smashed, small tress pulled up, paint sprayed on cars, homes, and religious centers as well as painted slogans demanding Rushdie be left in peace. There were no reported injuries. "Pecks die" was scrawled on a mosque.
In Israel, Adnan Husseini, director of the Supreme Islamic Council in Jerusalem, said,
Islam is a giant which a small book like this doesn't hurt. We don't care about the book, really. We understand Islam well. We are proud of Mohammed and we believe what this man publishes about Islam is not important.
Murders over The Satanic Verses were not confined to the Third World Countries. Belgium was the scene of two killings. Here the widow of the leader of Belgium's Moslems threatens a journalist shortly after the murders of her husband and an aid on March 29, 1989.
Both Imam Abdullah Ahdal, the Saudi leader of Moslems in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, discussed above, and an aide, a librarian at the Center, were shot to death, point blank, twice, once in the head and once in the neck from close range, in the Center in Brussels, on March 29 by three hooded men. Later an Islamic group in Lebanon, Soldiers of Truth, claimed credit for the death. The murderers were never found.
Subsequently, W. H. Smith, Britain's biggest bookseller (430 stores), withdrew the book from the two Bradford outlets.
William Collins Sons (the London-based division of Rupert Murdoch's publishing empire) commissioned two women to gather documents in the Rushdie affair, but just weeks later, in May, got cold feet and decided not to publish the book in England for Viking. The excuses were endless: the book would not be a commercial success; the book was not objective. Collins simple wanted out anyway it could get out.
A Church of Christ minister in Pensacola, florida, opined in a long newspaper article that Rushdie was getting exactly what he deserved, and he used chapter and verse of the bible to illustrate that:
King Jesus recognized a principle that Rushdie ... would do well to remember, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged; for with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
In another place he said, "He who lives by the sword will die by the sword." Paul chooses this principle by writing, "For whatever a man plants, that is what he will also harvest."
The principle illustrated in all of these sayings is, if you are looking for trouble you will find it. ...
Rushdie was raised around Moslems. He know the teachings of Islam condemned its opponents to death. Rushdie knew when he wrote his book he was shoving his hand into a hornets' nest. A man who does such things should not complain that he is being stung.
He closed his remarks with a referral to Leviticus 24:15:
Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death. The whole community shall stone him.
The Austrian Students Association had to hold its reading in a tent because professors refused to allow the event to take place on University of Austria grounds.
Harper & Row (the New York-based division of Rupert Murdoch's publishing empire) signed a contract with Daniel Pipes to publish his book, The Rushdie Affair. The manuscript was accepted on May 31 for publication. on June 23, Harper and Row also discovered that such a book would not be a commercial success. Mr. Pipes will be published in 1990, instead, by the Birch Lane Press in New York.
Meanwhile, the persons who book television shows were complaining that prominent authors would not appear on shows such as "The MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour" or "Nightline" to discuss Rushdie or The Satanic Verses.
The bookstore at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, refused to stock the book. When there was an attempt to have faculty members draw up a petition calling for a boycott of the store, a good number of professors refused to sign, being fearful of becoming targets for fundamentalist Moslems.
What does [The Satanic Verses] dissent from? Certainly not from people’s right to have faith, though I have none. It dissents most clearly from imposed orthodoxies of all types, from the view that the world is quite clearly This and not That. It dissents from the end of debate.
Essay in Newsweek
President Ali Khomeini said that Iran still demanded the execution of Rushdie:
The decision made about Salman Rushdie is still valid. As I have already said, this is a bullet for which there is a target. It has been shot. It will one day sooner or later hit the target.
Even the official Soviet news agency, Tass, defended the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. It said that, as Iran's spiritual leader, he "had no choice" but to impose a death sentence on Rushdie.
But perhaps Imam Khomeini, the supreme religious authority in Iran, had no choice proceeding from Koran teachings other than denouncing a man who has insulted Islam. The denunciation was nothing more, by the way, than the position of a religious leader. The Iranian government has not condemned Rushdie to death.
Tass, however, did not make any statement until the U.S. State Department criticized the Soviet government's silence on the issue, saying, "It is high time the Soviets speak up." Actually this was a case of the kettle calling the pot black. The state department also asked Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevaradnadze to raise the issue in his talks with Iranian officials the weekend of February 25/26. Britain also pressed him to ask Khomeini to give a reprieve to Rushdie. But subsequently the Islamic Republic News Agency said that "there was no mention of the affair in Shevaradnadze's speech."
The Soviet Union's ambassador to the United States, Yuri Dubinin, stated that the furor over Rushdie's novel was extremely dangerous and depended for a solution on respect of everyone's religious feelings.
Yet, as the situation worsened between England and Iran, the Soviet Union suggested it might be willing to mediate.
Khomeini died June 3, 1989. Immediately Kalim Siddiqi, director of the Moslem Institute in London, issued a statement that:
There is no hope for Rushdie. There's no question of the death sentence being lifted just because the judge who passed sentence has died.
This is not a political issue. This is an Islamic law which Rushdie has broken, and the punishment for this crime is death.
Nonetheless a second demonstration was held in Bradford, West Yorkshire, England on June 17. At that time young demonstrators broke away from the rally against Rushdie and ran through the main shopping district assaulting people and damaging cars and shops. Police reported forty-four arrests.
Police officers hold back a crowd of several thousand Moslems chanting slogans and protesting The Satanic Verses during a demonstration in Hyde Park on January 18, 1989.
The British newspaper Mail printed what it described as Rushdie's first interview after being forced into hiding by death threats. He spoke bitterly of the Khomeini revolution:
It ate most of the people that supported it. It ate the unions, it ate the women's groups, it ate the socialists and left behind only its own bloated members.
The next day, Ameena Meer, the author of the interview, revealed that it had been conducted on December 24, 1988. She had interviewed Rushdie for the New York-based literary magazine, Bomb, and the article was published in its spring edition, in March. The Bomb sold the article to the Mail, which insisted that it was the "real thing" and had been done in June 1989. Rushdie himself said that the "new interview is wholly false and, in the present situation, highly irresponsible." It was billed as Rushdie's calling the Iranian revolution "a force for evil."
The Moslem Action Group, of Britain asked a Magistrate Court there to prosecute Rushdie for blaspheming Islam by writing his novel The Satanic Verses, but the court refused on the grounds that the English blasphemy laws only protect Christianity. The Moslems appealed and the High Court Justice permitted them to challenge the ruling at a three-judge panel of the High Court. The barrister for the group announced to the media that if the group should win, it will ask the magistrate to serve the author, in hiding since February 28, with a subpoena.
The BBC in Great Britain released a production titled "The Blasphemers' Banquet," celebrating renowned blasphemers, but it came close to cancellation because of protests led by the archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie -- protests which mobilized the Moslems of Britain.
A man accidentally blew himself up in a London hotel while constructing a bomb to attack Rushdie.
American Booksellers Association announced that it did not want to "insult people." "We respect people of the Islamic faith." but more than 4,000 independent bookstores in the United States carried the book.
A bomb exploded on Great Marlborough Street, near a Penguin bookstore in London's West End on September 3.
In York, England, a bomb shattered the window of the Viking Penguin bookstore in the center of the city. It was found before it went off and people were safely evacuated. There were bombs outside Penguin bookstores in three other cities: Guilford, thirty miles southwest of London, in Nottingham in central England, and in Peterborough seventy-five miles north of London. They appeared to be identical to a bomb made from a length of metal pipe filled with explosives which exploded outside a store in central London earlier in September.
Seventy-two-year-old Ahmed Deedat, a scholar from South Africa, demanded that Moslems read the book. To prove that reading it would convince Westerners to suppress it, he rented the Royal Albert Hall in London, and began to read the book to 6,000 assembled Moslems. He read those parts of the book which took aim at Britain and the West in general to prove that Rushdie was abusing his adopted country.
The Dutch Foreign Minister cancelled a trip to Teheran. British airlines received bomb threats, causing security delays at London's Heathrow Airport.
French President Francois Mitterand condemned the death threat and said:
All dogmatism that through violence undermines freedom of thought and the right to free expression is, in my view, absolute evil. The moral and spiritual progress of humanity is linked to the recoil [from] all fanaticisms.
The hard-core religious stand in the United States was that reflected in Proverbs 30:33:
For as the churning of milk produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife.
It was thought that perhaps Rushdie needed to prepare to "reap what one sows."
And how does it all boil down? Salman Rushdie wrote a somewhat senseless book, acknowledged by all to be a fantasy, in which he made swipes at the religion of Islam. The Ayatollah Khomeini, knowing a good red herring when he saw one, seized upon the issue of the book to create a phantom enemy, of which all the great decadent religions are in need -- and he would destroy the world with it.
The Frankfurt Book Fair is traditionally and historically the largest and the best in the world. One would have thought that the issue of Rushdie would be raised there -- and it was on October 10, the day preceding its opening. The director of the fair, Peter Weidhass, in a press conference, called on Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani to revoke the call for death on Salman Rushdie. Saying that he was speaking "in the name of the worldwide community of publishers assembled here," he ruled that Iran could not participate in the fair "as long as this murder threat has not been withdrawn."
Iran was, however, staying with the June statement of the Iranian president that "there is no one in Iran who would want to or could take back that prescription."
Generally, the book fair is opened with pleasantries, but this time the director spoke darkly that "it would appear that the tide of anti-progressive thought is rising all over the world."
There has been a call for murder, a call for murder which is directed against the most fundamental interests of people who make up this fair.
The curse of this murder threat was also extended to cover the publishers of this book and the booksellers offering it for sale.
He then apologized for the presence of increased security measures at the fair, which expected 200,000 visitors. However, both Viking Penguin of Great Britain and Penguin of the United States announced on the same day that the book would not be in their display stands at the fair.
Boersenverein, the trade group of all (about 100) West German (and some Austrian and Swiss) bookstores and publishers, announced on the same day that it had decided "to postpone publication ... in light of a variety of threats that the publishers had received in past months." Publishing by the group, it was decided, would help to discourage any retaliations against any single member.
Weidhass actually made his statement into a speech:
The hatred we have seen in this case, the aggression against an author, his publishers and booksellers, reveal to my eyes a basic, underlying phenomenon -- a problem between the industrialized world and the out-stripped world of the so-called "developing countries." It is the modern age's historic burden of guilt.
The Islamic Republic is an expression of defense against the cultural engulfment of the Islamic world by the culture of the modern age. It reflects the failure of a thoughtless policy of modernization in the "underdeveloped" countries.
The book fair is in fact a dialogue of the First World with itself: More than 80% of the world's entire book trading is actually carried out by only a dozen of the over ninety countries represented at the Frankfurt fair.
The historic horizon of the modern age must be the successful synthesis of the world's cultures. This calls for the combination of cultural forces, not threats of murder. It calls for the expansion of cultural dialogue, not fundamentalist separatism.
From this October incident forward, little or nothing was heard of either The Satanic Verses or Salman Rushdie until January 1990. At that time Mugram al-Ghamdi, chairman of the United Kingdom Action Committee on Islamic Affairs, called for a five-day demonstrations, outside the offices of the publishers. Moslems from all of the Moslem communities across Britain took turns during the picketing. Leaflets handed out were captioned, "No Rushdie Porn," "Put Honor Back on the Agenda," and "Hypocrisy in High Places." Al-Ghamdi, explaining why the picketing was called, said,
Since the sensationalism has receded, what remains is a genuine and permanent bitterness in the hearts and minds of ordinary Moslems.
Penguin publishers were meantime keeping a twenty-four-hour duty police officer and three security guards at its entrance hall which is equipped with a metal detector.
Naturally the British Guardian newspaper got to Rushdie about the picketing and he replied, "I am not the enemy of my own people," apparently referring to Moslems.
I think if some of the people who protested about the book took the trouble to read it, they would see that it is not unsympathetic to them.
The Knight-News-Tribune chain, affiliated with the Philadelphia Inquirer, then had its London correspondent attempt a follow-up story. Her report was that Rushdie was growing increasingly paranoid, alternating "between self-pity and rushes of angry egotism" as he remains under twenty-four-hour-a-day police guard. In 1989, that guard cost the British taxpayers almost $800,000. Viking Penguin books also is said to have spent $6 million on security to protect its stores and employees. In Britain alone Penguin received 5,000 threatening letters and twenty-five bomb warnings. Five incendiary devices were discovered in its shops. And its executives have moved to other addresses, not published.
Absolutely under siege as Iran continued to demand that all hardbacks be withdrawn from circulation and that the paperback version be abandoned, Penguin was at risk of losing its business in forty-six Moslem countries.
Ishtiaq Ahmend, spokesman for the Bradford, England, council of Mosques, explained that:
We just cannot let go of this issue. It is not just about a writer. It is about whether we can live as a religious community without fear of indignity and abuse.
Meanwhile, Labor Party members of Parliament who rely heavily on Moslem votes, were urging the banning of the paperback publication on the basis of "the deep offense" it would cause to Moslem sensibilities.
By January 29, Viking Penguin announced that there would be no paperback edition of The Satanic Verses. The announcement stated that the publishers would not produce the paperback "as long as there was any risk to its staff, its book shops, or the public." Reports then indicated that Rushdie was charging that Penguin had a contractual obligation to publish the paperback edition and was pushing for it. His wife, Marianne Wiggins, who lives apart from him, added that they were not planning a divorce and that Rushdie would have some financial problems if the paperback was not published. Meanwhile, she was successfully making a publicity tour for her own Penguin paperback publication, John Dollar. Naturally, the Chicago Tribune would take the opportunity to take a swat at her also, and in short punchy terms:
Wiggins, like her husband, is forty-two, and has let a calamitous life: a kidney removal at nine, marriage at seventeen, divorce and single parenthood at twenty-two, her father's suicide in her twenties, cancer of the colon in her thirties, and now this.
Later Penguin backed off its original statement somewhat, indicated that sometime, somewhen, in the future, there could possibly be a paperback edition. Rushdie himself is insisting that the paperback edition be issued; Iran and the Moslems insist that the hardback be withdrawn from sale and from libraries and that no paperback be issued. Penguin has asked Rushdie to forego the paperback edition and he has refused. Non-publishing, he states, would be suppression, "banned by the back door." But many critics see Rushdie only as "an unrepentant multimillionaire who is still greedy for more [money]."
Even if I were to concede (and I do not concede it) that what I did in The Satanic Verses was the literary equivalent of flaunting oneself shamelessly before the eyes of aroused men, is that really a justification for being, so to speak, gang-banged?
Essay in Newsweek
Rushdie prepared a lecture to be delivered by Harold Pinter, a playwright friend, on February 7 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, on the theme, "Is Nothing Sacred?" This was preceded by a 7,000-word essay published in a London newspaper, The Independent, on February 4. The Independent also put out an interview of Rushdie. The essay was as trivial as the book. Can you imagine this author, condemned without hope of redemption, saying to rabid fundamentalist Moslem nuts that his book:
... celebrates hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas, politics, movies, songs. I rejoice in mongrelization and fear the absolutism of the Pure.
He then asks the Moslems for "a moment of good will, a moment in which we may all accept that the other parties are acting, have acted, in good faith."
Nonetheless, Newsweek purchased the essay and published it in its February 12, 1990, issue, along with its own personal interview with Rushdie.
During his interview, Rushdie told The Independent that he has been reading Enlightenment authors such as Rousseau, Diderot, and Voltaire and that he saw himself in their company:
It's very odd when you think of how much has been written about them as the bedrock of European free speech, to see what actually happened to those guys in their lifetimes. They were banned, persecuted, reviled, and accused of blasphemy.
How nice. He noticed.
Apparently Rushdie wanted to deliver the lecture/essay himself, but Scotland Yard dissuaded him from it, and Harold Pinter went ahead with the audience of 200. Police guarded the building and security guards searched handbags and screened the audience with metal detectors.
Rushdie had an immediate reply from Iran when the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei renewed a call for his death: the fatwa (religious decree) "... about the writer of the blasphemous book The Satanic Verses is still valid and must be implemented." Britain imposed a full security alert at military bases and airports immediately in response to the repeated death call against Rushdie. There were continuing reports of a "high level of activity" by the Lebanon-based Hezbollah (Party of God) Islamic extremists group.
February 14, Valentine's Day
This was, of course, the anniversary of the issuance of the death order by the Ayatollah Khomeini and the 366th day in which Rushdie had been in hiding.
The American Penguin office announced that it now had 30,000 abusive letters related to the book. But it also confirmed that it had sold one million English-language copies (740,000 in the United States and 220,000 in Britain) plus thousands more in fifteen other languages. That totals up to a cool $20 million in sales, in just seventeen months. Penguin estimates that its profit on the book has been $3.4 million -- which is a fairly unlikely story.
Meantime, the Moslems fume. Freedom of speech in the West, they point out, is constrained by blasphemy laws, and by the laws of libel and slander. Moslems point out that their religion forbids blasphemy, and requires that each Moslem defend his faith.
But all of this was simply a harbinger of actions to come.
When all is said and done
Well, that then is another tip of the submerged mire under the thin top on which modern culture floats. Everyone is talking about the last decade of the twentieth century, and all that rot. But at any time the religious can have us again -- not alone Atheists, but the entire culture. We are going down the corridor of time carrying with us ideas which should have been shed 10,000 years ago. We are encumbered with irrationality, burdened with hatreds, entrenched in the muck of religious trivia. And despite the opportunity that reaches out -- humankind is not going to go anywhere but back again to medievalism, locked in tight with the new technology and beyond any hope.
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