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Supporting Civil Rights for Atheists and the Separation of Church and State
Rushdie Missing from Book Fair
Rushdie Missing from Book Fair
Salman Rushdie and his book The Satanic Verses became the dominant subject of the forty-first international book fair in Frankfurt. This had not at all been planned, however. Publicity for this book was not desired.
The publishers let themselves be intimidated by the threats of religious fanatics and, following a half-official arrangement with the fair management, they hid the book or did not exhibit it at all. The British publishing house Penguin only displayed it at times at an inaccessible place; its representatives' reactions to television filming were almost hysterical. The Italian publishing house Mondadori kept the book under the counter, like porno in Iran. Only the Norwegian Aschehough publishing house presented its translation of The Satanic Verses just like any other new book. The German edition, published by the collective company "Artikel 19" that had been founded especially for this, had been held back, although printing was finished, until after the fair.
The only company that took the offensive and spoke up for the author threatened with murder was the Ahriman-Verlag with Salman Rushdie — Portrait of a Poet by Peter Priskil. Our book explains why Salman Rushdie is being persecuted by the Muslims and why the West — contrary to all hypocritical declarations — does not want to protect him and with him freedom of speech. By his literary analysis of Salman Rushdie's novels, Peter Priskil makes a contribution to the discussion about this suppressed work. This portrait of the persecuted poet is meant to act against a tendency which Rushdie's case demonstrates — the betrayal of the French Revolution and the bringing back of Middle Age conditions. Instead of effecively protecting freedom of speech against all attacks, as the constitutions of European states have laid down, in several states blasphemy laws are being tightened and extended. Rushdie, a British citizen, is not being protected against any attack but rather has been taken into preventive detention. Neither are the media put at Rushdie's disposal nor is his incriminated book published on a governmental level to thus demonstrate that the rights of any European citizen are being protected against the attacks of religious fanatics. Diplomatic relations are further maintained with the state that threatens a British citizen with murder. Unhindered the religious mob can execute Rushdie in effigy, i.e., symbolically, on European grounds, pogrom leaders are not prosecuted. Instead, understanding for the religious feelings of the Muslims is expressed from all sides.
Thus the "Modell Deutschland" whose characteristics are the blasphemy section, Stammheim, and Berufsuerbote, and in which democratic rights exist only on paper, is transferred to all of Europe.
At the Frankfurt book fair, the last chance to create a worldwide forum for Salman Rushdie was deliberately wasted. At the introductory press conference, Fair Director Weidhass reported in detail about the extensive security precautions that had become necessary for the first time, and he asked for understanding — but it was exactly those companies that published books by or about Rushdie which did not get effective protection. Anyone who publishes such provocative books was, of course, responsible himself for the consequences, and apart from this there were no concrete threats, the Frankfurt chief constable said. Therefore we, the Ahriman-Verlag, had to pay good money to have our booth protected privately — at the same time the fair management cynically demanded an extra risk charge for night guarding because there was a special security risk. Even after a concrete bomb threat, police protection was refused. Thus fair management and police actually censored the book. The "security precautions" turned out to be a farce — performed to distract from the cowardly kneeling before the mullahs.
The "International Committee for the Defence of Salman Rushdie and his Publishers" also had to suffer a quiet, but not less effective, sabotage. At the fair, it organized a solidarity meeting, the groundwork of which had to be carried out in London. This required cooperation with the fair management that hindered far more than it supported. Thus, without prior consultation, the meeting was moved from a central place to a small room outside the area of the book fair. There was no public announcement; the invitation leaflets just lay under the counters of the publishing houses. Fair management and Wagenbach, speaker of the "Artikel 19" company, openly admitted: the matter was not to be bandied about. In consequence — as desired — only very few persistent people asked their way to the small, remote room, and the panel discussion was actually closed to the public, in spite of a relatively great number of mass media being present. Afterwards the media reported next to nothing about it. In a report about the fair, a culture magazine programme of the German television for example, showed only some meaningless and whiny remarks from the publisher Wagenbach. The really interesting points — that it had become evident that Salman Rushdie and everybody who stands up for him is boycotted and threatened — were totally suppressed. Broadcasting and radio did not act any better. As obedient government organs, they spread about legends which made the West appear the highest guardian of freedom of speech and civil rights.
A few weeks before Khomeini's death order, Salman Rushdie attended the Whitbread 1988 Book of the Year awards in London.
It was only by our obvious presence at the fair, with a big poster of Rushdie at the booth and leaflets (using the slogan "Book Fair '89: The Most Important Author is Missing"), that there was a certain publicity for the idea that Rushdie's case exemplarily decides if in the future it will be possible to express any opinion without reservations, or if there is a death penalty for any unpopular opinion again, i.e., a reintroduction of classic Middle Age conditions.
Even this selective publicity — for the fair management it was far too big, so they tried to prevent the spreading of the leaflets — resulted in sudden and astonishingly realistic estimations of the situation in some press organs, because this was the only way to keep up the belief in the democratic and liberal basic position of the media and the objectivity of their reporting. Typically enough these articles did not print the slightest note about us or the International Committee, or if they did it was always in a defamatory way. Or the responsible editor was brought back into line, if there should happen to be objective reporting — like the news in the ZDF (a television channel).
The events at the book fair are typical of the decay of freedom of speech in the Federal Republic of Germany. The hard-won rights of 1789 are increasingly undermined. The watchfulness of the public is getting weaker and weaker. The Rushdie case showed that the "Modell Deutschland" finds more and more imitators all over Europe as an opportunity to invalidate basic democratic rights. The way back into these new Middle Ages leads past the blasphemy laws in every single country. Therefore we regard fighting these laws as our most important task. Whoever wants to keep pope and mullahs from turning back the wheel of history two hundred years, must know very clearly that he sets out against a perfect organization proven to be successful over centuries. In order to cope with this enemy, one must work together worldwide in a way just as consequent and resolute