MartinFrost.ws index page
.


Photograph of author Salman RushdieSalman Rushdie

With the Islamic cartoon issue it is all too easy to forget Salman Rushdie – who it is said received more support from the British Government than may currently be on offer for press freedom.

Salman Rushdie (born Ahmed Salman Rushdie,:
Urdu: أحمد سلمان رشدی,
Hindi: on June 19, 1947, in Bombay, India) is an Indian-born British essayist and author of fiction, most of which is set on the Indian subcontinent.

He grew up in Mumbai (then Bombay) attended Rugby School, Warwickshire, then King's College, Cambridge in England. Following an advertising career with Ayer Barker, he became a full-time writer.

 His narrative style, blending myth and fantasy with real life, has been described as magic realism. In 2004, Rushdie married for the fourth time, this time to prominent Indian model and actress Padma Lakshmi.

Career
List of published works
The Satanic Verses controversy
Film appearances
Salman Rushdie in popular culture
Literature Held Hostage
Awards

Career

His writing career began with Grimus, a fantastic tale, part-science fiction, which was generally ignored by the book-buying public and literary critics. His next novel, Midnight's Children, however, catapulted him to literary fame and is often considered his best work to date. It also significantly shaped the course that Indian writing in English was to follow over the next decade. This work was later awarded the 'Booker of Bookers' prize in 1993 – after being selected as the best novel to be awarded the Booker Prize in its first 25 years. After the success of Midnight's Children, Rushdie wrote a short novel, Shame, where he depicts the political turmoil in Pakistan by basing his characters on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. Both these works are characterised by, apart from the style of magic realism, the immigrant outlook of which Rushdie is so very conscious.

Rushdie is also highly influenced by modern literature. Midnight's Children borrows themes from Günter Grass's novel The Tin Drum, which Rushdie claims inspired him to begin writing. The Satanic Verses is also clearly influenced by Mikhail Bulgakov's classic Russian novel The Master and Margarita.

India and Pakistan were the themes, respectively, of Midnight's Children and Shame. In his later works, Rushdie turned towards the Western world with The Moor's Last Sigh, exploring commercial and cultural links between India and the Iberian peninsula, and The Ground Beneath Her Feet, in which the influence of American rock 'n' roll on India plays a role. Midnight's Children receives accolades for being Rushdie's best, most flowing and inspiring work, but none of Rushdie's post-1989 works has had the same critical reception or caused the same controversy as The Satanic Verses.

Rushdie received many other plaudits for his writings including the European Union's Aristeion Prize for Literature. He is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres. Rushdie is the President of PEN American Center.

His newest book, Shalimar the Clown was released in September 2005, and is currently a finalist for the Whitbread Book Awards.

He opposes the British government's attempt to introduce the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, something he writes about in his contribution to Free Expression Is No Offence, a collection of essays published by Penguin in November 2005.

List of published works

Grimus (1975)
Midnight's Children (1981)
Shame (1983)
The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey (1987)
The Satanic Verses (1988)
Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990)
Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism, 1981-1991 (1992)
East, West (1994)
The Moor's Last Sigh (1995)
The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999)
Fury (2001)
Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992-2002 (2002)
The East is Blue (essay, 2004)
Shalimar the Clown (2005)

Awards
Awards that Rushdie has won include the following:
Booker Prize for Fiction
James Tait Black Memorial Prize (Fiction)
Arts Council Writers' Award
English-Speaking Union Award
"Booker of Bookers" or the best novel among the Booker Prize winners for Fiction
Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger
Whitbread Novel Award
Writers' Guild Award (Children's Book)


The Satanic Verses controversy

The publication of The Satanic Verses in September 1988 caused immediate controversy in the Islamic world due to its irreverent depiction of the prophet Muhammad. India banned the book on October 5; South Africa banned it on November 24; and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Somalia, Bangladesh, Sudan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Qatar followed within weeks. On January 14, 1989 the novel was the subject of a book burning event in Bradford, England. On February 12, five people were shot and killed by the police during a protest in Islamabad.

On February 14, 1989, a fatwa requiring Rushdie's execution was proclaimed on Radio Tehran by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran, calling the book "blasphemous against Islam." As the novel also suggested that Rushdie no longer believed in Islam, Khomeini also condemned him for apostasy, which according to the Hadith is punishable by death. Khomeini indicated that it was the responsibility of all "zealous Muslims" to execute Rushdie and the publishers who were aware of its concepts:

In the name of God Almighty. There is only one God, to whom we shall all return. I would like to inform all intrepid Muslims in the world that the author of the book entitled The Satanic Verses, which has been compiled, printed, and published in opposition to Islam, the Prophet, and the Qur’an, as well as those publishers who were aware of its contents, have been sentenced to death. I call on all zealous Muslims to execute them quickly, wherever they find them, so that no one will dare insult the Islamic sanctities. Whoever is killed on this path will be regarded as a martyr, God willing. In addition, anyone who has access to the author of the book, but does not possess the power to execute him, should refer him to the people so that he may be punished for his actions. May God’s blessing be on you all. Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini.

On February 24 1989, Khomeini offered a U.S.$ 3 million bounty for the death of Rushdie, who was then forced to live for a time under British-financed security.

Meanwhile, further violence occurred around the world, with the firebombing of bookstores at the University of California at Berkeley which stocked the novel, and the offices of The Riverdale Press, a weekly newspaper in The Bronx, in response to an editorial which defended the right to read the book. On February 24, five people were shot and killed by the police during a protest outside the British consulate in Bombay. Several other people died in Egypt and elsewhere. Muslim communities throughout the world held public rallies in which copies of the book were burned. In 1991, Rushdie's Japanese translator, Hitoshi Igarashi, was stabbed and killed at the university where he taught in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, north of Tokyo, and his Italian translator was beaten and stabbed in Milan. In 1993, Rushdie's Norwegian publisher William Nygaard was shot and severely injured in an attack outside his house in Oslo. Thirty-seven people died when their hotel in Sivas, Turkey was burnt down by locals protesting against Aziz Nesin, Rushdie's Turkish translator.

Even popular musician Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens) infamously gave indirect support for the fatwa, and in 1989, confirmed during a British television documentary that he was not opposed to the death sentence. Islam stated that rather than attend a demonstration where Rushdie would be burned in effigy, "I would have hoped that it'd be the real thing", and that if Rushdie showed up at his door, he "might ring somebody who might do more damage to him than he would like... I'd try to phone the Ayatollah Khomeini and tell him exactly where this man is.". Islam stood by his statements during a subsequent interview with The New York Times. Islam's official statement on the matter, still posted on his website, is as follows:

Under the Islamic Law, Muslims are bound to keep within the limits of the law of the country in which they live, providing that it does not restrict the freedom to worship and serve God and fulfil their basic religious duties (fard'ayn). One must not forget the ruling in Islam is also very clear about adultery, stealing and murder, but that doesn't mean that British Muslims will go about lynching and stoning adulterers, thieves and murderers. If we can't get satisfaction within the present limits of the law, like a ban on this blasphemous book, 'Satanic Verses' which insults God and His prophets – including those prophets honoured by Christians, Jews as well as Muslims – this does not mean that we should step outside of the law to find redress. 

In 1990, Rushdie published an essay In Good Faith to appease his critics and issued an apology in which he seems to have reaffirmed his respect for Islam. However, Iranian clerics did not retract the fatwa. Rushdie has made further statements in defence of his book but many in the Muslim community still consider him a wanted man.

In 1997, the bounty was doubled, and the next year the highest Iranian state prosecutor restated his support. After the death of Khomeini in 1989, the Iranian government publicly declared in 1998 that it would not carry out the death sentence against Rushdie. This was announced as part of a wider agreement to normalise relations between Iran and the United Kingdom. Rushdie subsequently declared that he would stop living in hiding, and that he regretted attempts to appease his critics by making statements to the effect that he was a practicing Muslim. Rushdie affirmed that he is not, in fact, religious. Despite the death of Khomeini and Iranian government's official declaration, according to certain members of the Islamic fundamentalist media the fatwa remains in force:
"The responsibility for carrying out the fatwa is not the exclusive responsibility of Iran. It is the religious duty of all Muslims – those who have the ability or the means – to carry it out. It does not require any reward. In fact, those who carry out this edict in hopes of a monetary reward are acting against Islamic injunctions."

In 1999, an Iranian foundation placed a $2.8 million bounty on Rushdie's life, and in February 2003, Iran's Revolutionary Guards reiterated the call for the assassination of Rushdie. As reported by the Sunday Herald, "Ayatollah Hassan Saneii, head of the semi-official Khordad Foundation that has placed a $2.8 million bounty on Rushdie's head, was quoted by the Jomhuri Islami newspaper as saying that his foundation would now pay $3 m[illion] to anyone who kills Rushdie."
In early 2005, Khomeini's fatwa against Rushdie was reaffirmed by Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a message to Muslim pilgrims making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Iran has rejected requests to withdraw the fatwa on the basis that only the person who issued it may withdraw it.


Film appearances

Bridget Jones's Diary (2001): A cameo as himself, particularly memorable as both Hugh Grant and Renee Zellweger ask him for directions to the lavatory.
Peter's Friends (1992), in which he signs a copy of his own controversial novel, The Satanic Verses in archive footage over the opening credits. Very brief, it could easily go unnoticed.


Salman Rushdie in popular culture

In the episode "The Implant" of the U.S. television sitcom Seinfeld (1989–1998), Kramer claims to have seen Salman Rushdie in a health club. When questioned by Kramer in a sauna, the man says that he is a writer and his name is Sal Bass. Kramer insists that the man really is Rushdie and that "he just substituted one fish for another". To which Jerry responds: "It's Sal-man not Salmon!"

Literature Held Hostage

The Holy War Against Salman Rushdie Turns 10.
By Gregory McNamee

FEBRUARY 8, 1999:  In the fall of 1988, the Anglo-Indian writer Salman Rushdie published what was then his fourth novel, a fantastic, sprawling allegory of the lives of immigrant Muslims in England. Like Rushdie's earlier novels, The Satanic Verses combined literary seriousness with whimsical slapstick to criticize life in the so-called First World. The book was issued to a handful of critical notices, seemingly condemned to the quiet fate that most books that aspire to be seen as literature enjoy today.

Under normal circumstances, Rushdie's novel would have been a moderate success, perhaps praised by some critics and damned by others; its sales would likely have been respectable, but small. The Satanic Verses is a good but not great book, somewhat formless and sometimes confused, calling on cultural references that few Western readers command--hardly the makings of an English and American bestseller.

Rushdie's book took a different course, however, when an Indian parliamentarian, a Muslim named Syed Shahabuddin, charged that it was blasphemous. He admitted that he had not read the book, but that did not keep him from petitioning the government of Rajiv Gandhi to ban The Satanic Verses.

Understandably sensitive to religious conflict, the Gandhi government bowed to Shahabuddin's demands on October 5, 1988. In announcing its decision, it declared that the ban "did not detract from the literary and artistic merit of Rushdie's work," to which the author retorted, in an open letter to the Prime Minister, "thanks for the good review." The Indian government replied by saying that it would not permit "literary colonialism" in any form, especially in the guise of what it termed "religious pornography."

Rushdie and The Satanic Verses were suddenly international news, on their way to becoming household words.

The Satanic Verses was banned as well in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, and, predictably, South Africa. In all those countries the book sold wildly, smuggled in by intrepid merchants. In India, where one in every 10 citizens is a Muslim, pirated editions of The Satanic Verses sold briskly as well. Mr. Shahabuddin seemed not to mind, and another tempest in a teacup appeared to have blown over.

But the Rushdie affair would not end. Conservative Pakistanis, testing the new government of Western-educated Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, demanded that Pakistan force the United States to halt publication of Rushdie's novel in America. When it became obvious that the United States would not tolerate literary colonialism either, anti-American riots exploded in the streets of Karachi and Islamabad. Bhutto would not join in the fray, and so Pakistani fundamentalists turned west to their next-door neighbour, the Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, for leadership.
Khomeini immediately denounced Rushdie. He had good reason to: Rushdie had plenty of bad things to say about a thinly disguised version of the bearded leader in The Satanic Verses, noting that the Muslim religion was not supposed to be a cult of personality. He further depicted Khomeini as the very mouth of hell, devouring his people--a fitting image, given the millions of young Iranians the Ayatollah had sent off to be bled in a cynical war against Iraq.

For this transgression, Khomeini declared that Rushdie deserved to die for "insulting Islam" and for working in concert with "Zionism, Britain, and the USA, which, through their ignorance and haste, have placed themselves against the Islamic world." The date of his infamous proclamation was February 14, 1989.

Acting on the Ayatollah's cue, other Iranian religious leaders offered a bounty of at first $2 million and then more than $5 million to anyone who killed the newly famous author. Within a few days, they announced that hundreds of Muslim assassins from around the world had gone to London, where Rushdie lives, to exact vengeance.

Rushdie has always spoken his mind freely, regardless of whose sensibilities his opinions may offend. He has publicly stated that literature takes the place of religion in his life. He borrowed heavily from the Islamic tradition to provide subtexts for The Satanic Verses, which abounds in provocative stories of Muslim djinns, martyrs, seers, and angels who act rather more human than an orthodox believer might wish them to. Turning on the basic meaning of the Arabic word Islam, which is "submission," he suggests that its followers have been terrorized into belief. Worse still, a subversive reading of the life of Mohammed underlies Rushdie's novel. The very title recalls a set of suras, or scriptural verses, that Mohammed is believed to have deleted from the Qur'an, Islam's holy book, after deciding that he had composed them under Satan's influence.

But Rushdie's aim was not to pillory the religion of his birth. Instead, he used his novel as a way to look at the lives of immigrants like himself, men and women who arrive in the First World only to be chewed up and spit out by the post-industrial machine. The principal characters, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, are themselves unwilling prophets of a sort, adrift in the foreign city they call Ellowen Deeowen, where the unwelcoming natives persecute them for their not being English enough. Chamcha's and Farishta's days are full of apocalyptic visions, of battles in the hostile land of Margaret Thatcher. Like all immigrants, they are strangers in a very strange land.

The protagonists of The Satanic Verses are stateless, and no one cares about their fate. Unlike them, Rushdie is a naturalized citizen of England, fully protected by the force of that nation's long-established laws guaranteeing rights of free expression and security against foreign threats.
BUT ENGLISH LAW--and Western law in general--cannot guarantee the writer's safety. Thus, for 10 full years now Rushdie has been in hiding. There is still a price on his head, the original fatwa having been withdrawn but a new one issued in its place, and martyrdom and heavenly reward have been promised to any Muslim who kills him. Never mind the admonition of the Qur'an: "Allah does not love aggressors."

Those 10 years have not been easy. Immediately after the Ayatollah issued his fatwa, several European publishers cancelled their editions of the novel. (Most of those publishers later had a change of heart and issued the book.) An Iranian diplomat even met with Pope John Paul II to urge that the Italian edition be withdrawn, but the Pontiff did not oblige him. For their part, the heads of several American bookstore chains ordered that The Satanic Verses be pulled from their shelves. Although they eventually reversed their policy, those executives served for a time as Khomeini's most effective censors.

And Rushdie remains in hiding, guarded around the clock, moved from one safe house to another every couple of days. It is a condition he has likened to living in hell. He has not been the easiest of charges, to be sure, and his bitterness over his condition seems to be growing with the passing of the years.

That bitterness does not come from ingratitude. It is a natural reaction to the insults he has endured not only from the now-dead Khomeini, but also from fellow writers who seem to have tired of Rushdie's remaining among the living. One of them, Roald Dahl, branded Rushdie "a dangerous opportunist." Another, the feminist author Germaine Greer, called him, with the thinly veiled racism Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha endured, "a megalomaniac, an Englishman with dark skin." Most pointedly of all, the noted historian Hugh Trevor-Roper breezily said, "I would not shed a tear if some British Muslims, deploring his manners, should waylay him in a dark street and seek to improve them."

That improvement, of course, can mean only death. The fatwa against Rushdie is no replay of the slapstick Beatles' movie Help!, where a band of religious buffoons hoot it up on screen. It does not matter, according to a BBC poll taken at the time of the Ayatollah's proclamation, that the majority of British Muslims were in favor of burning The Satanic Verses, but not of punishing the author. A Saudi émigré named M.T. Al-Rashid voiced their opinions nicely in an op-ed piece in The London Times: "If he has offended God, then God Himself will have to deal with Rushdie."

Rushdie's would-be punishers are in human guise, though, and they are deadly serious. Rushdie has only to consider the murder of his Japanese translator Hitoshi Iagrashi, the multiple stabbing attack on his Italian translator Ettore Capriolo, the shooting of his Norwegian publisher Willem Nygaard. He has only to recall the assassination in Brussels of the Saudi cleric Abdullah Ahdal, who once dared disagree with Khomeini. So, too, did an obscure, exiled Iranian pop singer, whose satirical lyrics about the Ayatollah earned him a gruesome end in a Paris hotel room. When the police found his body, it was in small pieces in a garbage bag.

The Satanic Verses is not the only book to have excited fundamentalist Islamic Muslim hatred in recent times. The Anglo-Indian playwright Hanif Kureishi has been the target of death threats for his realistic portraits of the lives of Muslim immigrants in northern England, especially that community's homosexual subculture. Most of the books of the Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz, who won the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature, are outlawed in the Muslim world; in 1994, two knife-wielding attackers nearly killed the 84-year-old writer outside his Cairo apartment for his presumed blasphemies. That year in Bangladesh, the novelist Taslima Nasrin was sentenced to death by the so-called Council of Soldiers of Islam for calling out for both the emancipation of Muslim women and greater religious tolerance.

All of those writers, like Rushdie, dare question the fundamentalist order. All of them live in fear for their lives.

Rather than face down Iran, the Western powers have turned their backs on the persecuted. Less than a year after the fatwa, Britain resumed diplomatic relations with the Khomeini government, its period of righteous indignation evidently having expired. For our part, American trade with Iran, whose leaders are fond of branding us "the Great Satan," has increased dramatically over the last 10 years, the period of Rushdie's captivity. Realpolitik may be the order of the day, but when President Clinton received Rushdie at the White House on November 24, 1993, it took him only a few days to begin loudly explaining that he "meant no disrespect" to the Muslim world, and that he only saw the author "for a few minutes."

That disgusting spectacle promised little hope that the leader of the free world would actually, for once, stand up for free expression, that we would not allow the threats of petty tyrants to influence our daily lives. If that is so, then Rushdie will likely spend the rest of his days in the hell of a closed room, a fate to which he seems resigned. As he has said, "To live, to avoid assassination, is a greater victory than to be murdered."

But merely to live is not enough. It is no victory to walk free in a world where words can mean death, where a novel can shake a religion to the core, where orthodoxies of all stripes hurry to crush even the slightest whisper of dissent. Salman Rushdie's prison is the world's. We all have a stake in his release.

meditations
top