Rushdie: Iran fatwa taught wrong lessons

2015-07-22 21:02
Salman Rushdie. (<a>Shutterstock</a>)

Salman Rushdie. (Shutterstock)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Paris - More than a quarter century after being slapped with a fatwa from Iran calling for his murder over his book The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie says the world has learned the "wrong lessons" about freedom of expression.

The British author, in an interview published on Wednesday by the French news magazine L'Express, said his ordeal by religious fanatics determined to violently avenge what they construed as blasphemy should have served as a wake-up call to the world.

Instead, after the September 11  2001 attack on America and the massacre in Paris in January this year of cartoonists and staff at the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly, and with the ongoing rampage of the brutal Islamic State group in the Middle East, Rushdie said some writers and other people were too cowed to talk freely about Islam.

"It seems we learned the wrong lessons," he said in the interview printed in French. "Instead of concluding we need to oppose these attacks on freedom of expression, we believed we should calm them through compromises and ceding."

The "politically correct" positions voiced by some - including a few prominent authors who disagreed with Charlie Hebdo receiving a freedom of speech award at a PEN literary gala in New York in May - were motivated by fear, Rushdie said.

'Fear disguised as respect' 

"If people weren't being killed right now, if bombs and Kalashnikovs weren't speaking today, the debate would be very different. Fear is being disguised as respect," he said.

Rushdie, born in India to non-practising Muslims and himself an atheist, said the 1989 fatwa issued against him by Iran's then supreme leader, the late Ruhollah Khomeini, was, as he wrote in his 2012 memoir, "a first note of the dark music".

Following the fatwa, bookstores carrying his book were firebombed and the Japanese translator of the novel was stabbed to death.

Iran's government said in 1998 it had suspended the murder fatwa, though other regime organs insist it remains in place.

"Extremism constitutes an attack against the Western world as much as against Muslims themselves," Rushdie told L'Express.

"Keeping silent does not help Muslims.... Fighting extremism is not fighting Islam. To the contrary, it defends it."

The writer said that the controversy that surrounded the PEN prize to Charlie Hebdo this year convinced him that, if the attacks against The Satanic Verses had occurred today, "these people would not come to my defence and would use the same arguments against me by accusing me of insulting an ethnic and cultural minority".

He added that he had "greatly suffered" from being forced to live in hiding and under police protection after Iran's fatwa. But he appreciated the fact that his book was now being looked at for the work it was meant to be, and was studied in universities.

Rushdie, 68, has lived since 2000 in the United States and was knighted in Britain in 2007.

Read more on:    salman rushdie  |  iran
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.