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Rushdie's Satanic Story


The Tribune, Oct. 18, 1998

"While the Iranian government's decision to disassociate itself from the death threats to the beleaguered author is hailed as a victory for freedom of expression, the way in which Rushdie reacted to the news has left many unhappy. The bearded novelist, not known for his modesty, has no regrets about publishing The Satanic Verses or any intention of apologising for the pain it has caused to the Muslims worldwide. Instead, he told a crowded press conference in London: 'I could ask for apologies I have had 10 years of my life deformed by this.' "
"In Britain, the most important impact of the Rushdie affair socially has been on race relations. Internationally, the affair has negatively influenced the West's relations with the Islamic world. This decade has also seen the transformation of Islam into the West's main adversary, with the demise of communism. For Muslims across cultures, languages and regions, The Satanic Verses was and remains an offensive book. Many of them, however, may not approve of the fatwa (the Islamic death sentence) which the Ayatollah Khomeini, the supreme leader of Iran, issued against Rushdie, ironically on St. Valentine’s Day in 1989. Even before it was published in Sep. 1988, the book had generated more than its quota of controversies. Most of this took place not in Britain - where both the author and the publishers (Penguin) were based - or in the Islamic world, but in secular and largely Hindu India, Rushdie's birthplace."
"Weeks before its publication, a well-known Indian author and journalist, Khushwant Singh, warned about the potential for trouble that Rushdie's book was capable of creating. Singh, a non-Muslim but well-versed in Islamic culture, who also acted as editorial adviser to Penguin Books India, told an Indian magazine then: 'There are several derogatory references to the Prophet and the Koran. Mohammad is made out to be a small-time imposter.' Though the publishers appeared to be satisfied with the content of the novel, the Government of India, then led by Rajiv Gandhi, a secular-minded politician, heeded Singh's warnings. India became the first country to ban the novel, just weeks after it was released in London, fearing that it could inflame an already delicate communal situation in India. Yet, feelings were running so high that anti-Rushdie demonstrations in parts of India and Pakistan claimed several lives."
"In Britain - home to more than one million Muslims - a majority of whom come from the Indian sub-continent - the resentment was strong. And as the copies of the novel were ceremoniously burnt in Bradford, along with chants of 'Death to Rushdie,' race relations nose-dived. Such actions invited derisory remarks from the media, with some commentators drawing parallels with an earlier era of book-burning during the Nazi regime. The liberal press - run by journalists who profess little or no 'faith' - seemed to find it difficult to understand how a mere book could offend people so deeply. The media's tendency to tar every Muslim with the same brush fed on resentment whose roots lay in continuing racism. Many self-styled community leaders did their bit to fan the flames, calling Rushdie by turns, a man of loose morals, an Indian agent, even a Zionist."
"What made the Muslims in Britain particularly angry was the fact that there was no legal recourse. British blasphemy laws do not cover Islam. The episode and its coverage in the media created a renewal of racist abuse against the British Muslims, contributing to the creation of several fundamentalist Islamic groups. . . . As for the much-mispronounced fatwa, it is still in force, with London acceding to Iranian claims that it cannot be revoked."