By Alex P. Vidal
“I hate admitting that my enemies have a point.”—Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses
THE first international event I tackled in the Oddsmaker, title of my first newspaper column in 1988, was about the The Satanic Verses, not the book, but the news about the issuance by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Supreme Leader of Iran and a Shiite scholar, of a fatwa calling for the death of the book author, Salman Rushdie, and his publishers.
It also called for Muslims to point Rushdie out to those who can kill him if they cannot themselves.
I chose the event for my November 1988 column over the controversial appearance of Yasser Arafat to speak in the United Nations (UN) and the publication of Stephen Hawking’s Brief History of Time after The Satanic Verses, officially published on September 26, 1988, had provoked great controversy in the Muslim community which condemned its “blasphemous” references.
The novel’s enemies had also accused the author of misusing freedom of speech, the central subject manner in the Philippines in that period after the restoration of democracy two years earlier in the EDSA Revolution.
Before Khomeini’s issuance of a fatwa, the novel had sparked a widespread outrage from Muslim communities all over the world after Pakistan called to ban it two months after it rolled off the press followed by a 10,000-strong protest against both Rushdie and the book in Islamabad.
In an attack on the American Cultural Center, six protesters were murdered, and an American Express office was ransacked. As the controversy spread, the importing of the book was banned in India and it was burned in demonstrations in the United Kingdom.
British Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher gave Rushdie round-the-clock police protection.
Facing a religiously sanctioned bounty on his life, Rushdie, now 75, went into hiding for more than a decade, a dislocating, despair-inducing experience that he wrote about in his 2012 memoir, Joseph Anton, Randy Boyagoda wrote in The Atlantic.
Since then, he has largely returned to public life; before he was attacked at the Chautauqua Institution, in western New York on August 12, Rushdie was moving around freely, both in his adopted home of New York City and throughout the cultural and literary world.
Boyagoda pointed out that The Satanic Verses was published 10 years before Rushdie’s 24-year-old alleged attacker, Hadi Matar, was even born. And more than three decades have passed since Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa, a religious edict, calling for Rushdie’s death because of the novelist’s representations of the Prophet Muhammad and Islam.
Dire enough consequences followed in the fatwa’s early years: Deadly riots and bookstore bombings occurred around the world; several of Rushdie’s publishers and translators were attacked, including the Japanese professor Hitoshi Igarashi, who was stabbed to death. All told, some 45 people were killed amid the international tumult that greeted the novel.
Facing a religiously sanctioned bounty on his life, Rushdie went into hiding for more than a decade, a dislocating, despair-inducing experience that he wrote about in his 2012 memoir, Joseph Anton. Since then, he has largely returned to public life; before yesterday’s attack, Rushdie was moving around freely, both in his adopted home of New York City and throughout the cultural and literary world.
In decades and centuries past, writers took what seem today extraordinary, heroic risks to say what they wanted about religion and politics: Solzhenitsyn, Joyce, Wilde, Voltaire, Dante, lamented Boyagoda, who urged those who sympathize with Rushdie to read his book as a sign of helping him.
“But writers in our current literary culture struggle to achieve such relevance. They must negotiate the publishing industry’s sensitivity readers, then hope to find actual readers, and still hold onto an idea of themselves as artists rather than algorithmically regulated identarian protagonists (or antagonists). Lamenting all of that is, admittedly, easier than following Rushdie’s model,” Boyagoda wrote.
Rushdie was expected to live after suffering stab wound in the body but he might lose one of his eyes, it was reported.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo.—Ed)