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Happy Valentine's Day, Mr. Rushdie
February 14, 2009 9:41 AM   Subscribe

Today is the 20th anniversary of the permanent fatwa pronounced by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini against the life of Salman Rushdie for writing his novel The Satanic Verses. Said the Ayatollah: "Even if Salman Rushdie repents and becomes the most pious man of all time, it is incumbent on every Muslim to employ everything he has got, his life and wealth, to send him to Hell."
posted by rdone (41 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Having lost her, I'd say he's already in Hell.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:48 AM on February 14, 2009


Allah favors the compassionate!
posted by TrialByMedia at 10:02 AM on February 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


I remember as a kid asking my dad about this when it was in the news, you know specifically what he said in his book to make people so angry. To his credit, he tried to explain to a six-year-old how a book he had never read angered people in a way he didn't understand, causing them to want to do things he would never think of. The news remained pretty confusing, and I really don't think I can quite understand it now, except by saying that some people are a little bit off-kilter. It's like some pope starting a crusade against Dan Brown for the Da Vinci Code, instead of just saying, 'hahahaha, are you serious?'

The government, as I can piece together, seemed to have acted pretty well, with police protection and breaking of diplomatic ties. Seeing the bullshit the current government recently pulled with Geert Wilders, I don't know if that would happen now (I know they're quite different cases, but you protect free speech no matter).

Oh, and the fatwa is definitely permament now, as Khomeini is dead, and only he could have revoked it.


Having lost her, I'd say he's already in Hell.

He lost a daughter? That's pretty terrible.
posted by Sova at 10:10 AM on February 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


Sova: that's Padma Lakshmi, his ex-wife.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:14 AM on February 14, 2009


Yeah, I know who she is, I was poking the original comment for fatuity.
posted by Sova at 10:17 AM on February 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


From The Guardian's diary last week:

As a far-right Dutch politician with a grisly film about Islam is banned from entering Britain, we recall that it was 20 years ago that Ayatollah Khomeini offered extra rations for anyone who took a pot shot at Salman Rushdie. Thankfully, the author proved elusive. And his ability to take a measured view was much in evidence recently as he was interviewed by a Colombian journalist ahead of an appearance there. "You write a lot about the clash of religions in your literature. Have you ever suffered as a result of this?" asked the inquisitor. "Just the once," Rushdie replied.
posted by WPW at 10:17 AM on February 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's like some pope starting a crusade against Dan Brown for the Da Vinci Code, instead of just saying, 'hahahaha, are you serious?'

Good analogy, except instead of the Pope (who actually has recognized religious authority), you can substitute Dubya, Rove, or Cheney. Yeah...thats about right.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:43 AM on February 14, 2009


"Just the once," Rushdie replied.

Well played, Sir Salman.
posted by rdone at 10:44 AM on February 14, 2009


Over the past year, as a direct result of living in a predominantly orthodox Jewish neighbourhood, watching how they lead their lives, questioning my own Catholic upbringing, and watching how the world is unfolding, I've come to the conclusion that all religions, ultimately, suck.
posted by Cobalt at 10:45 AM on February 14, 2009


It's like some pope starting a crusade against Dan Brown for the Da Vinci Code, instead of just saying, 'hahahaha, are you serious?'

Good analogy, except instead of the Pope (who actually has recognized religious authority), you can substitute Dubya, Rove, or Cheney. Yeah...thats about right.


If they can do that, I'd like to declare fatwa on Tom Hanks' hair.
posted by mannequito at 10:46 AM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's like some pope starting a crusade against Dan Brown for the Da Vinci Code, instead of just saying, 'hahahaha, are you serious?'

Good analogy, except instead of the Pope (who actually has recognized religious authority), you can substitute Dubya, Rove, or Cheney. Yeah...thats about right.


More like the head of the Southern Baptist Convention. One of the difficulties with Fatwas from Islamic authorities is that, lacking a Caliph, it's all about relative authorities and the number of followers who take them seriously.
posted by fatbird at 11:00 AM on February 14, 2009


"it is incumbent on every Muslim to employ everything he has got, his life and wealth, to send him to Hell."

The fact that no one's actually done so is kind of encouraging, if you think about it. One might suspect that God really wasn't endorsing the idea after this.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:16 AM on February 14, 2009


(For the record, yes, I was, am aware of all the collateral damage - the translators, bless them - that stemmed from the fatwa. I was speaking in very narrow terms.)
posted by IndigoJones at 11:19 AM on February 14, 2009


Why exactly is it no one acted on this fatwa? When you command a strong cult of personality over millions, people will tend to do their "duty". And many of them had to have taken him seriously. Nothing against Rushdie but the inaction just seems weird.
posted by crapmatic at 11:26 AM on February 14, 2009


Despite a conciliatory statement by Iran in 1998, and Rushdie's declaration that he would stop living in hiding, the Iranian state news agency reported in 2006 that the fatwa will remain in place permanently since fatwas can only be rescinded by the person who first issued them and Ayatollah Khomeini is no longer alive.

It's situations such as this, when legal dilemmas have nothing to do with any moral dilemma, that show just how ineffective such a legal system is.
posted by benwad at 11:33 AM on February 14, 2009


I will never forget the Saturday Night Live "Iran's Most Wanted" Rushdie Fatwa sketch: "Rushdie Is Evil Incarnate! and enjoys soccer."
posted by jonmc at 11:41 AM on February 14, 2009


I'm vaguely remembering hearing about a film being made (in Malaysia or Indonesia maybe?) about a group of heroic Muslims tracking a Rushdie-like figure to his secret hideout and "sending him to hell." Does anybody else remember hearing about this? Anyone seen it?
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:58 AM on February 14, 2009


Despite having its fundamental doctrinal principles down to five easily explicated propositions, Islam has no single, accepted legal regime. In the absence of a supreme prognosticator of faith and morals, a moral/legal decree represented by a fatwa has only such authority as is possessed by the cleric who uttered it. Only a Shi'ite who accepted the authority of Khomeini as "Object of Emulation" would have felt in any way bound to try to grease Salman Rushdie; the fact that translators of "TSV" were also killed shows the fundamental irrationality of the whole thing.

Still, even today, 20 years out, Rushdie must worry--if only a little--that some fanatic, some day, might leap from the shadows and shoot him or stab him based only upon the pique of a long-departed Islamic cleric.
posted by rdone at 11:58 AM on February 14, 2009


I thought this piece: The Book Burners on BBC 4's Archive on 4 was pretty interesting:

When, on the 14 February 1989, the Iranian Islamic leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie's death, the protestors were elated. London's Hyde Park saw 70,000 Muslims gather for what became one of the largest protests. Bradford was also the centre of much opposition.

But 20 years on, do the young men who took part in the demonstrations and the book burning still believe that their actions were justified, and would they do it again?

posted by theefixedstars at 11:59 AM on February 14, 2009


Why exactly is it no one acted on this fatwa? When you command a strong cult of personality over millions, people will tend to do their "duty". And many of them had to have taken him seriously.

"No one" has acted on this fatwa for the same reason that "no one" has taken Fred Phelps seriously in the Christian world.

The only difference between the Ayatollah and Fred Phelps is in the number of followers -- in both cases, the majority of those who ascribe to the faith in question recognize that they're total barking-mad fruitbats who've taken the teachings of their religion to a really weird level.

Not that they don't have followers; I'm not saying that. I'm just saying that the ACTUAL number of people who do agree with them is MUCH, MUCH smaller than "the total number of this religion's believers in the world".

So that's why no one has acted on this fatwa -- because the majority of Muslims realize that it's stupid.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:13 PM on February 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


The funny thing is, in a dark humor sort of way I guess, is that none of the pissed off Muslims up to and including Khomeini ever read the book or even knew what its contents actually were. Khomeini issued the fatwa after he heard about protests, and the protests started because of rumors of what the book said that weren't true, and the rumors started because the translations of the title into Arabic, Farsi and Urdu used a word for "verses" that refers only to verses of the Koran, so the title ended up being closer to "The Satanic Koran" in their languages. So all this happened over some backward religious zealots getting pissed off about what they imagined was in a book they never read based on the unfortunate translation of its title.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:17 PM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]




Um, I'd just like to say here that the book is actually really really good, controversy aside. Midnight's Children in 'aint, but still.

In March 1989, amidst all the brouhaha, every bookstore in the Bay Area was naturally out of the book. One store in San Francisco kept a wait list next to the register so you could write down your name to reserve a copy.

One of the names on the list was Mohammad, and someone had penned in a whole bunch of exclamation and question marks next to it. As if no Muslim could possibly be interested in reading the book, since presumably all of them were marching in lockstep with the Ayatollah.

I was 13 years old and, given my callow mind, sort of understood what was going on and sort of shared the surprise. I ordered the book, and. given my callow mind, didn't read it until I was 29. I've thought back to that wait list many times since, reminded again and again of how difficult it is for our culture to understand that Muslims are not a monolith.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 12:46 PM on February 14, 2009 [8 favorites]


I think it's awful that someone with a fatwa following them around was born with the unfortunate last name of Rushdie.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 1:13 PM on February 14, 2009


I'm vaguely remembering hearing about a film being made (in Malaysia or Indonesia maybe?) about a group of heroic Muslims tracking a Rushdie-like figure to his secret hideout and "sending him to hell." Does anybody else remember hearing about this?

International Gorillay
posted by Awkward Philip at 1:15 PM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]



I think it's awful that someone with a fatwa following them around was born with the unfortunate last name of Rushdie.


It made for a really easy, obvious topical joke, though. I remember seeing several "Rush-Die" jokes in Mad Magazine.
posted by DecemberBoy at 1:32 PM on February 14, 2009


Why exactly is it no one acted on this fatwa?

Someone did. His Japanese translator was murdered and his Italian translator and Norwegian publisher were seriously injured. The fact that Rushdie himself was never hurt is in part due to 24-hour security protection and living in hiding for nearly a decade, not the lack of seriousness of the threat.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 2:57 PM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


The continued survival of Salman Rushdie, and his long outliving the man who "sentenced him to death" is one of the factors that informs my view that the TERRORIST THREAT from Islam in general, and Shiite Islam and the Nation of Iran to be more specific, is vastly vastly overrated. More specifically, virtually nonexistant.

Also the incredibly unique combination of circumstances in the 9/11/01 attacks also convince me that the belief that "Another 9/11", that is, a terrorist attack on anything near the same scale, could ever happen again is based on mass blindness/hysteria/stupidity/bigotry. Living your life with the assumption that it will NEVER happen is the only logical lifestyle choice.

What militancy/hate exists in the Islamic world will always hurt themselves (literally, with intra-factional fighting so often the first priority) far more than can possibly harm anyone outside the religion.

Put simply, any of us living in most of the nations of the world (including Mr. Rushdie) runs a far greater risk today from bad peanut butter than from Islamic Terrorists. But then, I'm allergic to peanuts and always knew them nuts were evil.
posted by wendell at 3:09 PM on February 14, 2009


Why exactly is it no one acted on this fatwa? When you command a strong cult of personality over millions, people will tend to do their "duty". And many of them had to have taken him seriously.

"No one" has acted on this fatwa for the same reason that "no one" has taken Fred Phelps seriously in the Christian world.


In your haste to rush to make excuses for this barbaric cleric and his numerous followers, you've managed to overlook that Rushdie did, in fact, spend a long time in hiding and under heavy guard precisely because many people did, indeed, take it very seriously - so seriously, in fact, that translators and others involved in getting the book to publication have been murdered or injured.
posted by rodgerd at 4:29 PM on February 14, 2009


Speaking as someone who lives in Japan and works in translation, it's always comforting to me when people say (in effect) "pff, some fatwa, no-one got killed except some Japanese translator!"
posted by No-sword at 4:47 PM on February 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


In your haste

Hmm.
posted by Wolof at 4:53 PM on February 14, 2009


Seconding foxy_hedgehog: it's a great book. Not Rushdie's best, but still an extraordinary piece of work. A lot of people like to say it's 'unreadable' or 'dull'; mostly they are parroting opinions from other people who haven't read it either. The opening chapter--a conversation between two people as they fall five miles from an exploded airliner--is one of the most strange, joyous, uplifting pieces of writing I've ever read.
posted by Hogshead at 6:04 PM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


The continued survival of Salman Rushdie, and his long outliving the man who "sentenced him to death" is one of the factors that informs my view that the TERRORIST THREAT from Islam in general, and Shiite Islam and the Nation of Iran to be more specific, is vastly vastly overrated. More specifically, virtually nonexistant.

You're an idiot.

Yes, Salman Rushdie survived, and yes, most people in Westernized countries are more in danger of being killed by lightning than harmed or killed by a terrorist act. But that doesn't make the terrorist threat non-existent. Rushdie only survived because he was carefully and heavily guarded. His translators and publisher were not so fortunate. But terrorist acts kill thousands of people annually. It's not a non-existent or overrated problem just because it isn't at all likely to affect you or someone you love.
posted by orange swan at 6:09 PM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Rushdie survives because the experience led him to write Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and anyone who can create such a thing is not vulnerable to illiterate thugs and morons. Or so I choose to believe, as I read it to my son, and watch his eyes widen.
posted by Ella Fynoe at 6:27 PM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


My mother was involved in the publication of this book and although my parents did their best to keep things as low-key as possible, I can tell you that this fatwa was no casual thing.

When she made her annual plans to go to the Frankfurt Book Fair, she was told that if she went, it would be bombed. She stayed home, and got death threats there instead. We had Federal agents camped out in our living room, and parked outside our schools. The threat certainly felt pretty real.

To their credit, my parents never once explained this in the context of "Islamic" anything, and since I wasn't exactly reading the New York Times in 1988, it wasn't until I got to university that I made that connection. I remember my family talking much more about the history of banned books in the US and the history of book burnings and censorship around the world than about the specific religious ideology of the people who did not want this book published or read.

I am now, 20 years later, embarrassed to admit I've never gotten around to reading it. I should probably do that. (And call my mom.)
posted by DarlingBri at 6:38 PM on February 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


In your haste to rush to make excuses for this barbaric cleric and his numerous followers, you've managed to overlook that Rushdie did, in fact, spend a long time in hiding and under heavy guard precisely because many people did, indeed, take it very seriously - so seriously, in fact, that translators and others involved in getting the book to publication have been murdered or injured.

I was not trying to "rush to make excuses" for what Khomeni said. I was merely pointing out the Ayotollah and his followers do not represent the entirety of the Muslim world.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:46 PM on February 14, 2009


I also really enjoyed a book of his essays on art and politics titled Imaginary Homelands. I don´t know if it´s still in print, but it´s definitely worth finding.
posted by concrete at 9:42 PM on February 14, 2009


Khomeini jostled out of his coffin and onto the ground: Priceless.
posted by wrapper at 10:00 PM on February 14, 2009


The Rushdie affair prompted this great essay by Al-Djouhall entitled "The Misery of Islam":
Recently the Salman Rushdie affair has brought up to the surface a wealth of materials for analysis. One minute the President of Iran , the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared that the death order would be rescinded if Mr Rushdie apologised, a few hours later the Ayatollah-in-Chief Khomeini declared that even if Mr Rushdie repented it was the duty of every Muslim to put him to death. Iran today is a tweedeldum and tweedeldee country. The rulers of that devastated part of the world constantly need an external enemy in order to keep the minds of its people away from the mounting daily miseries at home. Mr Rushdie's book was a Godsend opportunity to unite the flocks. But for how long?
posted by Abiezer at 8:26 AM on February 15, 2009


It's not a non-existent or overrated problem just because it isn't at all likely to affect you or someone you love.

Never said it's non-existent. But the millions of people who live in personal fear of it when "it isn't at all likely to affect you or someone you love" make it vastly overrated. Colbert's Bear Phobia is a great analogy for this "Terrornoia", which, by increasing the tolerance of Police State politics, are doing more harm in many parts of the world than the 'terrorist' violence. And the ratio of "death threats" received by those associated with the Rushdie book to actual attacks (there was the one fatal attack in Japan; were there any others?) seems astronomical.

I think the British government did a very wrong thing by keeping the ugly bigot Geert Wilders from coming to England. And not even on a "free speech" basis; It looked more like they were more afraid of a 'no incident' raising doubts in their "Terrornoia" policies.

So sorry your mother missed the Frankfurt Book Fair, DarlingBri, but if Rushdie's was the only book she was going to promote, she didn't need to. Did she have other books to promote that lost out because of it? Were there any other book fairs afraid to have her as a guest, but just the one?
posted by wendell at 3:48 PM on February 15, 2009


Wendell, she wasn't going to promote the book. Frankfurt isn't just a promo fair; agents and editors and publishers meet there and do a slew of deals for the next year while the press piles on the darlings of this year's books. I'm a little fuzzy on the details but I think that at the time, she was probably the foreign rights sub-agent. Her job was done, and this was just one of a couple of dozen books she would have licensed that year. In other words, her trip had nothing to do with the book and her connection was tertiary at best.

In any case, "missing the Fair" was not really the point. I absolutely agree that the general population in the West is at negligible risk but I also think that if you've been the target of death threats, book stores are being burned to the ground and people are being killed, it's prudent to take that threat seriously. More generally: the threat is not everywhere, but it isn't a fairytale made up to scare children, either.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:06 PM on February 15, 2009


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