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Friday, February 13, 1998 Published at 21:44 GMT


Salman Rushdie: Nine years under threat
image: [ Salman Rushdie: living in fear of death ]
Salman Rushdie: living in fear of death

"The revolution against fear, the engendering of that tawdry despot's fall has more or less nothing to do with courage. It's driven by something much more straightforward: The simple need to get on with your life."

Salman Rushdie: "With fear it's all or nothing." (35")
So says the author Salman Rushdie - despite the fact that he is entering yet another year of hiding to avoid a death sentence placed on his head by Iran's late Ayatollah Khomeni in 1989.

The threat to Mr Rushdie is not theoretical. Others associated with him, including a Japanese translator and a Norwegian publisher, have been killed. Still, nine years later, Mr Rushdie is remarkably upbeat.

"The best thing I can do is work as a writer, live as openly as I can and to say - to put it bluntly - 'we ain't scared of you'," Mr Rushdie told the BBC last year.

Dangerous reality

[ image: Reaction to the
Reaction to the "Satanic Verses" forced Mr Rushdie into hiding
But living "openly" is almost impossible for Salman Rushdie.

True, he attends glittering literary parties and has given higher-profile interviews since the success of his 1995 novel, "The Moor's Last Sigh". But his movements are always under the tightest security. Guests are informed of his parties' locations only on the day of the event. Even journalists, who have been granted interviews, are given short notice of Mr Rushdie's whereabouts.

To Westerners, Salman Rushdie's real-life nightmare seems as fantastical as the stories he weaves in his novels.

Imagine this: A middle-aged author, born in Bombay and living in London, publishes a sardonic, often fantastical, novel of a young Indian's life in Britain and the roots of his Muslim faith. In the book, he re-tells legends of the Prophet Mohammed in a light, often outrageous, way.

The book is praised. It wins a literary prize, but some Muslims find passages offensive, even blasphemous. And under the laws of Islam, that offence is punishable by death.

[ image: Many Muslims see it as their duty to kill Salman Rushdie]
Many Muslims see it as their duty to kill Salman Rushdie
Soon there are riots. Five die in Pakistan; the British Embassy in Iran is stoned and Iran cuts off diplomatic ties with Britain. Finally, Iran's spiritual leader, the Ayatolla Khomeni declares a fatwa, or religious edict, calling on all Muslims to kill Salman Rushdie.

Rushdie on controversial literature (15")
Mr Rushdie has said that controversy is a healthy aspect of literature. "We don't want safe books," he said. "I wouldn't read one. I wouldn't want to write one."

But it is safe to say that even Salman Rushdie did not expect that his book, the Satanic Verses, would elicit quite this kind of controversy.

Life goes on

[ image: Salman Rushdie in 1997]
Salman Rushdie in 1997
Following the 1989 violence, Mr Rushdie made an apology for "distress caused" by the book, but many Muslims said his statement did not go far enough.

In the intervening years, Mr Rushdie has tried to fight the edict through various legal channels. In the run-up to the ninth anniversary, the International Rushdie Defence Committee has written to the British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, requesting a brief, but publicised, meeting between the Mr Cook and Mr Rushdie. Such a meeting would be especially poignant as the United Kingdom is currently holding the presidency of the European Union.

The committee wants to raise the issue of the bounty money that has been offered for Mr Rushdie's death. According to a spokeswoman, the price on Mr Rushdie's head - offered by an Iranian religious foundation - is $2.5m (£1.47m).

More to the point, Mr Rushdie has continued to write. Since 1989, he has published four novels, including a children's fable, which he describes as the only story he has written with a happy ending, and the critically acclaimed "Moor's Last Sigh".

Rushdie on the purpose of the "Satanic Verses" (:19)
Currently, Mr Rushdie is at work on a new novel, "The Ground Beneath Her Feet". Expected to be completed in the autumn, his publisher describes the book as an exploration of the triangle between art, love and death.

Through it all, Salman Rushdie has insisted that he will not let the fatwa make him an "unperson" and he maintains that he had no intention to insult the Muslim community into which he was born.

"The purpose in writing that book was not to offend people," he said. "If people get offended along that way, that's their problem. It turns into my problem when they try to kill me, but fundamentally it is still their problem."

Believing that it is not his problem is what allows Salman Rushdie to get on with his life.

"With fear it's all or nothing," he said. "Either like any bullying tyrant it rules your life with a stupid blinding omnipotence, or else you overthrow it. And its power vanishes in a puff of smoke."

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Internet Links

Salman Rushdie information

Literary criticism and information

Reader's Guide to the Satanic Verses

International Rushdie Defence Committee

Islamic Republic of Iran

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