Page last updated at 11:40 GMT, Saturday, 14 February 2009

Anniversary of Rushdie book fatwa

Salman Rushdie
Rushdie was forced into hiding after the fatwa was issued

It is 20 years since Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against the author Salman Rushdie after the publication of The Satanic Verses.

The novel's release led to widespread protest by Muslims who regarded it as blasphemous, including public burning of the book.

Rushdie had to live in hiding and under special protection for several years.

And while he is now able to live a more public life, he says the affair remains "an albatross around his neck".

Last year, he told BBC's Newsnight that he was considering writing a book about the experience.

Nine days after The Satanic Verses was published in Britain in September 1988, it was banned in India.

Attacks

Muslims who wanted the book withdrawn in Britain burned a copy at a demonstration in Bradford's main square.

Protests gathered pace in various countries, and on 14 February 1989, the Iranian revolutionary leader issued the fatwa.

There were attacks on people involved in translating or publishing the book.

Although Iran said this week that the fatwa remains valid, the official line laid down in 1998 was that the death sentence should no longer be pursued.

BBC arts correspondent Lawrence Pollard said the controversy over the book could be seen as a defining moment for British society, both for race relations and freedom of speech.

"[It was] the catalyst for the emergence of a stronger sense of Muslim identity in Britain," he said. "Protestors had an issue around which to rally."

"Until that time there had been assumed support for the broad principle of free speech, the Rushdie affair introduced the question of how far free expression should be limited to avoid offending religious feelings in a multicultural society," he added.

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