Page last updated at 15:45 GMT, Monday, 26 May 2008 16:45 UK

Rushdie praises fatwa opposition

Sir Salman Rushdie
Sir Salman spoke about the artists who created the Hamza-nama paintings

Sir Salman Rushdie has paid tribute to all those who stood up and opposed the fatwa imposed on him 20 years ago for writing his novel The Satanic Verses.

Rushdie, one of they keynote speakers at this year's Hay Festival, in Powys, told of the booksellers who "redoubled" their efforts to sell the banned work.

Iran's late Ayatollah Khomeini imposed the fatwa over its reference to the prophet Mohammad.

Rushdie said the "many acts of courage" had stayed "more than the ugliness".

The author, who was knighted in June last year, told the audience in a very wet festival about his years in hiding after the fatwa, calling for his execution, was issued in 1989.

Asked how the fatwa had changed him personally, the Booker-winning writer said he believed he would have changed in any case during the 20 years since the controversy occurred.

But he added: "I had to understand not just what I was fighting against, but also what I was fighting for."

It was extraordinary to be at the centre of such a collective act
Sir Salman Rushdie, on the opposition to the fatwa

Rushdie was at the festival to talk about his latest novel The Enchantress of Florence.

He said that while he was "demonised" by a threat from a foreign country, there were many "small-scale heroes' who kept on selling his work, The Satanic Verses.

"It was extraordinary to be at the centre of such a collective act," said Rushdie.

He also explained to the audience that while the fatwa had put him in demand as a commentator on political events - he had a column in the New York Times - that was not the direction he wanted his career to go.

He said the reason he had become a writer was "not to be a pundit or a talking head" and he had now decided to concentrate on the business of writing stories which had inspired him in the first place.

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