September 18, 2012

Iran still really dislikes that one story Rushdie told last century


The author whose twenty-three-year-old fibs about a dead man are still hurting feelings in Iran.

The more-or-less abrogated fatwa on author Salman Rushdie has officially been renewed.

The twenty-three year old edict was first issued by Ayatollah Khomeini in an effort to punish Rushdie in retribution for his strange and beautiful novel The Satanic Verses. Khomenei called the book “blasphemous” in its depiction of Islam and ordered the author’s death, issuing a bounty on his head. Rushdie spent the next thirteen years of his life in hiding. Even recently, after the fatwa was more-or-less let drop in order to normalize Iranian relations with Great Britain, Rushdie was forced to cancel a trip to India due to threats from extremists there. The Satanic Verses remains banned in his native country.

Now, this Sunday, Hassan Sanei of the religious foundation 15 Khordad and spokesperson for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini has decreed the fatwa back in effect, adding

“Surely if the sentence of the Imam (Khomeini) had been carried out, the later insults in the form of caricatures, articles and the making of movies would not have occurred.”

Sanei is of course referring to the various trailers for the film Innocence of Muslims which have set the Muslim world alight this past week, a movie nearly as risible for it’s poor production quality and nonsensical dialogue as for its bigoted depiction of the prophet and his religion. Rushdie himself spoke about the film to the Telegraph, saying

“The correct response would be to say it is garbage and unimportant. Clearly, it’s a piece of crap, is very poorly done and is malevolent. To react to it with this kind of violence is just ludicrously inappropriate. People are being attacked who had nothing to do with it and that is not right.”

News of the renewed fatwa was timed to coincide with the release of Rushdie’s Joseph Anton, a new memoir about his time spent in hiding under a pseudonym and with a complement of four round-the-clock bodyguards. One imagines Sanei’s Google Alerts for combinations of the phrases “Salman Rushdie” “new book” and “opportunity for pointless paranoiac discourse-chilling incitement to murder” notified him that the book was soon to be published and Sanei felt he couldn’t let the moment pass. The moment, that is, to incite people to kill a man over a story he wrote one time decades ago that loosely references, in a dream sequence, another guy who Sanei really likes a lot.

The Iranian bounty on Rushdie’s head has been increased by an additional five hundred thousand dollars this time around, for those vicious extremists out there who were tempted to have a go at assassination the first time, but then decided that while the prospect of a nearly three million dollar reward was indeed tempting, they’d need just a bit more incentive before graduating from potential to full-fledged world’s-biggest-asshole status. Presumably the extra money is meant to pay for bigger guns and more elite commando training, the better to kill the gentle, paunchy sixty-five year old novelist.

For more on the Rushdie fatwa I recommend our own From Fatwa to Jihad by Kenan Malik  and The Flight of the Intellectuals by Paul Berman, about Islamism and the press.

Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.