Why has Salman Rushdie, stabbed in the United States, been targeted by a “fatwa” since 1989?

He is the target of a “fatwa” for over 30 years. British author Salman Rushdie was stabbed in the neck on Friday August 12 during a conference in the United States and was taken to hospital. His attacker was arrested and the police are now investigating to find out the motivations for his action.

Of Indian origin, Salman Rushdie is the target of a “fatwa” (religious decree) from the Iranian Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini issued in 1989 shortly after the publication of his controversial book “The Satanic Verses”.

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Published in 1988, this book shook the Muslim world, at a time when no one yet perceived the rise of Muslim fundamentalism. The most rigorous consider it blasphemous with regard to the Koran and Muhammad.

A disturbing book

Salman Rushdie tells the adventures of two Indians, who died in a terrorist attack against their plane. Thanks to the imagination of the writer, a past master in the field of magical realism, they arrive safe and sound on an English beach and mingle with emigrants from London, in the midst of Thatcher’s period (1980s).

It is above all a novel about the uprooting of immigrants. “Of all the ironies, the saddest is to have worked for five years to give a voice (…) to the culture of immigration (…) and to see my book burned, most often without having been read, by those very people of whom he speaks”will write the writer.

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It is the second chapter (a few dozen pages out of several hundred) that causes a scandal. Salman Rushdie depicts scenes there where the character, vaguely ridiculous, of the prophet Mahound – allusion to the founder of Islam, Mahomet -, abused by Satan, preaches the belief in other divinities than Allah, before recognizing his error.

Shortly after its release, the book was quickly banned in many countries. India, first, then South Africa, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and even Qatar. In January 1989, copies were burned in a public square in Bradford, in the north of England. Its publication in the United States unleashed even more passions. Authors like Susan Sontag or Tom Wolfe organize public readings. In Pakistan, thousands of people attack the American cultural center in Islamabad, shouting: “American dogs”, “Hang Rushdie!” ». The police shoot: five dead.

The author’s life changes when a year later, on February 14, 1989, the Iranian Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini, calls on Muslims around the world to shoot him. A very high reward is offered for the death of the writer, accused of ridiculing the Koran and Muhammad in his novel. Salman Rushdie goes to ground, is escorted by bodyguards. During the first six months, he changed residence 56 times.

30 years in secret

Forced from then on to live in hiding and under police protection, going from cache to cache, he called himself Joseph Anton, in homage to his favorite authors, Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov. He had had to face immense loneliness, further increased by the break with his wife, the American novelist Marianne Wiggins, to whom ” The verses… “ are dedicated.

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“I am gagged and imprisoned (…). I would like to play soccer with my son in the park. Ordinary, banal life, an inaccessible dream for me”he wrote.

His book, he has since explained, was “greatly misunderstood”. “It was actually a novel about South Asian immigrants in London and their religion was just one aspect of that story”he said.

But, from 1993, tired of being “an invisible man”he multiplies his travels and public appearances, while remaining under the supervision of the British government.

Released from hiding in 2019, he asked not to be reduced to this affair. But the rise to power of radical Islam in recent years has constantly brought it back to what it has always been in the eyes of the West: the symbol of the fight against religious obscurantism and for freedom. of expression.

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Now based in New York, Salman Rushdie had resumed, before the attack suffered on Friday, an almost normal life while continuing to defend, in his books, satire and irreverence. The fatwa was not lifted and many of the translators of his book were injured by attacks or even killed, such as the Japanese Hitoshi Igarashi, victim of several stab wounds in 1991.

In 1998, the Iranian government of reformist President Mohammad Khatami pledged that Iran would not implement the decree. But, in 2005, the supreme guide, Ali Khamenei, reaffirms that killing Salman Rushdie remains authorized by Islam.

A lifetime of accomplishments

Salman Rushdie was born on June 19, 1947 in India, in Bombay (or Mumbai) into a family of non-practicing, wealthy, progressive and cultured Muslim intellectuals. He devours Indian epics and participates in Hindu, Muslim and Christian festivals.

At 13, he left to study in England. After passing through Cambridge University, he worked in Pakistan as a television producer. Faced with permanent censorship, he returned to London, earning his living in advertising.

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His famous first novel is “The Midnight Children”which won the Booker Prize in 1981. ” Shame “ (1985 prize for the best foreign book in France), “The Moor’s Last Smile”, “The Earth Underfoot”, “Shalimar the Clown” Where “The Enchantress of Florence”.

Knighted in 2007 by the Queen of England, to the great displeasure of Muslim extremists, this master of magical realism, a man of immense culture who calls himself apolitical, has written in English some fifteen novels, stories for young people, short stories and trials.

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