The Rushdie Fatwa, Thirty Years Later
Thirty years ago today, the then ruler of Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini, sent a valentine to Salman Rushdie in the form of a fatwa.
Rushdie, born in 1947 in Bombay (now Mumbai), had attended Cambridge, settled in Britain, and become famous with his second novel, Midnight's Children (1981). His fourth novel, The Satanic Verses (1988), featured a storyline about Muhammed and the Koran that was deemed blasphemous throughout the Muslim world, leading the novel to be banned in over a dozen countries. The fatwa condemned Rushdie, his publishers, and his editors to death, and called on "all valiant Muslims wherever they may be in the world to kill them without delay, so that no one will dare insult the sacred beliefs of Muslims henceforth." Khomeini's government announced that anyone who assassinated Rushdie would receive $6 million, if he survived, and instant martyrdom in Heaven, if he didn't. The fact that Rushdie, an outspoken leftist, had joined many other cultural-elite types in supporting the overthrow of the Shah apparently didn't impress Khomeini enough to keep him from ordering Rushdie's murder.
At that time, the word fatwa was unfamiliar outside the Muslim world. Indeed, for most people in the West, the idea of the long arm of Islam reaching out from that primitive corner of the planet and into the civilized West was a relatively new idea - even though, in historical terms, it was a very old idea, dating back to Islam's seventh-century founding. Even the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre was widely seen not as a strike against the Free World that was motivated by Islamic ideology but, rather, as an act of Palestinian Jew-hatred