Salman Rushdie, the writer stabbed to death on stage Friday during a cultural event in New York state, has received thousands of death threats over the past 33 years after the Iranian state issued a fatwa, a religious decree imposing the death penalty, in 1989. The then Ayatollah Khomeini issued the decree because of The Satanic Verses, a book in which Salman Rushdie questioned some Islamic commandments.
Born in Mumbai in 1947 to a liberal Muslim family, Salman Rushdie moved to England at the age of 13, where he studied at the prestigious King’s College, Cambridge. After graduation, he moved to Pakistan, but after a brief stint in television, he returned to the United Kingdom, where he began his writing career.
He made his debut in 1975 with “Grimus,” but the novel that made him famous in the literary world was “Midnight’s Children,” which was published in 1981 and won the Booker Prize. Salman Rushdie is the author of 16 books, but the work that drew the ire of the Iranian regime is “The Satanic Verses.”
Among other things, in it the Prophet Muhammad bears a name considered offensive, the divinity of his revelations is questioned, and several prostitutes were named after his wives.
Thus, in 1989, Rushdie was sentenced to death by a religious decree of Ayatollah Khomeini, who considered the book blasphemy. He called on all Muslims to kill Rushdie and the book’s publishers, and offered a reward for the writer’s head that grew over time to more than three million dollars.
The consequences of Khomeini’s 1989 decree were not long in coming: in 1991, a Japanese translator of the book was murdered and another Italian was wounded. The book was banned in several countries with large Muslim communities, including India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran, and there were dozens of threats against bookstores that sold the book. In some cases, they were even attacked.
Protests and violence
Protests occurred, resulting in deaths and injuries, and because of the threats, Salman Rushdie was forced to live under the protection of the British police for almost ten years. On March 7, 1989, the United Kingdom and Iran broke off diplomatic relations over the Rushdie controversy.
Although Tehran renounced the religious decree in 1998 to resume diplomatic relations with London, hardliners in Iran continued to uphold the death sentence. In early 2005, Khomeini’s fatwa was reaffirmed by Iran’s current spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a message to Muslim pilgrims in Mecca.
In addition, the Revolutionary Guards, the elite forces of the Iranian regime, stated that the death sentence against him still stands. In 2017, he received the title of Knight of the British Empire, which in turn provoked strong reactions in the Islamic world. He was also awarded the title of Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, France’s highest cultural honor.
In 2008, The Times placed him thirteenth on its list of the 50 greatest British writers of the postwar period. Rushdie has lived in the United States since 2000, teaching at Emory College and elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
In 2012, he published the book “Joseph Anton: A Memoir,” an account of how his life changed in the wake of the “Satanic Verses” controversy. Joseph Anton was Rushdie’s secret pseudonym.
Although he loved to write, Salman Rushdie said he would have become an actor if he had not had a successful career as a writer.
From a young age, he dreamed of starring in Hollywood films, which he later achieved through episodic appearances in, for example, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Then She Found Me, the film in which Helen Hunt made her directorial debut and in which Salman Rushdie plays a gynecologist. Rushdie, by the way, often included fictional television and film characters in his writings.