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Salman Rushdie: When The Past Tries To Kill You

Salman Rushdie

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It has been three days since a psychopath attempted to assassinate the renowned and highly prestigious British writer Salman Rushdie as he was about to give a lecture in Chautaqua, New York. The information that is available is not so good. Rushdie, who was stabbed in the neck, is in critical condition. Although he is no longer on a ventilator, he suffered life-changing injuries, a family member said, and could lose an eye.

VICE revealed Sunday that the attacker, Hadi Matar, had been in direct contact with members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, confirming the idea that Rushdie was tried to be assassinated in obedience to the fatwa that Khomeini issued in February 1989.

At the time, Salman Rushdie had published his controversial and well-written novel The Satanic Verses, in which he makes a very ungraceful parallelism of Islam. This depiction provoked unprecedented outrage in the Islamic world, resulting in the book being banned in several countries and Iran’s supreme leader, Khomeini, issuing a fatwa (legal pronouncement): anyone linked to The Satanic Verses must be killed (and there would be a $3 million reward for anyone who killed the author).

The British government immediately provided Rushdie with protection, but that did not prevent casualties. In February 1989, there were protests against the book in Bombay, India, in which ten people were killed; in March two Muslim religious leaders who had opposed the fatwa were assassinated; in August there was an attack in London intended to send a message against Rushdie.

Then in 1991 the hunt continued: on July 3 they tried to kill the Italian translator of the book, Ettore Capriolo; on July 12 Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator, was murdered. In July 1993 there was a terrorist attack in Turkey against the Turkish translator of the work; 27 people were killed that day. In October 1993 an attempt was made to assassinate the editor of the novel in Norway.

These are just some of the tragedies surrounding The Satanic Verses. Salman Rushdie had to cancel events over several years and in several cities because there was always information that hitmen would try to kill him. This persecution never left him, and finally, after more than 30 years of running from death and evading the will of the Iranian regime, a fanatic came and stabbed him in the neck. It happened in New York, and there was not enough security.

Salman Rushdie, who has always been a tireless campaigner for free speech, was nearly killed simply because his words offended some. This episode should make us even more committed to freedom of expression and in that sense I recommend all our readers to go to a bookstore now and, if they have not already bought it, to purchase The Satanic Verses.

On the other hand, the message is also clear: Iran neither forgives nor forgets. The Iranian fundamentalist regime, one of the most dangerous in the world, set out to kill Salman Rushdie and, although we hope it did not succeed, it did manage to hurt him deeply. The same regime planned to assassinate journalist Masih Alinejad, who lives in New York, and plans to kill Mike Pompeo and John Bolton. The same regime with which the Biden administration wants to reach a nuclear agreement and to which Nicolás Maduro ceded thousands of kilometers for its operations in Venezuela.

Islamic fundamentalists neither forgive nor forget. We have made the mistake of forgiving and forgetting.

Note: This article originally appeared in El American’s newsletter on August 15, 2022.

Orlando Avendaño is the co-editor-in-chief of El American. He is a Venezuelan journalist and has studies in the History of Venezuela. He is the author of the book Days of submission // Orlando Avendaño es el co-editor en Jefe de El American. Es periodista venezolano y cuenta con estudios en Historia de Venezuela. Es autor del libro Días de sumisión.

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