Salman Rushdie has again instructed us in a profound lesson: great literature will always be a matter of life and death

NB: Iran’s vicious theocracy has never withdrawn the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. The practice of placing monetary rewards on persons heads, i.e., offering money for death, is repulsive and barbaric, no matter who does it. Contract killings are murder, and to for so-called believers to claim this is done for Almighty God is despicable. God can presumably look after himself. And it needs to be shouted from the rooftops: criticism of religion is legitimate and necessary, because lots of evil deeds are done in Gods name, and lots of ruthless opportunists take refuge behind the mask of religion. Communalism is not religion, but irreligion. My solidarity and best wishes for a speedy recovery to Salman Rushdie. DS

This was always one’s worst fear for Salman Rushdie: the festival crowd, the vulnerable writer on stage, the buzz of audience anticipation, and then the horrifying irruption of senseless medieval fury. Ever since the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa placed him under sentence of death on Valentine’s day 1989, Rushdie has lived with the dread of violent Islamist retribution. But he has, over time, conducted himself with such courage and distinction that the literary world came to forget the murderous frenzy aroused by his novel The Satanic Verses.

As described in Josef Anton, Rushdie’s memoir of the fatwa, it became a destabilising experience that took the writer into hiding with a team of special branch officers armed with sub-machine guns. This episode combined terror, boredom and farce, Jack Higgins crossed with Tom Sharpe. On one occasion, his minders offered him a wig in which, he admitted, he looked ridiculous. This short-lived experiment came to an end after his first outing in his new disguise, on a London street. As he got out of the car, he once told me, there were stares and comments: “There’s Salman Rushdie in a wig.”

Rushdie had always been a gregarious metropolitan. Now he was in solitary confinement. “It’s an odd thing to have a price on your head,” he told one interviewer, fretting at his sequestration. “I’m tired of being hemmed in,” he said. There was, he argued, a difference between concealing someone and protecting them. For a while, he appeared to be suffering a life sentence….

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