Satanic verses author Salman Rushdie writes of years on run after fatwa

Satanic Verses author describes nine years in hiding after Muslims were urged to kill him

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2012, 4:22am


As violent protests over a US-made film rock the Muslim world, Salman Rushdie published his account yesterday of the decade he spent in hiding while under a fatwa for his book The Satanic Verses.

Rushdie's candid memoir of the years spent on the run after he too was accused of mocking Islam, entitled Joseph Anton, has added resonance in light of the events of the past week.

"A book critical of Islam would be difficult to publish now," the Indian-born writer, 65, said. "There's a lot of fear and nervousness around."

Considered blasphemous by Muslims, The Satanic Verses, published in 1988, led to Iran's spiritual leader, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issuing a fatwa against him. His memoir, named after the pseudonym he used while in hiding, tells of the following nine years when he was forced to move between safe houses under armed guard.

"I am gagged and imprisoned," he recalls writing in his diary. "I can't even speak. I want to kick a football in a park with my son. Ordinary, banal life: my impossible dream."

He chose the name Joseph Anton in homage to his two favourite writers, Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov. His bodyguards and police protection officers from the UK Special Branch called him simply Joe.

Now Rushdie lives mostly in New York after Iran assured Britain in 1998 that it would not implement the fatwa.

But Iran's current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, later reaffirmed that Rushdie's murder was authorised under Islam - and an Iranian foundation has reportedly raised the bounty on his head to US$3.3 million. The Khordad Foundation said if he had been killed earlier, the anti-Islam film currently enraging Muslims would never have been made.

His memoir describes how the Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses was murdered, and the Italian translator stabbed at his home.

In one episode, Rushdie recalls how he angered his bodyguards when U2's lead singer Bono smuggled him out to an Irish bar.

He described the day in September 1998 when the fatwa was lifted as a victory in "a fight for things that mattered".

Now, 14 years later, he said: "The only way of living in a free society is to feel you have the right to say and do stuff."