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Person of the Week: Salman Rushdie: $3.9 million bounty for Rushdie

Person of the week: Salman Rushdie
$3.9 million bounty for Rushdie

By Wolfram Weimer

Western intellectuals are shocked after Rushdie’s assassination. Many authors and cartoonists fear that they too will be targeted by Iran’s henchmen if they publish anything critical of Islam. Against a climate of fear and self-censorship, Rushdie should now receive the Nobel Prize in Literature

Anyone who kills Salman Rushdie will get more than $3.9 million from Iran. The bounty has officially been suspended: the state-owned “15 Khordat Foundation” based in Tehran plans to pay the killer 3.3 million. The semi-state news agency Fars has offered another $600,000. The Iranian mullah regime has openly wanted to have the British-Indian writer killed for 34 years because he wrote the book “The Satanic Verses” in 1988.

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In public for decades despite fatwa: author Salman Rushdie

(Photo: picture alliance / abaca)

The religious fanatics around the then head of state Ayatollah Khomeini saw their religious founder Mohamed offended by the book, which is why they sentenced Rushdie to death by means of a fatwa on February 14, 1989. The reason for this death sentence was that the book was “against Islam, the Prophet and the Koran”. Khomeini called on Muslims around the world to carry out the law.

Now a 24-year-old Islamist in the state of New York followed the call from Tehran, wanted to slaughter Rushdie with a knife and seriously injured the writer. While horror spread everywhere in the western world, there is hardly any hidden joy germinating in Tehran. The pro-government newspaper “Kayhan”, whose editor-in-chief will be appointed directly by Iran’s head of state Ali Khamenei, commented with a thousand bravos “for the courageous and dutiful person who attacked the renegade and evil Salman Rushdie in New York”. It went on to say, “The hand of the man who wrung the throat of the enemy of God must be kissed.”

The newspaper “Chorasan” carried the headline: “Satan on the way to hell”. The news site “Asr Iran” published a quote from Khamenei saying that the “arrow” fired by former Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini will one day hit the target.

The governments in the USA and Great Britain complain that Tehran is engaging in open state terrorism by pursuing Rushdie. However, the Iranian government spokesman Nasser Kanaani does not want to accept this. In a cynical statement, Kanaani blames the persecuted Rushdie himself: “In this attack, nobody else but Salman Rushdie and his supporters can be held responsible or even condemned.”

Iran denies all blame

By insulting the sacred cause of Islam, crossing red lines for more than 1.5 billion Muslims, Rushdie “exposed himself to the wrath of the people.” The writer himself was responsible for the attack. No one therefore has the right to blame the Islamic Republic of Iran, according to Kanaani.

Tehran’s policy of religious culture wars follows a perfidious plan. Critics of the regime or religion are not only brutally persecuted (several filmmakers, including the star director Jafar Panahis, have just been arrested), they are also publicly pilloried in order to be exposed to lifelong and worldwide repression by Islamist fanatics. This is intended to create a widespread climate of fear in which no one dares any criticism.

Islam experts speak of the “chain reaction of the mobs” that is being deliberately initiated in Tehran. Some observers now fear that the attack on Rushdie could spur further religious fanatics to attack. British novelist and “Harry Potter” creator JK Rowling has already become the target of threats.

A trail of blood from Islamist attacks on Western intellectuals ranges from the beheading of the French history teacher Samuel Paty to the massacre of the cartoonists of the magazine “Charlie Hebdo”. The musician Shahin Najafi, who lives in Germany, is also covered with two death fatwas. Everyone who attends Najafi’s concerts should also fear.

Today “no one would have enough courage” for the book

Such targeted chain reactions of intimidation are now having an effect. Today, “nobody would have enough courage to write the ‘Satanic Verses’,” believes the novelist Hanif Kureishi. And if someone did write the book, former British PEN Club president Lisa Appignanesi continues the argument, “it wouldn’t be published”.

The fear in publishing houses is also great because Tehran’s Islamist thugs are also deliberately trying to kill Salman Rushdie’s translators. Rushdie’s Japanese translator Hitoshi Igarashi was murdered with a knife in Tokyo in 1991, in Norway publisher William Nygaard narrowly escaped an assassination attempt with a gun, Italian translator Ettore Capriolo was seriously injured, in Turkey Aziz Nesin narrowly escaped an arson attack 37 bystanders died.

In this situation of threat, more and more publishers and authors shy away from controversies or critical publications in anticipatory obedience. Last year, Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro complained about a “climate of fear” that prevents people from writing what they want. Young writers would fear an “anonymous lynch mob would show up online and make their lives hell”. He told the BBC: “I’m very worried about the younger generation of writers”. British publicist Kenan Malik warns that Rushdie’s persecutors have unfortunately won the war over freedom of expression.

Wallraff: Then I was threatened myself

The German publicist Günter Wallraff also sees the attempted murder of Rushdie as an attempt to intimidate critics of Islam in general. It was “disgusting” that the Iranian state media celebrated the alleged assassin frenetically. Wallraff temporarily hid Rushdie in his Cologne home in 1993. “By that time he was already in very acute danger. He was protected around the clock at the time.” Some of the bodyguards were even disguised as homeless people at the time. The “Satanic Verses” is a great satirical novel that he would have liked to have discussed in a Cologne mosque. But that was not possible: “Then I was threatened myself when I suggested it.”

Germany’s Minister of State for Culture, Claudia Roth, describes the attack on the writer Salman Rushdie as an attack on the freedom of literature and the freedom of thought. It is perfectly clear: “Blood will still be on the hands, not only of the assassin, but also and especially of those of the Iranian regime, which to this day is sticking to the terrible fatwa against him.”

The US State Department has criticized Iran’s actions as “outrageous and disgusting”. A spokesman for British Prime Minister Johnson called Tehran’s blame game “abstruse”. The attack on Rushdie was an attack on freedom of speech. The proposal to counter the assassination attempt on Rushdie with a large symbolic counter-reaction is now circulating among Western diplomats, but also in the literary scene. The French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy proposes in the “Journal du dimanche” that Rushdie be awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature. That’s a good idea.

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