As Salman Rushdie was being introduced, a man stormed onto the Chautauqua Institution’s stage and attacked him in the neck. “The United States as an asylum for writers and artists in exile and as the home for creative expression” was the topic of discussion. There are high chances that this was the work of a jihadi.
It received shamefully brief attention. “The Satanic Verses,” published in September 1988, is too old to recall. Because of its alleged impertinent treatment of the prophet Muhammad, Rushdie banned it in his native India as well as in dozens of other countries — including almost every country with a Muslim majority. Although Rushdie would become a strong advocate for free expression later, he first turned against his book and apologized numerous times for its contents. He said, “I deeply regret the distress that publication caused to sincere followers of Islam,” and asked his publisher to stop the release of the paperback version of the book. His position was justified as a matter of self-preservation.
It was still futile. Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s supreme leader, issued a fatwa against Rushdie. He claimed that even if Rushdie “became one of the most pious men of all time”, it was the duty of every Muslim to “employ all he can” to kill the writer.
Terrorism was used to suppress free expression in the Western liberal world for the first time since postwar history. Two bookstores in Berkeley, California were attacked by terrorists in the United States. After publishing an editorial that defended the right to read the novel, the Riverdale Press in New York was set on fire. Hitoshi Igarashi, Rushdie’s Japanese translator, was fatally attacked. Europeanly, Ettore Capriolo (the Italian translator of “The Satanic Verses”) was also stabbed to death in Milan. William Nygaard (the Norwegian publisher of Rushdie’s book), was also shot three times but survived. After expressing moderate views on the matter, an imam in Belgium and his aide were both shot to death. In April 1989, big booksellers in London were set on fire. There were also two explosions related to the sale of the book. Rushdie, the author of “Midnight’s Children”, among other great works, was forced into using round-the-clock protection from bodyguards and had to hide for the next ten years.
The fatwa’s purpose was to not only punish Rushdie for his blasphemy but also to intimidate anyone daring to engage. It worked. It worked. Of course, no one should be promised a job or a book. But, giving in to illiberal pressure only encourages violence and threats, as was the case with Charlie Hebdo, and many other attacks that followed. Recently, the left has started to label anyone who points out the illiberalism in political Islam as an Islamophobe. Kenan Malik, the author, noted that the legacy of Rushdie’s fatwa was that Western Europe “internalized” the practice of censorship. He wrote, “Rushdie’s critics lost battle — The Satanic Verses continue to be published.” They won the war. The anti-Rushdie argument, that it is morally unacceptable to cause offense towards other cultures is now well accepted.” Rushdie rightly calls this “censorship of fear.”
Even though the Biden administration is trying hard to make another sweetheart agreement that would eventually give the mullahs nukes, we should not forget that this is the work and theocratic terror state of Iran. The fatwa is still valid today, even if the attacker is not a jihadi. It was nearly $4 million in 2016 when Iran increased it. They are financing bounties against innocent writers when Iran isn’t destabilizing the Middle East via proxies, blowing up Jewish centers in Argentina, intimidating American voters, plotting to murder former American officials, or killing over 600 U.S. troops in Iraq.