How Iran exploited Rushdie’s Satanic Verses

The move is part of a landmark agreement with the United Kingdom. Iran gave a public guarantee not to push for Rushdie’s assassination in exchange for upgrading diplomatic relations between London and Tehran.

But someone was caught. The fatal 1989 edict on Rushdie’s satirical novel The Satanic Verses cannot be officially revoked because the source of the fatwa — Iran’s first Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini — is dead. At least that’s what Rushdie was told, according to his memoirs.

It is a deftly-crafted ambiguity that has defined Iran’s policy on the issue — and many other issues — in the intervening years. In 2006, Hassan Nasrallah, secretary general of Iran-backed Hezbollah, publicly complained that the fatwa against the author had not been implemented, saying it had empowered others to “insult” the Prophet Mohammed. In 2019, Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reminded his followers that the decision against Rushdie was “solid and irreversible,” in a tweet that led to the closure of his account. Khamenei still tweets from other accounts.

Four months before Rushdie was brutally stabbed at an event in New York on Friday, an Iranian news outlet, Iran Online, published an article praising the fatwa.

Through it all, Iran appeared to insist on continuing to hang the executioner’s sword before Rushdie.

Whatever their motivations, Iran’s cynical exploitation of certain Muslim sensibilities is plain to see. The Satanic Verses draws on a deeply controversial story in ancient Islamic tradition that claims Satan temporarily interfered with divine revelations to the Prophet Mohammed. Iran did not immediately ban the book; the country’s leaders took action only months later, after the book inspired protests in Pakistan.

The subsequent fatwa proved politically useful. This elevated Khomeini in the eyes of Islamic fundamentalists throughout the Muslim world, including Sunnis. But then, as now, it had prominent Muslim and regional detractors.

The New Yorker’s Robin Wright reported that Khomeini’s closest protégé at the time, Ayatollah Ali Montazeri, criticized the order. Montazeri, who also opposed mass executions of Iranian dissidents, fell out of favor with the regime and was placed under house arrest in 1997.
A 1989 letter published in The New York Review of Books signed by Arab and Muslim scholars also objected to the campaign against Rushdie.

“This campaign is done in the name of Islam, although none of it gives any credit to Islam,” the letter signed by five prominent intellectuals including the late Indian-born poet Aga Shahid Ali and the late Palestinian -American scholar Edward Said.

“Muslims and others certainly have the right to protest against The Satanic Verses if they feel the novel offends their religious and cultural sensibilities,” the letter’s authors added. “But bringing protest and debate into the realm of fanatical violence is in fact antithetical to Islamic traditions of learning and tolerance.”

In Rushdie’s memoir Joseph Anton, the Mumbai-born author is shown openly questioning whether he had been “sold out” by the London-Tehran 1998 accord just days after he declared threats on his life that is “done.” Joseph Anton was his pseudonym when he was underground and he refers to himself in the book in the third person.

Despite admitting that the death warrant would continue to hang over his head, he chose to emerge from his life in hiding and settle in New York where decades later, he would be brutally attacked in front of horrified onlookers.

The suspect in last week’s attack has been named by authorities as Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old from New Jersey.

Matar pleaded not guilty Saturday to attempted second-degree murder and other charges.

True to form, Iran denied involvement in the attack and said Rushdie and his “supporters” had only themselves to blame. Hezbollah also said it had no information about the attacker and the plot in comments to CNN.

“Nothing is perfect, but there is a degree of imperfection that is hard to take,” Rushdie wrote in his memoir of the decision in 1998. “Still, he remained resolved,” Rushdie added, referring to himself. “He needs to take his life back into his own hands. He can’t wait for the ‘imperfection factor’ to drop to a more acceptable level.”

The digest

Iran to give final response to EU nuclear deal proposal at midnight in Tehran – FM

Iran will give its final response to the European Union’s proposal for reviving the nuclear agreement at midnight on Monday, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said, according to state media.

  • Background: Iran is exchanging messages with the United States through mediation on three outstanding issues, one of which is “guarantees,” Amir-Abdollahian said. “The American side has shown flexibility on two issues, which have been taken into account, and now have to show flexibility regarding guarantees,” he said. The US State Department did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment. During the briefing, Amir-Abdollahian did not mention Iran’s previous request that the IAEA’s investigation into traces of uranium at three undeclared sites be dropped.
  • Why is this important?: The revival of the nuclear deal that the US scrapped in 2018 looks set to end earlier this year. But the talks stalled in March because of some holdouts. They restarted earlier this month in Vienna after the EU offered a new proposal. With the oil market increasingly tight following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a revived nuclear deal could help lower energy prices after the lifting of sanctions on Iran’s oil market and pour more barrel in Europe.

At least 18 children, killed in church fire in Egypt

At least 41 people, including 18 children, were killed after a fire broke out at the Abu Sefein church in the Imbaba neighborhood of Giza on Sunday, according to a statement by a spokesman for the Egyptian Coptic Church citing health officials.

  • Background: The fire that tore through the small Coptic church in Giza, greater Cairo, on Sunday also killed 14. At least 18 children died, according to hospital documents seen by CNN. The children were between the ages of 3 and 16. The fire was caused by an electrical failure in an air conditioning unit, the interior ministry said.
  • Why is this important?: The incident highlights the dangers posed by parts of Egypt’s underdeveloped infrastructure, especially in the country’s poorer and more congested neighborhoods. In 2020, an electrical fire at a hospital treating Covid-19 patients killed at least seven people.

Five Americans among those injured in Jerusalem attack

At least eight people, including five Americans, were wounded in a shooting attack targeting a bus near the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday morning.
  • Background: Two Americans are being treated at Hadassah Medical Center, and three at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, according to the hospitals. At least two of the Americans injured were tourists, hospitals said. The shooter fled, with members of the security forces, the Shin Bet and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in pursuit. Police said a helicopter from the Israel Police aerial unit assisted in the search. The suspect later surrendered to the police. The weapon he was carrying was seized, according to a police spokesman. Israeli media said the suspect is a Palestinian who holds Israeli citizenship. A security source confirmed to CNN that the suspect has Israeli citizenship and is from East Jerusalem.
  • Why is this important?: Sunday’s shooting comes after fighting in Gaza last weekend left dozens of Palestinians dead. A ceasefire between Israel and the Islamic Jihad militant group in Gaza was announced on Sunday. Although militant groups in Gaza such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad praised the attack, the suspect has no known ties to militant groups.

Around the region

A man in the UAE has been fined up to 15,000 dirhams (about $4,000) for telling a woman he would “teach her a lesson she will never forget,” state-owned Emarat Alyoum news outlet reported.

The woman filed a civil suit, and the Abu Dhabi family court ruled in her favor, while the man was fined for material and mental damages, Emarat Alyoum reported, without giving further details on either cause of the disagreement. or details of the two parties’ relationship.

The news comes amid rising gender-based violence in the Middle East and growing calls by activists to strengthen legal protections for women in the region.

The gruesome killing of college student Naira Ashraf in Egypt has sparked an outpouring of condemnation and praise for the accused, with some men using social media advocating for similar violence against women.
Just last week, Egyptian state media reported the killing of a young man by another college student after allegedly ending their relationship. The man reportedly threatened to kill her before he died, and is now in pre-trial detention pending an investigation, state media said.
One in 3 women worldwide has experienced physical or sexual violence at least once in her life, according to UN Women, mostly by an intimate partner.

In the Middle East, at least 37% of Arab women have experienced some form of violence in their lives, according to the same UN research.

By Nadeen Ebrahim

Picture of the day

A woman carries her child as people wait to be released from the Kurdish-run al-Hol camp, which holds relatives of suspected Islamic State (ISIS) fighters, northeast of Hasakeh governorate of Syria on August 14.