Does Salman Rushdie have to live with Khomeini's death sentence forever?
Does the world community have to live with it in unpredictable times?
By Khalid Salimi
Director Melahuset / former member of Salman Rushdie's support committee
There is great uncertainty and uncertainty about the extent and consequences of the injuries suffered by writer Salman Rushdie after the knife attack on him in August. Nor is it certain that a death sentence handed down to him by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 can ever really be overturned by anyone, despite the fact that even Iran has withdrawn it.
Does the author have to live with it all the time? And does the world community have to live with it in unpredictable times?
In the history of world literature, the fourteenth of February, Valentine's Day in 1989, will remain as a sad day - a sad year. One of the most powerful religious leaders in the world, Ayatollah Khomeini gained a lot of attention when he condemned Salman Rushdie's novel, The Satanic Verses, and declared that the book should be banned and the author sentenced to death, in a so-called fatwa.
The core of the accusations is that the book is a fictional but blasphemous portrayal of Islam, its history and certain holy persons, who were caricatured and shown disrespect. It is not enough that Rushdie showed that it was never his intention and when someone has been hurt, the author apologizes.
Within a short time, after the fatwa, the whole world witnessed a storm of protest demonstrations. After a short time, India was in flames when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi declared a ban on the book in the election campaign to show sympathy with the Muslim population and win their vote in the election campaign.
In Pakistan there were political riots, and in South Africa the demonstrators became a means of pitting the Muslim population against the rest.
In England, the book was burned and used by religious leaders to pit the secular population against the Muslim population.
Several people lost their lives and enormous damage was caused to property on all continents. What means has not been used to find reason?
Has the criticism of the death sentence produced any results? There were many who believed that the fatwa was a pawn in the world's geopolitical power struggle? Or was the protest part of Iran's fight against imperialism? Or that the case concerns the fight against blasphemy on the one hand and freedom of expression on the other? Where is reason?
It is perhaps an understatement to say that everything now revolves around an important question; namely the West against the rest? Shouldn't today's civilization focus on finding the way to a better coexistence? Where do we find this reason?
"Satanic Verses" is a novel and should be read as an account - a story. The novel itself was written in a form that is tolerant and generous. A form of narrative where everything can have its place, but which path makes the most sense to choose? If you don't like my story, tell your own. And if someone thinks that what is missing in the whole matter is "reason", then we must work to create this sensible world.
And while we hope for—wait for—sanity, we can enjoy much beauty in The Satanic Verses. The novel is also an account of the big issues of the present, such as exile, flight and migration:
"Who is he? A refugee. Which must not be confused or allowed to slip into one with all the other words people throw around: emigrant, emigrant, refugee, immigrant, silence and unity of proposal. Exiled, it carries within it the dream of an honorable return home. Exile is a revolutionary vision: Elba, not Saint Helena. It is an infinite paradox: looking forward by always looking back. The exile is a ball thrown high into the air. He hangs there, frozen in time, transferred to a photograph: without the possibility of movement, hanging helplessly above his native land, he waits for the inevitable moment when the photograph must set in motion, when the earth will reclaim its own…”
Salman Rushdie is an all-consuming master of writing, in an incomparable world class, where he reigns supreme. He is exceptionally careful in exploring matter, an ability that has been developed to an ever higher and higher level, right from "Midnight's Child", but especially from "Skam" we experience a world view with language inventions that create Salman Rushdie's own linguistic universe.
Published in Verdens Gang, 7 September 2022