Why is Salman Rushdie so controversial?


Salman Rushdie is an Indian-born British author whose writing about religion and politics has made him controversial in some parts of the world.

His first three novels – Grimus (1975), Midnight’s Children (1981) and Shame (1983) – were all met with praise but it was his fourth – The Satanic Verses – that brought criticism.

Some of the scenes in the 1988 book depict a character modelled on the Prophet Muhammad and this was met with anger from some members of the Muslim community in the UK.

They considered it blasphemous.

Protests spread as far as Pakistan in January 1989 and the following month, the spiritual leader of revolutionary Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, condemned the book and issued a fatwa against him.

A bounty was offered for his execution.

The book was burned around the world and translators of the work were attacked – Hitoshi Igarashi, who translated it into Japanese, was murdered in 1991.

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Rushdie adopted an alias and went into hiding under the protection of Scotland Yard, although he appeared in public occasionally.

Rushdie continued to write, despite the threat to his life

Despite the threat to his life, he continued to write and in 1998 the Iranian government said it would no longer enforce the fatwa.

The fatwa was never actually revoked, however, and The Satanic Verses remains banned in Iran and a number of other countries.

Rushdie wrote about his experience in the third-person memoir Joseph Anton in 2012.

Speaking in New York three years later, he said: “If you’re a free expression organisation, if you believe in the value of free speech, then you must believe in the value of free speech that you don’t like.

“If you only defend free speech that conforms to your own moral framework that’s what is normally called censorship.”

He was knighted in 2007, a move that was criticised by the Iranian and Pakistani governments.

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