Salman Rushdie visits Washington in 1992

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This story was originally published on March 25, 1992, and republished in 2022 following the August 12 attack on Salman Rushdie at the Chautauqua Institute.

Writer Salman Rushdie arrived in Washington this week in secret, begging not to forget his plight — a $1 million reward offered by Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini three years ago his head.

Rushdie, who went underground when Khomeini was sentenced to death for blasphemy for his novel The Satanic Verses, has only recently started making frequent public appearances.

In a two-hour interview Monday at a hotel in suburban Virginia, he said he had become more visible because he no longer needed to worry that his comments would damage efforts to free Western hostages in Lebanon.

But their latest release, he said, “was a knife-edge moment.” Although the release allowed him to speak out for his cause, there was “a great danger of indifference” when the hostages left.

Rushdie said their release did not remove the religious decree of the deceased Khomeini, the so-called fatwa, who still moved around under strict security. The interviewer meets in one place and takes him there.

Salman Rushdie is expected to recover. Free speech probably won’t.

Rushdie said he intends to conduct a number of interviews and private meetings in Washington.

In the only public event — a speech at a free speech conference in Roslyn last night — Rushdie distributed the first paperbacks of his book. Even his attendance at conferences sponsored by the American University’s School of Communication and the Freedom Forum was closely watched until word had crept in in recent days. Security at the meeting is tight. All those in attendance passed metal detectors and no one was allowed to leave until Rushdie had left.

CBS reporter Mike Wallace was listed as a speaker in the invitation, but he introduced Rushdie, who begged “the U.S. government to show itself as” a true friend of freedom, freedom around the world “Gained many powerful enemies”.

“I am no longer certain of the British authorities’ commitment to protecting my mission,” he said. “I am asking the US to join” and join the UK and Europe. “Iran’s decree case against ‘Satanic Verses’ must be closed.”

But his pleas for U.S. government support appear to have been unsuccessful. He said a meeting scheduled for today with the House of Representatives and senators — who declined to be named — was canceled for reasons he wasn’t sure. Meeting organizers said there may not be time to reschedule the meeting before Rushdie leaves.

Iran denies involvement in Rushdie attack, says he brought it on himself

In the interview, the Indian-born Rushdie, who considers himself a “secular” Muslim, admitted that when he wrote the “Satanic Verses,” he fully expected a backlash. Muslim and non-Muslim opponents denounced it, calling its depiction of the Prophet Muhammad a disrespectful and offensive attack.

Rushdie said, “obviously I know what I’m doing” in writing the controversial passages. But “you don’t believe the world will fall on your head.”

“You think, yeah, well, some right-wing religious figures are going to be pissed off, they’re going to write something about it, or they’re going to get mad at it, I’m going to answer, there’s going to be some debate, maybe this debate is going to be constructive Yes, it will allow to say something that needs to be said – the end of the story.”

It turned out not to be. Published in September 1988, the book was banned throughout the Muslim world and in countries with large Muslim populations such as India. There were book burnings and violent protests, resulting in several deaths and dozens of injuries. “People held up my sign with my eyes outstretched,” recalls Rushdie.

On February 14, 1989, Khomeini was sentenced to death for blasphemy, and it seemed that the world had indeed fallen on his head. A $1 million reward was offered. Anyone who published the book was also targeted. The paperback is published by a secret consortium that does not identify any participating publishers.

After protests in Western countries, the bounty was cancelled but a semi-private religious foundation updated it, and just last month, on the third anniversary of the decree, it was confirmed again.

“Fatwa introduces elements of state-sponsored terrorism,” Rushdie said. In England’s Muslim community, he said, “I’m not particularly afraid of getting hotheaded”. “But I don’t know how to protect myself from state-sponsored terrorism. They have grenade launchers, and they have huge sums of money.”

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That’s why, as he put it, Rushdie had to “have to deal with this particular existence for so long. And I have no way of knowing how real or imaginary this threat is. But what I do know is that in these three years At various times, I was informed of intelligence reports that serious attempts were being made.” He declined to say how he arrived in the country, but is believed to have arrived on a British government plane.

Two translators of the book — one in Japan and the other in Italy — fell victim to knife attacks in July. The Italian interpreter was injured and the Japanese interpreter died. “What’s happening is that the fatwa is actually being implemented,” Rushdie said.

He said his existence was not easy. “The scariest moment was at the beginning,” he said, “because we had absolutely no idea what was going to happen. The newspapers were full of stories about death squads. The British police never dealt with a situation like this, so we kept making it up. We It’s not known what the correct response would be, and it’s not certain it’s “enough” to stop the assassination. “You never know when it will be successful.”

He and his second wife, American author Marianne Wiggins, have been on the move to avoid detection. He can talk on the phone, but he can’t see his 12-year-old ex-wife and son. His marriage to Wiggins eventually broke down.

Perhaps the nadir, Rushdie said, came after December 1990, when he announced he had embraced Islam and agreed to suspend the paperback edition of the book to allow a cooling-off period.

Muslim opponents see this as a tactic. His supporters were outraged. In an interview with London’s Sunday Times, Wiggins accused him of being weak and selfish, failing to fulfill his historic role as a champion of free speech and merely using propaganda to advance his cause.

Salman Rushdie off ventilator as ‘road to recovery’ begins, agent says

Rushdie says he doesn’t regret efforts to reconcile but regrets “so-called conversion statement” [which] It wasn’t even written by me. But I was asked to put my name on it and I did. . . . I shouldn’t have done that. . . . the other party has no spirit of compromise at all. I don’t mean the faintest thing. “

Rushdie is regularly criticized by the British press for saying the novel made him rich and taxpayers are paying $1 million a year to protect him — a figure he says is exaggerated. Critics point to his left-wing politics and criticism of the Conservative government that keeps him alive.

In England, Rushdie said, “there’s some kind of petty bitch lurking in some discourse”. By contrast, he felt that Americans “seem to understand this . . . that you don’t kill people for writing a book. Full stop. It doesn’t matter what the book is. . . . “

Responding to the criticism, Rushdie said: “I don’t think I’ve done well in every single moment of the last three years. There are times when you don’t feel like a hero, you don’t want to fight today, you hope it’s going to go away, you today Not wanting to stand up for freedom. [You say] “You do it today, I’ll do it next week.”

He keeps getting advice. Sometimes, he said, “I think, you know, if you think you can do better, you come and stand here, you know. Anyone who wants to change places at any time, if they think they can do better Well, definitely welcome to try it.”

He estimates he has been in 30 places over the past three years, under British police custody. “It’s true that sometimes I’m only in a place for two or three days. Sometimes it’s much longer.” The operation was sparked by intelligence reports suggesting attempts were made to attack him.

“There have been periods of calmer and periods of lesser calm, and obviously I hope the periods of gradual calm are now getting longer and longer.” He has written two novels in the past three years and has been out and about Walking around, apparently enough to live a social life.

Rushdie said he’s in a calmer period right now. Iran has not noticed his increased popularity, and his supporters recently met with Iranian embassy officials in London to discuss the situation.

“I think now British Muslims are saying ‘we’re not interested in this anymore’ and I think the Iranians are being [international] Pressure,” he said. “So what we’re going to do is make them more rowdy. “

Rushdie said the ordinance must be lifted if he is to return to normal life. Even then, he said, he could never be sure he was safe.

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