WASHINGTON, Feb. 23, 2016 — On Feb. 14, 1989, Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa (religious edict) in a radio broadcast to the nation:
I inform the proud Muslim people of the world that the author of “The Satanic Verses” book, which is against Islam, the Prophet and the Koran, and all those involved in its publication who are aware of its content are sentenced to death.
The fatwa included a $2.7 million bounty for anyone who killed “The Satanic Verses” author Salman Rushdie, a sum raised in 2012 to $3.3 million.
In the city of London, the 11,000 staff members of book publisher Viking Press were warned to be careful. Rushdie later told Der Spiegel magazine that Scotland Yard “told me … I needed an alias in order to make possible certain practical things: secret houses had to be rented, and I needed a fake bank account and had to write checks. Besides, my bodyguards needed a code name to use when they talked about me.”
Rushdie took the code Joseph Anton and went into hiding for more than a decade.
An early fatwa victim of was the associate professor of comparative Islamic culture at the University of Tsukuba in Japan, Hitoshi Igarashi. He translated Rushdie’s book into Japanese. Two years after Khomeini issued his fatwa, Igarashi was found dead in his university office, stab wounds to his head and arms. The killer or killers were never apprehended and the investigation was closed.
Ettore Capriolo, the book’s Italian translator, was stabbed in his Milan apartment, but survived.
In America, the Riverdale Press newspaper in the Bronx, New York, published an editorial condemning fearful U.S. bookstore chains who announced they would remove Rushdie’s novel from their shelves:
The powers of reason and imagination are indeed the underpinnings of our civilization. To suppress a book or punish an idea is to express contempt for the people who read the book or consider the idea. In preferring the logic of the executioner to the logic of debate, the book-burners and the Ayatollah Khomeini display their distrust for the principle on which self-government rests, the wisdom and virtue of ordinary people … The bookstore chains have enormous power. Their decisions can determine what thoughts are disseminated in what form. With that power should go responsibility. Selling books is not the same as selling socks or sundries. Book stores sell ideas and visions; they feed the mind and spirit. They have an obligation to safeguard the freedom of expression.
Five days later, in the early hours of the morning, two men hurled three Molotov cocktails through the front windows of the newspaper, nearly destroying the building.
A man with a Middle Eastern accent called 911. “Can you please listen to my message very carefully?” he asked the operator, “Very, very important. You know that British author who wrote the book ‘The Satanic Verses’? For to protest I throw the bomb. I’m sorry but we got to do more bombs pretty soon if they don’t stop from publish that book. That’s it.”
How soon we forget.
People in the city that saw Islamic fanatics inspired by Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa and the many variations that followed saw a newspaper bombed in 1998 and the Twin Towers brought down in 2001. New Yorkers overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama in 2008; less than three months after taking the oath of office he released a video plea to Iran’s ruling clerics: “For nearly three decades relations between our nations have been strained. But at this holiday [the Persian New Year Nowruz] we are reminded of the common humanity that binds us together.”
Last September, the U.S. Senate ratified President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, lifting economic sanctions and virtually guaranteeing that the global exporter of Islamic terrorism will soon develop atomic weapons.
A grateful Iran responded immediately; a consortium of Iranian state-run media organization raised $600,000 to increase the bounty on Salman Rushdie’s head to nearly $4 million.
As the New York Times observed, “Many news organizations in Iran do not turn a profit, and some are subsidized by state organizations.”
Ayatollah Khomeini may be dead, but his totalitarian ideology lives on, at the indulgence of a confused and decaying West.