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The Salman Rushdie affair: Thirty years and a novelist later

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Who still remembers, or cares to remember, or cares at all about the "Salman Rushdie affair"?

Thirty years ago, on Valentine's Day, February 14, 1989, the late Ayatollah Khomeini, then the supreme leader of Iran, issued a religious decree, a fatwa, condemning the British Indian novelist Salman Rushdie to death.

Up until that fateful decree, the name Salman Rushdie was known only to a community of South Asian literary aficionados admiring a gifted Mumbai-born novelist whose piercing prose and wicked sense of humour had given the world such literary gems as Midnight's Children (1981) and Shame (1983).

What had triggered the Ayatollah's ire, and indeed the fury of many other Muslims, particularly in Pakistan, was Rushdie's novel called Satanic Verses which had just come out.

The book was written and published in English. The ayatollah did not read English. He was reacting to the reaction of others who had not read the novel either.

It was all a comedy of terrors.

In the events that unfolded 30 years ago, timing played a key role. Satanic Verses was first published in the United Kingdom late in September 1988, around a month after Ayatollah Khomeini had begrudgingly agreed to the end of the calamitous Iran-Iraq War.

At that time, his rule was shaken from the discovery of a scheme in which Iran was receiving arms shipments from the United States - or "the Great Satan" as the ayatollah was publicly calling it - in exchange for its help in securing the release of American hostages held by his client outfit, Hezbollah.

Between "the Iran-Contra Affair" in 1986, as it was more notoriously known in the US, and the end of Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), Khomeini was politically outmanoeuvred and in desperate need of subterfuge for his next moves.

The mass execution of political prisoners in 1986 by his direct order, the sustained course of university purges since the commencement of the revolution, and the engineering of Hezbollah in Lebanon since the Israeli invasion of 1982 were necessary but not sufficient for him. He wanted to guarantee the perpetuity of the theocracy he........

© Al Jazeera