The <em>Satanic Verses</em> Controversy

In 1988, the Booker Prize-winning novelist Salman Rushdie—a British Indian of Kashmiri Muslim descent—published his book The Satanic Verses, which deals in part with an alleged set of Qur’anic verses that permitted prayers to pagan goddesses but were later removed from the Qur’an after Muhammad realized that the devil (rather than God) had sent those revelations to fool him; devout Muslims do not believe that these “Satanic Verses” ever existed. This subject matter, along with seemingly unflattering portrayals of elements of the Islamic tradition, angered Muslims around the world, who argued that Rushdie had abused his freedom of expression by insulting things that Muslims hold dear. Six bookstores were bombed around the United Kingdom, and two bookstores in California were bombed along with the offices of a community newspaper in New York that had published an editorial defending people’s right to read the book. One-third of American bookstores stopped carrying the book, and it was banned in at least 21 countries. In 1989, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa directing Muslims to kill Rushdie and his publishers. Rushdie spent the next nine years in hiding under 24-hour police guard. The United Kingdom broke diplomatic relations with Iran over the fatwa, which were only restored in 1998 after Iran pledged that it would no longer pursue Rushdie’s assassination. In 1991, the Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses was assassinated, and the Italian translator was badly wounded. The Turkish translator escaped an execution attempt the following year. Rushdie remains cautious today with his public appearances due to continuing sporadic calls for his death.
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