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'I don't want to hide' says Rushdie, 30 years after fatwa


PARIS: After a long time spent in the shadow of a loss of life sentence pronounced by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Salman Rushdie is quietly defiant.

"I don't want to live hidden away," he advised AFP during a discuss with to Paris.

The novelist's life changed perpetually on February 14, 1989, when Iran's religious leader ordered Rushdie's execution after branding his novel "The Satanic Verses" blasphemous.

Like one of those opposite Valentine, Tehran renewed the fatwa year after year.

Rushdie, who some say is the greatest writer India has produced since Tagore, spent 13 years residing underneath a false title and constant police coverage.

"I was 41 back then, now I am 71. Things are fine now," he said in September.

"We live in a world where the subject changes very fast. And this is a very old subject. There are now many other things to be frightened about -- and other people to kill," he added ruefully.

Rushdie stopped the use of an assumed title in the months after September 11 2001, 3 years after Tehran had said the danger towards him was once "over".

But armed plainclothes police nonetheless sat out of doors the door of his French publisher's administrative center in Paris during an interview with AFP. Several others had taken up positions in the courtyard.

Earlier, Rushdie had confident a sceptical target market at a book competition in eastern France that he led a "completely normal life" in New York, the place he has lived for almost two decades.

"I take the subway," he said.

"The Satanic Verses" was once Rushdie's fifth book, he has now written his 18th. Titled "The Golden House" it's about a guy from Mumbai, who just like the writer, reinvents himself in the Big Apple in a bid to shake off his previous.

The darkish years of riots, bomb plots and the murder of some of the book's translators and the taking pictures and stabbing of two others now "feels like a very long time ago," he said.

"Islam was not a thing. No one was thinking in that way," he explained of the duration when "The Satanic Verses" was once written.

"One of the things that has happened is that people in the West are more informed than they used to be," he added.

Even so, the book was once greatly misunderstood, he insisted: "Really it's a novel about South Asian immigrants in London."

Rushdie's good friend, the British Pakistani writer Hanif Kureishi, reckons no person "would have the balls today to write 'The Satanic Verses', let alone publish it."

But even Kureishi, who wrote an acclaimed novel "The Black Album" in its aftermath about young British Muslims radicalising themselves, admitted that he by no means noticed the talk coming when he learn an evidence copy.

He mused: "I didn't notice anything about it that might rouse the fundamentalists. I saw it as a book about psychosis, about newness and change."

Yet the fury it generated was once a milestone in the upward thrust of political Islam.

Indian writer and journalist Salil Tripathi of PEN International, which campaigns for writers' rights, said he was hoping primary publishers would still be brave sufficient to submit "The Satanic Verses".

"I have not totally lost hope, but undoubtedly the Rushdie case has created a mental brake. A lot of subjects are now seen as taboo," he conceded.

"In India with Hindu nationalism, people are very wary about saying things about Hindu gods and goddesses because you don't know what might happen to you. The threat of the mob has grown phenomenally," Tripathi added.

Today, intimidation is performed by foot soldiers reasonably than declared by governments, he said, suggesting that now all non secular clerics must do to evoke the indignant masses is to voice their dislike for a publication.


He warned: "This is a frightening reality check for writers. There is competitive intolerance going on -- 'If Muslims can get the cartoons banned in Denmark, why can't we in Pakistan or India ban this Christian or Hindu writer from saying this or that?'"


Sean Gallagher, of the London-based Index on Censorship, said the world has now not moved on much for the reason that Rushdie affair.


"The issues we deal with now are the same. The debate over blasphemy laws is part of a cyclical conversation that is pretty necessary. It's important we continue to be vigilant about freedom of expression and have these cultural dialogues," he explained.


Rushdie himself is equally philosophical. Asked if he will have to have written the book, he replied, "I take the Edith Piaf position: Je ne regrette rien (I regret nothing)," quoting the French singer's famous anthem of battered defiance.


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