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Salman Rushdie (born Ahmed Salman Rushdie Arabic: احمد صلمن رشدی on June 19, 1947, in Bombay, India) is an Indian-born British essayist and author of fiction, most of which is set on the Indian subcontinent. He grew up in Mumbai (then Bombay) attended Rugby School, Warwickshire, then King's College, Cambridge in England. Following an advertising career with Ayer Barker, he became a full-time writer. His narrative style, blending myth and fantasy with real life, has been described as connected with magic realism. In 2004, Rushdie married for the fourth time, this time to prominent Indian model and actress Padma Lakshmi.
His writing career began with Grimus, a fantastic tale, part-science fiction, which was generally ignored by the book-buying public and literary critics. His next novel, Midnight's Children, however, catapulted him to literary fame and is often considered his best work to date. It also significantly shaped the course that Indian writing in English was to follow over the next decade. This work was later awarded the 'Booker of Bookers' prize in 1993 – after being selected as the best novel to be awarded the Booker Prize in its first 25 years. After the success of Midnight's Children, Rushdie wrote a short novel, Shame, where he depicts the political turmoil in Pakistan by basing his characters on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. Both these works are characterised by, apart from the style of magic realism, the immigrant outlook of which Rushdie is so very conscious.
Rushdie is also highly influenced by modern literature. Midnight's Children borrows themes from Günter Grass's novel The Tin Drum, which Rushdie claims inspired him to begin writing. The Satanic Verses is also clearly influenced by Mikhail Bulgakov's classic Russian novel The Master and Margarita.
India and Pakistan were the themes, respectively, of Midnight's Children and Shame. In his later works, Rushdie turned towards the Western world with The Moor's Last Sigh, exploring commercial and cultural links between India and the Iberian peninsula, and The Ground Beneath Her Feet, in which the influence of American rock 'n' roll on India plays a role. Midnight's Children receives accolades for being Rushdie's best, most flowing and inspiring work, but none of Rushdie's post-1989 works has had the same critical reception or caused the same controversy as The Satanic Verses.
His newest book, Shalimar the Clown was released in September 2005.
Rushdie received many other awards for his writings including the European Union's Aristeion Prize for Literature. He is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres. Rushdie is the President of PEN American Center.
List of published works
- Grimus (1975)
- Midnight's Children (1980)
- Shame (1983)
- The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey (1987)
- The Satanic Verses (1989)
- Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990)
- Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism, 1981-1991 (1992)
- East, West (1994)
- The Moor's Last Sigh (1995)
- The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999)
- Fury (2001)
- Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992-2002 (2002)
- Shalimar the Clown (2005)
Some of the awards that Rushdie has won includes the following
- Booker Prize for Fiction
- James Tait Black Memorial Prize (Fiction)
- Arts Council Writers' Award
- English-Speaking Union Award
- "Booker of Bookers" or the best novel among the Booker Prize winners for Fiction
- Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger
- Whitbread Novel Award
- Writers' Guild Award (Children's Book)
The Satanic Verses controversy
The publication of The Satanic Verses in September 1988 caused immediate controversy in the Islamic world due to its allegedly irreverent depiction of the prophet Muhammad. India banned the book on October 5; South Africa banned it on November 24. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Somalia, Bangladesh, Sudan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Qatar followed within weeks. The book was ceremonially burned in Bradford, England, on January 14, 1989. On February 12, five people were killed by police gunfire during a protest in Islamabad.
On February 14, 1989, a fatwa promising his execution was proclaimed on Radio Tehran by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran, calling his book "blasphemous against Islam." Furthermore, Khomeini condemned Rushdie for the crime of "apostasy"—attempting to abandon the Islamic faith— which according to the Hadith is punishable by death. This was due to Rushdie's communication through the novel that he no longer believes in Islam. Khomeini called on all "zealous Muslims" to execute the writer, as well as those of the publishers of the book who knew about the concepts of the book:
- In the name of God Almighty. There is only one God, to whom we shall all return. I would like to inform all intrepid Muslims in the world that the author of the book entitled The Satanic Verses, which has been compiled, printed, and published in opposition to Islam, the Prophet, and the Qur’an, as well as those publishers who were aware of its contents, have been sentenced to death. I call on all zealous Muslims to execute them quickly, wherever they find them, so that no one will dare insult the Islamic sanctions. Whoever is killed on this path will be regarded as a martyr, God willing. In addition, anyone who has access to the author of the book, but does not possess the power to execute him, should refer him to the people so that he may be punished for his actions. May God’s blessing be on you all. Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini.
On February 24, Khomeini placed a three-million-U.S. dollar bounty for the death of Rushdie. Rushdie lived for a time under British-financed security.
At the University of California at Berkeley, bookstores carrying the book were firebombed. On February 24 in Bombay, 5 people in a protest at the British Embassy died from police gunfire. Several other people died in Egypt and elsewhere. Muslim communities throughout the world held public rallies in which copies of the book were burned. In 1991, Rushdie's Japanese translator, Hitoshi Igarashi, was stabbed and killed in Tokyo, and his Italian translator was beaten and stabbed in Milan. In 1993, Rushdie's Norwegian publisher William Nygaard was shot and severely injured in an attack outside his house in Oslo. Thirty-seven guests died when their hotel in Sivas, Turkey was burnt down by locals protesting against Aziz Nesin, Rushdie's Turkish translator.
Even popular musician Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) indirectly yet infamously stated his agreement with the fatwa. Later, in 1989, Islam confirmed in a British television documentary that he wasn't against the death sentence: Rather than go to a demonstration where Rushdie would be burned in effigy, "I would have hoped that it'd be the real thing" he said. If Rushdie showed up at his door, he said he "might ring somebody who might do more damage to him than he would like... I'd try to phone the Ayatollah Khomeini and tell him exactly where this man is." The New York Times reported that he stood by his statements in a subsequent interview.
Yusuf Islam's official statement, still posted on his website, is as follows:
- Under the Islamic Law, Muslims are bound to keep within the limits of the law of the country in which they live, providing that it does not restrict the freedom to worship and serve God and fulfil their basic religious duties (fard'ayn). One must not forget the ruling in Islam is also very clear about adultery, stealing and murder, but that doesn't mean that British Muslims will go about lynching and stoning adulterers, thieves and murderers. If we can't get satisfaction within the present limits of the law, like a ban on this blasphemous book, 'Satanic Verses' which insults God and His prophets – including those prophets honoured by Christians, Jews as well as Muslims – this does not mean that we should step outside of the law to find redress.
In 1990, Rushdie published an essay In Good Faith to appease his critics and issued an apology in which he seems to have reaffirmed his respect for Islam. However, the Iranian clerics did not retract the fatwa. Rushdie has made further statements to defend his book but still many in the Muslim community consider him a wanted man.
In 1997, the bounty was doubled, and the next year the highest Iranian state prosecutor restated his support. After the death of Khomeini in 1989, the Iranian government publicly committed itself in 1998 not to carry out the death sentence against Rushdie. This was agreed to in the context of a larger deal between Iran and the UK to normalize relations. Rushdie afterward declared that he would stop living in hiding. He also said he regretted having made earlier statements to appease his opponents, to the effect that he was a practicing Muslim. Rushdie affirmed that he is not, in fact, religious. As Ayatollah Khomeini died his fatwa lived on, as certain members of the Islamic fundamentalist media allegedly stated:
- "The responsibility for carrying out the fatwa is not the exclusive responsibility of Iran. It is the religious duty of all Muslims – those who have the ability or the means – to carry it out. It does not require any reward. In fact, those who carry out this edict in hopes of a monetary reward are acting against Islamic injunctions."
In 1999, an Iranian foundation put a US$2.8 million bounty on Rushdie's head. February 2003 found Iran's Revolutionary Guards reiterating the call to assassinate Rushdie. According to the Sunday Herald, "Ayatollah Hassan Saneii, head of the semi-official Khordad Foundation that has placed a $2.8 million bounty on Rushdie's head, was quoted by the Jomhuri Islami newspaper as saying that his foundation would now pay $3m to anyone who kills Rushdie."
In early 2005, Khomeini's fatwa against Rushdie was reaffirmed by Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a message to Muslim pilgrims making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. In response to requests to withdraw the fatwa, Iran has stated that only the person who issued it may withdraw it; Khomeini, however, died in 1989.
A more detailed timeline of related events can be found here.
On Islamic reformation
In August, 2005, Rushdie wrote a guest opinion piece for The Times, in which he called for a reform of Islam, arguing that the Koran should be treated as an historical, rather than a sacred, document. Such had been mooted by Western non-Muslims before, but he is the most noteworthy person of Muslim background to do so. He explicitly supported a liberal Islamic Reformation by stating that:
- The deeper alienations that lead to terrorism may have their roots in these young men's objections to events in Iraq or elsewhere, but the closed communities of some traditional Western Muslims are places in which young men's alienations can easily deepen. What is needed is a move beyond tradition -- nothing less than a reform movement to bring the core concepts of Islam into the modern age, a Muslim Reformation to combat not only the jihadist ideologues but also the dusty, stifling seminaries of the traditionalists, throwing open the windows to let in much-needed fresh air.
- Bridget Jones's Diary (2001): A cameo as himself, particularly memorable as both Hugh Grant and Renee Zellweger ask him for directions to the lavatory.
- Peter's Friends (1992), in which he signs a copy of his own controversial novel, The Satanic Verses in archive footage over the opening credits. Very brief, and could easily go unnoticed.
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