February 25, 2016

Iranian media increases price on Salman Rushdie’s head


Acclaimed author and classic-novelist-hater Salman Rushdie is still the target of state-approved murder, and the reward has just been raised yet again to the tune of nearly $4 million. Parisa Hafezi reports for Reuters:

Iranian state-run media outlets have added $600,000 to a bounty for the killing of British author Salman Rushdie imposed in 1989 over the publishing of his book The Satanic Verses.

The leader of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa, or religious edict, that called on Muslims to the kill the author after his book was condemned as blasphemous, forcing him into years of hiding.

Iranian hardliners say Khomeini’s decree is irrevocable and eternal after his death. A wealthy Iranian religious organization offered $2.7 million reward to anyone carrying out the fatwa and in 2012 it increased the amount to $3.3 million.

The semi-official Fars news agency published a list of 40 news outlets adding to the pot. Fars itself earmarked $30,000.

For those of you who don’t think “fatwa” when you hear “Rushdie”, and want to learn the full story, may we recommend Kenan Malik‘s excellent From Fatwa To JihadBut those who have been following this story for the last three decades may be wondering, to quote John Oliver: How is this still a thing?

In 1998, Iran’s pro-reform government of President Mohammad Khatami distanced itself from the fatwa, saying the threat against Rushdie was over after he had lived in hiding for nine years. The book’s Japanese translator was stabbed to death in 1991 and other people involved in publishing it were attacked.

But Khomeini’s successor as Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in 2005 that the fatwa was still valid and three hardline clerics called on followers to kill Rushdie.

With the landmark nuclear deal with world powers sealed last year, followed by lifting of international sanctions, pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani is trying to end Iran’s isolation with the West.

However, despite the government’s willingness for wider engagement, hardline allies of Khamenei fear that opening up to the West will eventually weaken their influence and the legitimacy of the Islamic Revolution.

As a political football, The Satanic Verses stays in play for as long as the culture clash between East and West keeps making headlines. In 2012, a planned reading at the Jaipur Festival led to multiple arrests, and last year Rushdie unfavorably compared controversy over Charlie Hebdo to the West’s original response to the fatwa.

And this comes at a particularly politically charged moment for Iran. Coming so soon before a few crucial elections, the run-up of which has seen hardliners slinging accusations of “Western infiltration”, upping the price on Rushdie’s head would shore up these news agencies’ religious bonafides by gathering behind a classic wedge issue. That, and the fact that these stories tend to come up in Iranian media every year on the fatwa’s anniversary of February 14th.

So does contributing to the fatwa’s reward, at this point, just become a rote display of one’s political allegiance in an increasingly sectarian Iran? If so, the upcoming elections may lead to a very different news cycle in Iran next February.





Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.