SALMAN Rushdie, a much-feted victim of intolerance, was vigorously promoting his memoir recently when I asked a friend in London to send me a copy of The Rushdie Letters.

It is a collection of solidarity messages by some of the leading lights of literature shortly after he was driven underground by Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa. Margaret Atwood, Gunter Grass, Nadine Gordimer feature prominently in the list of his sympathisers.

The letter that caught my eye came from Iranian writer Fahimeh Farsaie. Writing from exile in Germany, she bluntly reminded Rushdie about the time he was in tears and canvassing support against the macabre Iranian order:

“You made your request explicitly as if nobody had been murdered for his literary activities before 14 February 1989, the day of Khomeini’s death sentence against you. Yes! That’s what bothered me when I thought about writing you a letter of solidarity.

For I had to remember that a few months after this date many ‘people’ i.e. authors and journalists, were executed and buried in mass graves together with other political prisoners because they had written a book or an article and expressed their own views. To mention just a few names: Amir Nikaiin, Manouchehr Behzadi, Djavid Misani, Abutorab Bagherzadeh….

“Of course their names didn’t appear in a single newspaper. No one was allowed to mourn them, not even their families. They remained dishonoured under heavy black earth … Perhaps they missed a letter of solidarity from you — a writer who a short time previously had been condemned to death by the same people?”

“Yes, that’s it,” Farsaie protested. “That’s what bothered me: that you push your own problem so much into the foreground and overlook the others who have the same problem. Many of your utterances give this impression, even when you connect them with the fate of others.”

She noted that even as Rushdie spoke with tears in his eyes in 1991, the PEN American Centre, that aims to promote literature and defend free expression, counted at least 11 fellow writers who were in a similar situation at that precise moment. The “need to hide” appears often for writers and that Rushdie’s “was not a unique case”, it was observed.

At the end of the day, however, it was not the writers’ good wishes that saved the day for Rushdie, for behind him was Margaret Thatcher’s hatred of Khomeini, which in turn was prompted by mutating exigencies of neo-liberal economics.

Rushdie was subsequently protected by a number of Western leaders who followed her together with their intelligence and security arrangements, not to speak of their enormous political clout.

I want to stress this point, because it is more or less the same lot with their formidable resources who are baying for Julian Assange’s blood today. Has anybody heard from Rushdie about the issue?

The lawyer defending Assange against his extradition to Sweden had once sheltered a terrified Rushdie. But that may be a relatively minor point in their incidental similarities.

Rushdie was sentenced to death by a politically driven religious edict by Ayatollah Khomeini. The 1989 fatwa was desperately needed by Iran to keep its flock together after a debilitating eight-year war with Iraq, which ended tamely in a humiliating truce for the ruling clerics in 1988.

Assange’s ordeal has been unfairly likened to Rushdie’s trauma as the two situations are inherently different. By taking shelter in Ecuador’s embassy in London, he has sought to evade the consequences of what has been described as a “secular fatwa” to assassinate the WikiLeaks founder. The call came from prominent right-wing politicians, led by Sarah Palin and the Canadian prime minister’s political adviser.

Palin planted the idea of assassinating Assange thus: “What if any diplomatic pressure was brought to bear on Nato, EU, and other allies to disrupt WikiLeaks’ technical infrastructure?

“Did we use all the cyber tools at our disposal to permanently dismantle WikiLeaks? Were individuals working for WikiLeaks on these document leaks investigated? Shouldn’t they at least have had their financial assets frozen just as we do to individuals who provide material support for terrorist organisations? ...Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders?”

Given that the US regularly targets suspected Al Qaeda leaders with missile or drone strikes, Palin’s suggestion leaves little doubt about her real intent.

Salman Rushdie has robustly spoken out against Chinese Nobel literature laureate Mo Yan for apparently not criticising the incarceration of fellow Nobel laureate and compatriot Liu Xiaobo.

But how does he see the question of Assange’s looming extradition to Sweden, which could eventually land the publisher of the web news portal in an American torture chamber and possibly on the death row in the US?

My question is prompted by Rushdie’s self-regarding cornucopia of victimhood he compiled with considerable detail in his memoirs, released a few months ago.

The book only reinforces the point made being made by Farsaie. Rushdie was asked a host of indulgent questions by a fawning media in the run-up to the Jaipur LitFest. In effect, the questions were structured as promos of the book Joseph Anton, the name he used in his underground days.

If the Indian media were to take a break from their perpetual civilisational mission within the suffocating Hindu-Muslim paradigm, someone should have asked Rushdie to comment on the young American soldier Bradley Manning who faces death for his alleged role in exposing the plans for a merciless global war.

The American historian Howard Zinn once said: “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”

Assange has fleshed out that great thought by his actions. Rushdie appears to have faltered in the test. He supported the Nato invasion of Afghanistan.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

Comments are closed.

Comments (17)

Rashid Sultan
January 31, 2013 5:12 pm
This guy really writes a load of dribble trying to relate unconnected events and people. Why is he lampooning Salman? Rushdie is an internationally acclaimed Indian writer who went through a bad patch on account of a foreign religious leader's edict. Rushdie had committed no crime. The few Iranian writers' inames stated as mentioned in the Iranian woman's letter to Salman were done to death by their own country's religious leaders. Salman had nothing to do with it. Even if he had stuck his neck out in support of these Iranian writers it wouldn't have made any difference whatsoever. Moreover, no body outside a small circle of local people in Iran probably knew about these murdered Farsi writers. Asange is no angel. He is a fugitive from the law. He has been accused of rape by Swedish authorities who wish him extradited to stand trial. He fears that he might then get extradited to the US to stand trial for aiding and abetting the crime committed by his accomplice who has been tried, and sentenced. There are many accused and on-trial persons in the world standing up for all sorts of good causes but they chose the path of breaking their country's law, Why does this confused writer from India want Salman to come to their aid and support? Is this guy a crazy or something?
January 31, 2013 8:33 am
So Mr. Naqvi, what he should do? He was a victim of the merciless Iranian fatwa and is there any doubt? Is it a sin to ask support from the fellow writers? He may have or have not came straight for others support or his case may has been over shadowed the others cause, but it does not gave him the scope of relief or rehabilitation. Many things also do not attract your attention. You only write for the cause or issues which suits you. Did you ever wrote anything against the burning of scores of Buddhist temples in Bangladesh by the fanatic Islamist goons on 29th September 2012 or against Tamil Nadu Govt. and the mad headed Islamist who are not allowed to screening of film by Kamal Hassan?
Mayank R
February 1, 2013 7:04 pm
To all my Indian friends who sings paeans of praise for DAWN's "non biased" reporting think again. Javed Naqvi is their distinguished in house India and Indian Muslim issues expert. I shouldn't even put Javed Naqvi and unbiased in the same sentence but I will put anyways.
January 31, 2013 4:56 pm
Writer used all his logic against Rushdie due to having his inclination towards Iranian Islamic theology. It would have been better to address the root causes of sectarian hatred that is shaking our own country's very foundation.
January 31, 2013 11:42 am
A good article,calling a spade a spade.
January 31, 2013 10:14 pm
Dear Dawn, You would do a huge favour to everybody if you could send these below comments and coments to all his other articles to Mr. Naqvi. I do not believe he reads them, coz if he reads and still maintains his hallucinated way of writing.
January 31, 2013 3:13 pm
Thank you Umesh, Great observation. I have missed it.
January 31, 2013 7:36 am
extremely enlightening.
raw is war
January 31, 2013 8:55 am
A very in-coherent article. The writer himself is not sure on what count the wants to blame Rushdie. Rushdie wrote a novel and it went out of hand. Nobody read the novel but were ready to kill him. He had to defend himself. He hardly has any means of defending others. If he supports anybody else, it would do them more harm than good. So he did what was best for him and defend himself. Iran has been a very ugly country for everybody. Even Parsis were persecuted after Khomeni came to power. Parsi temples were forcibly converted to Mosques. No sympathy for Iran or any other nation who base their ideology purely on religion. Mr.Naqvi should realise that Islamic intolerance has created more troubles around the world than any other religion.
January 31, 2013 10:54 am
Yes Javed, we got the point that you do not like Salman Rushdie. We know why but you are still at liberty to justify it.
Agha Ata (USA)
January 31, 2013 2:32 pm
Rushdie committed a crime which would be understood differently every hundred years, for sometime!
January 31, 2013 6:51 am
You too are one of biggest victimhood promoters of Indian Muslims, Mr Naqvi!!
January 31, 2013 5:22 am
a very biased article, salman rushdie was not terrified of a criminal mullah who issued fatwa, if he was he would have appologised, and begged for mercy from the muslim ummah, regarding assange maybe he does not agree with him so does not support him, but he did not speak against him, reagarding u stating about hindu muslim sufoocating paradigm, does everything have to be about hindu musim? u a muslim live freely in india and speak against hindus and india, why do u not appreciate that freedom, wonder if me a roman catholic could do that in pakistn or any islamic country? i know u will not publish my views but do read it Richie
Umesh Gupta
January 31, 2013 7:49 am
In whole of the article, I was searching for criticism of India or something connected with perceived wrong doing by someone in India. Finally I found out in the para "If the Indian media were to take a break from their perpetual civilisational mission within the suffocating Hindu-Muslim paradigm, someone should have asked Rushdie to comment on the young American soldier Bradley Manning who faces death for his alleged role in exposing the plans for a merciless global war". Thanks Naqvi Sahib.
January 31, 2013 5:38 am
Oh, and this needs to be added. One can completely empathize with the pain with which Fahimeh Farsaie penned those words. And anybody who has followed Rushdie's career knows that he is a self-publicist to the core. But the larger point is this. Does the fact that Iran was executing intellectuals with impunity at that time, in any way lessen or justify what was doled out to Rushdie? Yes, he had the backing of world governments behind him. That's why we know his story. Perhaps that's why we know Fahimeh Farsaie's story about the killing of writers in Iran. By that logic anybody who brings an issue to the fore is an unfair beneficiary. When the Delhi gangrape victim became the world's headline, would you say that all the other rape victims got an unfair deal because nobody thought about their suffering? Or would you say, making the victim of one ghastly crime the public symbol of this epidemic of rape in India has probably brought this issue to the forefront?
February 1, 2013 2:22 pm
@Shubs Very well put. I wish Javed asked those protesters on the stree 'Have you protested before, when others were raped?' I amuse myself with the thought of possible reaction from those protesters.
February 1, 2013 3:14 am
Rushdie and West Rushdie is a product of the West. He skillfully uses sub-continent themes and religious prejudices to write his novels which are of high quality. He gets protection from the West, and he keeps mum when it comes to crimes committed by West. That is a fact. I have never heard him saying anything against the West. If he does, you do not have to be a rocket scientist to know what would happen to him. He has chosen to be rational (greatness has its price). However, I want to draw attention to Taslima Nasreen. Mullahs in Bangladesh managed to throw her out. She found refuge in Kolkata. After all, for a Bengali, living in Kolkata is not that different from living in Dacca. Now, even that refuge is gone thanks to 'minority appeasement' by our political leaders. She now lives in Sweden, and she would love to live in her (beloved) Kolkata. In India, any one can write published articles about any faith, good or bad, but not against Islam. However, if you look at the blog-sphere, there is so much of irrational hatred spewed by 'faceless' bloggers against Islam. Taslima writes critically but not with hatred.
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