Who Is Salman Rushdie?

From a Washington Post story by Ron Charles headlined “Who is Salman Rushdie?”:

Salman Rushdie, one of the most famous writers in the world, was brutally attacked just as he was about to speak to an audience at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York on Friday. Rushdie was taken by helicopter to a hospital, according to New York State Police, where he is undergoing surgery.

Hadi Matar, 24, of New Jersey, is in custody, according to New York State Trooper James O’Callaghan.

Rushdie, 75, has contended with death threats since 1988 when he published his fourth novel, “The Satanic Verses.”

Who is Salman Rushdie?

Rushdie was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) in India in 1947. As a teenager, he went to school in England, where he eventually settled. He began his career writing copy for an advertising firm, and he started writing fiction. He published his first novel, “Grimus,” in 1975. His second novel, “Midnight’s Children,” won Britain’s most prestigious literary award, the Booker Prize, in 1981.

One of the most important figures in postcolonial literature, Rushdie is a wildly creative and complex writer. He often mixes modern political issues and pop-culture references with allusions to ancient texts and religion, particularly Islam, the faith in which he was raised.

To date, he has written 12 novels, including his most famous work, “The Satanic Verses,” which was published in 1988.

What is “The Satanic Verses” about?

It’s a modern-day epic that uses magical realism — a mixture of realistic narration and fantasy elements. It begins with a hijacked plane exploding over the English Channel. As two of the passengers fall from the sky, they are transformed — one into the angel Gabriel, the other into the devil. Their experiences and visions make up the rest of the story as it moves in and out of dreams.

Why is “The Satanic Verses” so controversial?

Rushdie’s story makes a number of creative references — some veiled, some not — to Muhammad, Islam and the Quran. Some readers believe the novel is disrespectful to Islam. In 1989, Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini said “The Satanic Verses” was blasphemous, and he issued a fatwa against Rushdie. After that, more countries banned the book. There were violent protests around the world. Some bookstores were bombed, and the novel’s Japanese translator was killed in 1991.

What is a fatwa?

It’s just a decision on some issue of Islamic law. But in this case, Khomeini’s ruling was a call for Muslims anywhere in the world to assassinate Rushdie and anyone else involved in publication of the book. A multimillion-dollar bounty was put on the writer’s head.

It’s just a decision on some issue of Islamic law. But in this case, Khomeini’s ruling was a call for Muslims anywhere in the world to assassinate Rushdie and anyone else involved in publication of the book. A multimillion-dollar bounty was put on the writer’s head.

As the conflict swelled around the world, the United Kingdom and Iran broke off diplomatic relations.

What happened to Rushdie after that?

He received round-the-clock protection from the British government. For almost 10 years, he had to keep his location secret. But he kept writing.

Eventually, he started to travel more openly, and in recent years he has appeared without guards, even in large events, such as the National Book Festival in Washington.

What has Rushdie said about the threats against him?

Soon after Khomeini called for Rushdie to be assassinated, the novelist issued a statement, saying, “I profoundly regret the distress that publication has occasioned to sincere followers of Islam.” Later, he told his publisher not to issue a paperback or allow the novel to be translated. But those concessions made no difference and were eventually lifted.

Over the years, Rushdie has become a leading defender of the rights of artists around the world to express themselves freely.

Is the fatwa still in force?

Sort of.

Khomeini died in 1989, just months after issuing his deadly proclamation.

The Iranian government distanced itself from the fatwa in 1998, and the British government restored diplomatic relations with the country.

But some radicals continue to insist that Khomeini’s judgment cannot be rescinded and that the call to murder Rushdie remains in force.

Ron Charles writes about books for The Washington Post. Before moving to Washington, he edited the books section of the Christian Science Monitor in Boston.

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