27 years after its release, Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses still incites outrage and controversy in Iran, with the recent addition of approximately $600,000 to the already $3.3 million bounty for the author’s death.
To mark the 27 anniversary of the edict calling for Rushdie’s execution, 40 state-run media organizations announced last week at a digital media exhibition that they were adding to the existing bounty. “These media outlets have set the $600,000 bounty on the 27th anniversary of the historical fatwa to show it is still alive,” the organizer of the exhibition, Mansour Amiri, told Reuters.
In 1989, Iranian leader Ayatollah Rohollah Khoemini issued a fatwa against the author, calling for the death of Rushdie and anyone “involved in [the book’s] publication,” forcing Rushdie into exile. Despite former President Mohammad Khatami calling the edict off in 1998 and the fact that many young Iranians have all but forgotten the call to action, religious groups country continue to take offense to what they call the blasphemous and offensive content in the book and have continued to contribute to the reward for killing the author.
This year is an election year in Iran for parliament and the Assembly of Experts, so opponents of recent efforts by President Hassan Rouhani to improve relations with the United States are using the enforcement of the edict against the author to demonstrate continued hostility toward the West. According to political analyst Farshad Ghorbanpour, religious hard-liners “will bring back a mammoth from the ice age” if it serves their political purposes. The decree has already led to the death of the Japanese translator of the book in 1991, and attacks against others involved in its publication. According to Iran’s Deputy Culture Minister, Seyed Abbas Salehi, “Imam Khomeini’s fatwa is a religious decree, and it will never lose its power or fade out.”
Rushdie’s agent hasn’t commented on the increase in the bounty, but we can recall the author’s words in an interview with French newspaper L’Express last year in which Rushdie claimed that the world had “learned the wrong lessons” in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack: “Why can’t we debate Islam? It is possible to respect individuals, to protect them from intolerance, while being sceptical about their ideas, even criticising them ferociously.”
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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!