The bounty on Salman Rushdie‘s head has been raised, from $2.8 million to $3.3 million, thanks to a generous offer from the semi-official Iranian religious organization, the 15 Khordad Foundation. According to newspapers in the area, the foundation is capitalizing on recent regional interest in murder and mayhem.
Hardliners say that the fatwa, issued on Valentine’s Day in 1989, is irrevocable, since it can only be rescinded by the person who issued it. That would be the Ayatollah Khomeini, who died a few months after pronouncing it, in June 1989.
The hardline Jomhoori Eslami daily said the decision to boost the original reward came from 15 Khordad Foundation’s head, Ayatollah Hassan Saneii. “As long as the exalted Imam Khomeini’s historical fatwa against apostate Rushdie is not carried out, it won’t be the last insult. If the fatwa had been carried out, later insults in the form of caricature, articles and films that have continued would have not happened,” he said.
Coincidentally, in this week’s New Yorker, Salman Rushdie reflects on life under a fatwa, “The Disappeared: How the Fatwa Changed a Writer’s Life” – it’s here. He describes his early years of hiding, and shifting from residence to residence. A sample:
As he crouched there, listening to Michael try to get rid of the man as quickly as possible, he felt a deep sense of shame. To hide in this way was to be stripped of all self-respect. Maybe, he thought, to live like this would be worse than death. In his novel “Shame,” he had written about the workings of Muslim “honor culture,” at the poles of whose moral axis were honor and shame, very different from the Christian narrative of guilt and redemption. He came from that culture, even though he was not religious. To skulk and hide was to lead a dishonorable life. He felt, very often in those years, profoundly ashamed. Both shamed and ashamed.
But as well as fighting the fight, which I will surely go on doing, I have grown determined to prove that the art of literature is more resilient than what menaces it. The best defense of literary freedoms lies in their exercise, in continuing to make untrammelled, uncowed books. So, beyond grief, bewilderment, and despair, I have rededicated myself to our high calling.
Suzannah Lessard wrote a piece in the March 6, 1989, issue of the New Yorker, shortly after Rushdie’s famous Valentine’s Day card: “The terror we feel when we put ourselves in Salman Rushdie’s shoes is a new kind. As far as we know, never before has an international lynch mob of millions called for the blood of someone like him—someone who is not a leader or an official, someone who until now was probably unknown to most of the people calling for his death and of whom they still know little…”
What can we add the illustrious New Yorker?
A far less talented artist, the man who made the film that is getting so much attention of late, The Innocence of Muslims, was visited by the authorities at his Southern California home in Cerritos. They paid their visit after midnight, and invited the filmmaker off location somewhere for a friendly chat. He left with his face heavily covered. “For shame,” said the Daily Mail. Actually, he probably didn’t wish to have a photo of himself online for target practice. Many are crying out that this heavy-handed government action bespeaks 1984 and the thought police – after all, freedom of artistic expression is guaranteed under the First Amendment.
I have a very different take. It’s said he won’t be returning to his home. But I don’t think he’ll be going to any gulag or penitentiary. I suspect the authorities arrived under cloak of darkness to give him a few friendly tips for his own safety. He’s probably going to the same kind of black hole that Molly Norris disappeared into, after her cartoons garnered her death threats, international hatred, and other signs of ruffled feathers two years ago. If the filmmaker suddenly “disappears,” it’s a win-win.
But hey, I’m an optimist.