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Now a Sir, Salman Rushdie Still Causing a Stir

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Author Salman Rushdie is now Sir Salman Rushdie. The Indian-born writer received a knighthood from Britain's Queen Elizabeth last week for his services to literature. Many Muslims are protesting the Queen's decision to honor Rushdie, who spent years in hiding after a fatwa was issued calling for his death.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Author Salman Rushdie is now Sir Salman Rushdie. The Indian-born writer received a knighthood for his services to literature from Britain's Queen Elizabeth days before his 60th birthday this past week. Today, Muslims in Pakistan, Malaysia and Britain added their voices to the chorus of protests against the queen's decision to include Rushdie on her birthday honors list. It's the latest twist in a saga that began with the publication of Rushdie's novel, "The Satanic Verses." When it first appeared in print, many countries in the Muslim world banned it on the grounds that it was blasphemy against the Koran and the prophet Muhammad. Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa or religious edict, calling for the author's death.

Salman Rushdie spoke on this program when "The Satanic Verses" was published in 1988, just before the fatwa and when the controversy was already brewing.

Sir Ahmed SALMAN RUSHDIE (Writer; Author, "The Satanic Verses"): I think, ironically, one of the sad things about this whole affair is that this book could actually have done something to introduce western readers not just to the literal details of the life of the prophet, but to the spirit of a different culture and of a different way of looking at things. And instead, the people opposing the book are actually reinforcing the worst stereotypes about Islam.

ELLIOTT: A bounty was placed on Salman Rushdie's head and he went into hiding. Officers guarded him round the clock. During that time, the Japanese translator of "The Satanic Verses" was stabbed to death in Tokyo. The translator of the Italian edition and the book's publisher in Norway were attacked. And in Turkey, protesters set fire to a hotel, killing 37 people.

In a 1992 interview with NPR, Salman Rushdie discussed the difficulties of life in hiding. He hadn't seen his home in more than three years. Still, he continued to write books, but in a different way.

Sir RUSHDIE: I've had to learn a completely new technique of writing because I was always a very conservative writer, who had to sit in a certain place in, you know, a certain chair at a certain desk and have certain things around me. Well, that's a luxury I can't have now if I want to work. So I've had to learn how to write, you know, literally speaking, on the run.

ELLIOTT: Salman Rushdie stayed on the run until 1998, when Iran formally withdrew its support for the death sentence in part to try to reestablishe diplomatic relations with Britain. Still, hard-line Islamists continue to claim that the Ayatollah's fatwa is irreversible and that Rushdie must pay with his life.

Today, the speaker of Iran's parliament called the Queen's decision to knight Rushdie a shameless and imprudent act. He said Muslims of the world will not let it pass without a response.

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