Banned Books in Australia A Special Collections-Art in the Library Exhibition

The Satanic Verses

David Bennett

Following publication of The Satanic Verses on 26 September 1988, the British Union of Muslims asked Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to demand criminal prosecution of Rushdie and his publishers for the book’s obscene blasphemies against the Holy Prophet and the Islamic faith. Thatcher refused, in the name of Rushdie’s right to free expression. The Muslim protest was taken up internationally, violent demonstrations and book-burnings were staged in many countries and the novel was banned in India, Pakistan and South Africa, but in Britain it was awarded the prestigious Whitbread Prize for literature.

On St Valentine’s Day, 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini, supreme religious leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued his fatwa (religious judgment) against Rushdie and his publishers, after hearing news of the Pakistan riots. Khomeini pronounced Rushdie guilty on three charges, each carrying the death penalty: that he is ‘an agent of corruption on earth’; that he has ‘declared war on Allah’; and that he is a murtad (a born Muslim who has abandoned his faith and joined league with Islam’s enemies). Numerous attempts were made to carry out the death sentence against Rushdie, his publishers and his translators. Bookshops stocking the novel were attacked, even as far away from the epicentre of the ‘Rushdie Affair’ as Melbourne.

One thousand authors formed The International Committee for the Defence of Salman Rushdie and His Publishers and, in defiance of Muslim anger, an anonymous group of publishers calling themselves ‘The Consortium, Inc.’ published the paperback edition of The Satanic Verses.

In 1998, after living in hiding for ten years under British police protection, Rushdie ‘walks free’ in London, though still accompanied by bodyguards and the continuing bitter controversy over his novel.

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