Queen honours Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie. Editorial credit: andersphoto / Shutterstock.com

Salman Rushdie, the author of the blasphemous novel The Satanic Verses, has been honoured in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Following his receipt of a knighthood in 2008, Rushdie has received an Order of the Companions of Honour for his services to literature.

The author, 74, said in a statement to the PA news agency: “It was with great surprise and delight that I learned of this extraordinary honour. It’s a privilege to be included in such illustrious company, both past and present.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid tribute to all the winners: “I pay tribute to all of this year’s winners. Their stories of courage and compassion are an inspiration to us all,” he said.

Upon publication of the Satanic Verses in 1988, many Muslims were outraged by a character called “Mahound,” who appears in dream sequences in the novel and was alleged to be “a thinly and perversely disguised representation of the Prophet Mohammed.” The name Mahound was used in medieval Christian plays to represent satanic figures, and some Muslims concluded that Rushdie was implying that Muhammad (pbuh) was a false prophet.

In the book, Rushdie also gave the names of the Prophet’s wives to twelve prostitutes in a brothel. And he invoked a discredited and false tradition – the so-called satanic verses – in which Satan inspired Muhammad (pbuh) to compromise with the people of Mecca and to allow them to continue to worship other deities in an attempt to lure them to Islam.

Pakistan banned the book in November 1988. In February 1989, a 10,000-strong protest against Rushdie and the book took place in Islamabad, Pakistan. Six protesters were killed in an attack on the American Cultural Center, and an American Express office was ransacked.

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As the controversy spread, the importing of the book was banned in India and it was burned in demonstrations in the United Kingdom.

In mid-February 1989, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Supreme Leader of Iran, issued a fatwa calling for the death of Rushdie and his publishers, and called for Muslims to point him out to those who can kill him if they cannot themselves.

In response, the British Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher gave Rushdie round-the-clock police protection. With police protection Rushdie escaped direct physical harm, but others associated with his book weren’t so lucky.

Hitoshi Igarashi, his Japanese translator, was found by a cleaning lady, stabbed to death in July 1991 on the college campus where he taught near Tokyo. Ten days prior to Igarashi’s killing Rushdie’s Italian translator Ettore Capriolo was seriously injured by an attacker at his home in Milan by being stabbed multiple times.

William Nygaard, the Norwegian publisher of The Satanic Verses, was critically injured by being shot three times in the back by an assailant on October 11, 1993 in Oslo. Nygaard survived but spent months in hospital recovering.

The book’s Turkish translator Aziz Nesin was the intended target of a mob of arsonists who set fire to the Madimak Hotel after Friday prayers on 2 July 1993 in Sivas, Turkey, killing 37 people. Nesin escaped death when the mob failed to recognise him early in the attack.

Finally, in 2006, the Iranian government withdrew its support for the carrying out of the death sentence and Rushdie gradually returned to public life.

The full Queen’s Birthday Honours List can be found at gov.uk.

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