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Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses

The 1988 publication of The Satanic Verses in Britain unleashes a firestorm of worldwide protest from Islamic fundamentalists. They assert that the hallucinatory comic fable by Anglo-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie blasphemes the Koran and the prophet Muhammad. There are violent demonstrations against the book in the world's major Islamic enclaves, including a book-burning outside London. In India and Pakistan, tens of thousands of protesters gather, and more than 20 are killed by police. Governments throughout the Muslim world ban the book.

Five months after the book's release, Iran's religious and political leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini, sentences Rushdie and his associates to death, with a bounty that eventually rises to more than $5 million. Rushdie goes into hiding under British government protection and remains in fearful seclusion for six years. During this time, the Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses, Hitoshi Igarashi, is stabbed to death and attempts are made on the life of the Italian translator and Norwegian publisher of the book. The death sentence persists, even after the Ayatollah Khomeini dies and is replaced by a less fundamentalist regime.

While in hiding, Rushdie continues to write, publishing four books of fiction, including The Moor's Last Sigh, which wins Britain's prestigious Whitbread Award for best novel of 1995. Around the world, writers, publishers, and editors come to his aid, raising money and lobbying for international pressure against Iran to lift the death sentence. In 1998, the Iranian president announces the Rushdie affair is "completely finished," although a private Muslim foundation maintains a nearly $3 million bounty. Rushdie appears in public more and more often in the mid- and late '90s, meeting with President Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, even reading a "Top Ten" List on the Late Show with David Letterman in 1995. Although the edict has been lifted, Rushdie still claims he cannot live a normal life.

Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses enraged some parts of the Islamic world with material alleged to be blasphemous. Read an excerpt?

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