Pakistan joins condemnation of Rushdie's honour

By Andy McSmith
Published: 19 June 2007

Memories of the long years Salman Rushdie spent under threat of assassination came flooding back yesterday in the chilling comments of a Pakistani cabinet minister.

Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq, Pakistan's Religious Affairs minister, told his country's National Assembly that awarding a knighthood to Sir Salman was so insulting to Muslim sensibilities that it would justify his murder by a suicide bomber.

The threat is not to be taken lightly. The furore over Rushdie's novel, The Satanic Verses, resulted in one murder and two attempted murders, and compelled the writer to live under round-the-clock protection for a decade.

Rushdie returned to public life in 1999, a year after the Iranian government distanced itself from the fatwa instigated by the country's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khomeini. Last week, the anti-Rushdie campaign began again, when his name appeared in the Queen's Birthday Honours list.

The lower house of Pakistan's Parliament unanimously passed a resolution condemning the award as "an insult to the religious sentiments of Muslims".

Only one opposition MP, Khwaja Asif, appeared to have reservations. He suggested that the resolution exposed a contradiction in the government's policy as an ally of Britain in the war on terrorism.

But Mr Haq told the National Assembly: "This is an occasion for the 1.5 billion Muslims to look at the seriousness of this decision. The West is accusing Muslims of extremism and terrorism. If someone exploded a bomb on his body he would be right to do so unless the British government apologises and withdraws the 'sir' title."

Pakistan's Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Sher Afgan Khan Niazi, claimed that the award would "encourage people to commit blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed".

Rushdie has been the target of Muslim anger since the appearance in 1988 of The Satanic Verses, which included a sequence retelling an episode in the life of the Prophet Mohammed, which Muslims have condemned as blasphemous. The Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses was stabbed to death in July 1991. Its Italian translator and Norwegian publisher survived assasination attempts.

The Iranian government announced in 1998 that it no longer supported the fatwa. Over the weekend, Iran protested that the decision to honour an "apostate" was evidence of "Islamophobia" in the British government.

Robert Brinkley, Britain's High Commissioner in Pakistan, defended the award of a knighthood. "It is simply untrue to suggest that this in anyway is an insult to Islam or the Prophet Mohammed, and we have enormous respect for Islam as a religion and for its intellectual and cultural achievements," he said.

In London, the Foreign Office said they were studying the comments made in Pakistan. A spokesman for The British High Commission in Islamabad, Aidan Liddle, said: "Sir Salman's honour is richly deserved and the reasons for it are self-explanatory."

Of his knighthood, Rushdie said: "I am thrilled and humbled to receive this great honour, and am very grateful that my work has been recognised in this way.


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