p 30 yrs after Rushdie fatwa, blasphemy still a potent weapon | 2019-02-12

30 yrs after Rushdie fatwa, blasphemy still a potent weapon

12 February, 2019 12:00 AM printer

30 yrs after Rushdie fatwa, blasphemy still a potent weapon

ISLAMABAD: Thirty years after Iran called for the killing of Salman Rushdie, the British novelist remains a figure of hate for extremists across the Muslim world, and though the level of outrage has dropped, the issue of blasphemy is as incendiary as ever, reports AFP.

Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses” triggered mass protests from London to Islamabad and, analysts say, closed down the space for debate around Islam in a way that still resonates today.

Iran’s spiritual leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued the fatwa calling for Rushdie’s murder on February 14, 1989.

A day earlier thousands of protesters enraged by the novel’s publication had attacked the American Cultural Centre in Islamabad. Five people were killed in the ensuing clashes with police.

Pakistani journalist Shahid ur Rehman told AFP he was among the first to arrive on the scene that day, and watched as men stormed the roof of the centre and pulled down its American flag while police fired tear gas, then live bullets.

Rehman said the novel came as a rude shock to a Muslim world which was “basking in glory”.

The Iranian revolution was just a decade old and the Soviet Union was on the verge of a collapse after being driven out of Afghanistan by the US-backed mujahideen, with Muslims in general and Pakistan in particular claiming credit for the defeat of an empire.

Rushdie’s novel, and the fatwa which followed, were “like a dam breaking”, Rehman said.

Today, the novelist is “hated as much... as he was hated back then”, said Pakistani religious scholar Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi. But “people cannot protest consecutively for 30 years,” he added.

Anger over blasphemy remains effervescent among Islamic hardliners, however. In the last ten years in Pakistan, politicians have been assassinated, European countries threatened with nuclear annihilation and students lynched over the issue.

The case of Asia Bibi—a Christian woman whose death sentence for blasphemy was overturned in Pakistan last year, sparking days of violence and drawing global attention to religious extremism in the South Asian country—is just the latest example.