Salman Rushdie

On this date in 1947, Salman Rushdie was born in Bombay, India, into a middle-class Muslim family. At 14, Salman was sent to Rugby School, England. In 1964, his family moved to Karachi, Pakistan. Rushdie continued his education, graduating in 1968 from King's College, Cambridge. After a fling at acting, television and freelance copy writing, he saw his first book published in 1975, a sci-fi adventure called Grimus. Midnight's Children, 1981, won the Booker Prize and catapulted Rushdie to international attention. Shame followed in 1983. His novel Satanic Verses, which was banned in India and South Africa, brought down the notorious death fatwa upon him by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on February 14, 1989. As V.S. Naipaul understatedly put it, the fatwah was "an extreme form of literary criticism." Rushdie was forced to go into hiding. A million dollar bounty was placed on his head, and the reward for his death was doubled in 1997. In 1993, his Norwegian publisher was wounded in an attack, and several people have died during rioting and protests against Rushdie. The Iranian government officially rescinded the fatwah in September 1998, although one ayatollah has since issued his own death fatwa. Rushdie has continued writing novels. His superb nonfiction essays from 1992 and 2002, appear in the book Step Across This Line. In one essay for The New York Times (Nov. 27, 2002), Rushdie wrote: "If the moderate voices of Islam cannot or will not insist on the modernization of their culture--and of their faith as well--then it may be these so-called 'Rushdies' who have to do it for them. For every such individual who is vilified and oppressed, two more, ten more, a thousand more will spring up. They will spring up because you can't keep people's minds, feelings and needs in jail forever, no matter how brutal your inquisitions." "The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to turn other ideas—uncertainty, progress, change—into crimes," wrote Rushdie in Is Nothing Sacred?, 1990.

“In India, as elsewhere in our darkening world, religion is the poison in the blood. Where religion intervenes, mere innocence is no excuse. Yet we go on skating around this issue, speaking of religion in the fashionable language of 'respect.' What is there to respect in any of this, or in any of the crimes now being committed almost daily around the world in religion's dreaded name?”

—-Salman Rushdie, "Slaughter in the Name of God," Washington Post, March 8, 2002

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; Photo by Featureflash,

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