President Obama has repeatedly denied that terrorists have anything to do with the real Islam. But what would Obama say about the fatwa that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s leading political and religious authority from 1979 to 1989, issued condemning author Salman Rushdie to death for writing a book deemed blasphemous to Islam? Khomeini was about as “real Islam” as it gets.
The parallels to contemporary terrorism are very clear. Terrorists murdered the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists for what the killers considered the cartoonists’ blasphemy in mocking Muhammad, and the same motivation seems to have inspired the attack by terrorist Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein at the free speech event in Copenhagen. Rushdie’s 1988 book The Satanic Verses had sparked protest demonstrations by Muslims, particularly in Pakistan, because it was considered blasphemous, and shortly thereafter Ayatollah Khomeini issued his 1989 fatwa ordering ordinary Muslims to try to murder Rushdie and all those who were knowingly involved in the publication of the book. How can Obama deny that Khomeini’s fatwa was state-sanctioned and Islam-sanctioned terrorism?
The fatwa Khomeini issued makes chilling reading even today. Here’s a translation:
I would like to inform all the intrepid Muslims in the world that the author of the book entitled ‘Satanic Verses’. . . as well as those publishers who were aware of its contents, are hereby sentenced to death. I call on all zealous Moslems to execute them quickly, wherever they find them, so that no one will dare to insult Islamic sanctity. Whoever is killed doing this will be regarded as a martyr and will go directly to heaven.
Nothing to do with Islam? I would remind Obama, as he ponders that question, that at the time of the Rushdie fatwa Khomeini had not only been “Supreme Leader” of Iran -- a country that has the seventh-largest Muslim population in the world -- for almost a decade, but he also had long been considered an expert in Islamic law and had written many books on the subject.
Then in 1991, when Rushdie’s book’s Japanese translator was stabbed to death in Tokyo, and when in 1993 his Italian translator was attacked in Milan but survived, and when the same thing happened to his Norwegian publisher in Oslo, did those murders and attempted murders have nothing to do with Islam?
The Iranian government officially supported the Rushdie fatwa for almost ten more years, until 1998, but that year did not mark the end of the trouble for Rushdie emanating from Iran. In 2012 a state-linked religious foundation increased the bounty that was still on Rushdie’s head. The reward for killing Rushdie now stands at a cool $3.3 million, and the leader of the foundation involved in the bounty money, Hassan Sanei, is also the group’s representative to the current Supreme Leader of Iran, Khomeini’s successor Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
When in 1998 the Iranian government (although tellingly, not Khamenei himself) backtracked on the Rushdie threat, assuring the West it was no longer operative, their seeming reversal was an act that prompted Britain to renew its diplomatic relations with Iran after having broken off relations over the original Rushdie fatwa. However, subsequent events and the upping of the bounty proved this to have been a strategic effort on the part of the Iranian government to wear a kindler gentler public mask in order to curry favor with the west. The fatwa itself remained in place:
The [Rushdie] fatwa – passed four months before Khomeini’s death – was never annulled and hardliners have frequently revived the issue as a political weapon in their internal struggle with more moderate elements in Iran’s theocratic regime.