Salmon Rushdie condemns Paris terror attack

Salman Rushdie.    (AP Photo/John Smock)
Salman Rushdie. (AP Photo/John Smock)

Novelist Salman Rushdie has spoken out against the threat of “religious totalitarianism” in the wake of the murderous attack in Paris.

He said: “Religion, a medieval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms.

“This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today.

“I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity.

“’Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion’. Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.”

It is a threat he knows all too well - he was sentenced to death by the Islamic rulers of Iran who said his book The Satanic Verses was blasphemous and he was forced to go on the run for years.

His life changed forever on February 14 1989 when a journalist phoned his London home to tell him Ayatollah Khomeini had sentenced him, and all those knowingly involved in the publication, to death.

India banned the book and protests erupted around the world, including demonstrations in the UK where the book was burned.

His second wife, Marianne Wiggins, walked out after five months in exile, unable to stand the strict security, and his publisher Penguin was forced to spend millions on security after bookshops were attacked.

The threat was very real - in March 1989, two men hunting Rushdie and travelling on forged Moroccan passports were stopped at Santander in Spain en route to Plymouth.

Five months later, a man blew himself up in a Paddington hotel room while making a bomb with military plastic explosive. A note to a French newspaper next day said he died “preparing an attack on the apostate SR”.

In 1998, the Iranian government withdrew its support for the death sentence and Rushdie gradually returned to public life.

But speaking in 2012, he said it would be “difficult” to publish the book now because of the “climate of fear” that exists.