He was considered to be ‘..in more danger than anyone except – perhaps – the Queen,’ villified not only by extremists but also by the British press who thought less of how intolerable it was for a foreign state to be freely allowed to menace a British citizen with a death order, but rather more about budgets and expenses of the protection that became necessary to save Rushdie’s life.
There were those that didn’t consider a man’s life was worth the money. No doubt there still are.
After the penning of The Satanic Verses a first review in the paper ‘India Today’
containing a sensationalist headline and a number of inaccurate and misleading ‘quotes’ and the dominos started to fall. In 1989 the author was telephoned by a BBC journalist and told of the death sentence - the issue of the ‘fatwa’ by Ayotollah Khomeini (who apparently never read the book).
Rushdie’s life closed down into constant surveillance and protection, trailing from borrowed property to borrowed property, suffering terrible fears for the safety of his family and yes, for his own safety. You would, wouldn’t you? With a murderous team of jihadists after your blood. It’s a situation which most people could not even begin to imagine. A tunnel from which the author would not emerge for more than 10 years and from which not everyone could emerge. It would be years before the threat level would be reduced enough to allow him to live at one address again; even then it had to be a property large and secluded enough to satisfy police teams, as well as suitably adapted for security. More of a jail than a home.
There are some jolly fellows in this book. Good old politicians, concerned only with expediency. Good old Press, those defenders of … what ? Myopically short-sighted, complaining newspapers whingeing about protection costs forgot, or chose not to remember, what was at stake.
The Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses was murdered; there were savage attacks on the Italian and Norwegian translators of the book although the latter two thankfully survived. These were people who preferred to stand up with courage for their beliefs; people who understood that if anything out there has to be worth fighting for, it lies beyond money and expediency.
This was a fight for a life lived away from the ‘thought police’, a fight based on the instinctive knowledge that the basis of any freedom worth the name stems from – “the freedom of the imagination and the overwhelming, overarching issue of freedom of speech, and the right of human beings to walk down the streets of their own countries without fear.’
Rights which we in Britain largely enjoy every day of our lives. Reading this book made me ashamed that I lived through these events and did nothing to help.