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Rushdie Interview Not New, Writer Says

June 19, 1989|From Reuters

NEW YORK — An interview with author Salman Rushdie billed by a British newspaper as his first since going into hiding four months ago was actually given last December, long before Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for his death, its author said Sunday.

"I would like to apologize to Salman because of course I hadn't realized it would be so sensationalized," New York-based writer Ameena Meer said.

The British newspaper Mail on Sunday published the interview with Rushdie, claiming it was his first since last February, when Khomeini called on Muslims to kill him for allegedly blaspheming Islam with his novel "The Satanic Verses."

Interview Was Last December

Meer said she interviewed Rushdie last Christmas Eve for the New York-based literary magazine Bomb and that her article was in the spring edition, published in March.

"At the time, the death threat wasn't so serious," Meer said. "The ayatollah hadn't issued a death threat. (Rushdie) had just received death threats from Muslims in England.

"It's quite horrible, and actually a reporter had called me from the Mail to ask me when it was done, to ask me more details about it, and she should have had the real story," Meer said.

"They completely distorted it," said Bomb editor Betsy Sussler. "It's absurd. It was done long before (Rushdie) went into hiding."

She said the interview was sold on Meer's behalf to the Mail about two weeks ago for about $1,500.

Earlier, in a statement issued through his agents, Rushdie said: "The Mail on Sunday's claim that I have 'broken my silence' and given them a new interview is wholly false and, in the present situation, highly irresponsible."

'Lurid' Version

He said Mail's story was a "lurid and sensationalized" version of an interview he gave long before Khomeini's death threat.

He added: "The Mail on Sunday should now admit their deception. I shall be taking legal advice."

But the Mail on Sunday defended its claim that the interview was given by Rushdie after Khomeini, who died June 3, called for his death.

"The article makes it clear that Mr. Rushdie chose to give the interview to a young Indian journalist after the late Ayatollah Khomeini's call for his execution," a spokesman for the newspaper said.

He acknowledged the interview had been "recently published abroad" but said it was the first to appear in Britain since February.

The interview quoted the Indian-born British author as calling Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution a force for evil.

It also quoted him as saying he was saddened by the ban on his novel in many Muslim countries. "They're willing to say things about my work which are not based on reading," he said in the interview, "but gradually the book will be read."

There have been sporadic protests in Britain over Rushdie's refusal to withdraw from sale "The Satanic Verses," which led Iran to break diplomatic ties with Britain.

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