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Translator of 'Satanic Verses' Slain : Japan: The stabbing of a scholar at a campus near Tokyo may be related to Salman Rushdie's controversial novel.

July 13, 1991|LESLIE HELM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TOKYO — The Japanese scholar who translated Salman Rushdie's controversial novel "The Satanic Verses" was found stabbed to death Friday morning.

The body of Hitoshi Igarashi, 44, an assistant professor of comparative Islamic culture at Tsukuba University, northeast of Tokyo, was discovered by a cleaning lady in the hallway of a campus building. Igarashi's body bore a deep knife wound in the neck and cuts on the hands and face, police said, adding that he was killed Thursday night or early Friday.

Police said they have no suspects but are investigating the possibility that the stabbing was related to Igarashi's translation, which appeared in Japan in early 1990.

In what may be a related incident, Ettore Capriolo, 61, the translator of the Italian version of "The Satanic Verses," was attacked July 3 at his Milan apartment, suffering knife wounds on his neck, chest and hands. The attacker escaped. Capriolo described him as a man who said he was Iranian and approached him on the pretext of seeking a translation of a Muslim pamphlet. Italian police said they had no evidence linking the attack to Rushdie's book.

"The Satanic Verses" gained prominence in 1989 when Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, denounced Rushdie's novel as blasphemy, sentenced the author to death and offered a $1-million reward to anyone who killed him. Khomeini died later that year, but the sentence was not lifted. Rushdie has been in hiding and under police guard in Britain, but making public appearances recently.

In London on Friday, Rushdie's supporters released a statement by the author deploring the killing and again calling for his death sentence to be lifted.

"I am extremely distressed by the news of the murder of Mr. Hitoshi Igarashi, and I offer my condolences and deepest sympathy to his family," Rushdie said.

The author said the attacks on Igarashi and Capriolo show that the danger to him has, "if anything, increased" despite the fact that the controversy had "faded from the news of late." He appealed to the governments of Britain, Italy and Japan to urge Iran to lift the death sentence "before any more innocent people die."

One professor knowledgeable about the Muslim religion said the nature of the attacks may have been significant. "In Islam, when you make a sacrifice, you cut the throat," said Koji Kamioka, a specialist in Persian language and culture at the Tokyo University of Foreign Languages. "It is a very Islamic way of killing."

A spokeswoman for the publisher of the Japanese translation, Shinsen Co., said the firm received many threats when the book appeared but that none have been received for months. She said that about 70,000 copies of the Japanese translation have been sold.

Japanese publishers, fearing violence, long resisted putting out a Japanese edition of "The Satanic Verses." When the book finally found a publisher in February, 1990, and the book's Italian promoter, Gianni Palma, held a press conference, Palma was attacked by a Pakistani. The head of the Pakistan Assn. of Japan pronounced a "death sentence" on Palma.

Translator Igarashi, one of Japan's few Islamic scholars, studied in Iran at the Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy in 1976, then returned to write several books on Islam. He said in interviews when the Japanese version of Rushdie's book was published that he was not bothered by the threats he had received. He told one newspaper that "scholars can't be worried about what will happen to them as a result of their work." He said Rushdie's book was important less for its commentary on Islam than for its reflection of the British-Indian author's love-hate relationship with India.

Toshiro Kuroda, head of the Islamic Studies center at the International University of Japan, remembers teaching Igarashi when he was a student in Iran. Kuroda said Igarashi was involved in a broad range of activities and questioned whether his death was related to the translation.

Japan has long received a significant part of its oil from Iran and has sought to maintain close ties with Tehran despite political differences. Its reaction to Khomeini's threat against Rushdie was also muted. Although Japan officially urged Iran to lift the death sentence, it did not join Western European nations that recalled ambassadors from Tehran in protest.

BACKGROUND

Why the enduring furor in the Muslim world over Salman Rushdie's novel, "The Satanic Verses?" In essence, because a broad spectrum of them--from fundamentalists to moderates and intellectuals--see it as a thinly disguised, blasphemous assault on their religion, Islam. And, more particularly, because it portrays the Prophet Mohammed as a man subject to human frailties. They see the widespread attention the book has received as yet another instance of how they are mocked and derided by cultures that make no effort to understand or appreciate them. Rushdie, until recently in hiding in fear for his life, in late 1990 disavowed parts of his book and embraced Islam.

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