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Salman Rushdie shrugs off new, reported threat

September 17, 2012|by Carolyn Kellogg

After hearing reports that an Iranian organization had increased the standing bounty on his head, author Salman Rushdie was nonplussed. "I'm not inclined to magnify this ugly bit of headline grabbing by paying it much attention," he told The Times through his publisher.

Rushdie has been through this before. His forthcoming memoir, "Joseph Anton," chronicles his time living under the 1989 fatwa issued by Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Rushdie and his then-wife, Marianne Wiggins, lived under threat of death after religious extremists took issue with his novel "The Satanic Verses."

Rushdie immediately became an international household name, but he used the code name Joseph (for Conrad) Anton (for Checkhov) as he traveled under police guard. He went into hiding. He drove in an armored car.

There were book burnings and fires at bookstores. His Japanese translator was murdered.

Rushdie was born into the Muslim faith in India, although he was not devout; his family later moved to Pakistan. He studied at Cambridge in England and won the 1981 Booker Prize for the novel "Midnight's Children." In 1988's "The Satanic Verses," his portrayal of Muhammad was considered by Ayatollah Khomeini to be blasphemous against Islam.

In 1998, Iran informed British authorities that the fatwa was no longer being actively pursued. However, religious extremists have continued to offer a bounty for Rushdie.

In a statement released in Iran and carried by a student news agency there, Hassan Sanei, who heads a religious organization behind the bounty, is reported to have said, "I am adding another $500,000 to the reward for killing Salman Rushdie, and anyone who carries out this sentence will receive the whole amount immediately." The total reward is now about $3.3 million.

Violence erupted in parts of the Muslim world after a trailer for "Innocence of Muslims," an amateurish anti-Muslim film, was viewed on YouTube. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans died in an attack in Beghazi.

"The film is clearly a malevolent piece of garbage," Rushdie told the Guardian. That was Sept. 14, and the reported noted, "as he steps out into London's evening sunshine to get a cab to his launch party, there are no cops, armed or otherwise, to be seen."

Perhaps that will continue to be the case; perhaps not. Rushdie is set to appear in Los Angeles at an Aloud conversation at the Los Angeles Central Library on Sept. 24.

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