Nearly 20 years after being driven underground by a religious decree,he is now Sir Salman Rushdie,properly famous and free,yet still burdened by his status as a symbol of persecution.
“This is the albatross around my neck,” the novelist said on Sunday night during a conversation with author-activist Irshad Manji at the 92nd Street Y on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
The 61-year-old Rushdie said he would rather be known as an artist than as a social critic,and worried that the attacks against his religious satire,’The Satanic Verses’,had obscured “the real person that I am and the actual value of the books.”
But the author did seem to enjoy himself as he took on Islamic fundamentalists,President George W Bush and other objects of his liberal disdain. He was mostly relaxed and jovial despite his reluctance to revisit the death sentence by Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
“The Satanic Verses” was released in late 1988 to critical acclaim and furious protest,with Muslims burning copies in the street and demonstrating around the world. On Feb 14,1989,the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a religious decree,or fatwa,calling for the author to be killed.
Rushdie,a native of India who had moved to London,was forced into hiding and lived for years under British protection. The 500-page “Satanic Verses” became an international best-seller,although widely regarded as having far more buyers than readers.
The Ayatollah is long dead and Rushdie has stopped worrying about his safety,although the fatwa has never been withdrawn.