18 Sep 2012

Salman Rushdie’s memoir charts nine years in hiding

Twenty-three years after he was condemned to death by Muslim clerics, Sir Salman Rushdie’s memoir lifts the lid on his time in hiding. Channel 4 News looks back at the controversy.

Sir Salman Rushdie: a quick history of the author's time in hiding (Image: Getty)

Rushdie’s new memoir, Joseph Anton: A Memoir, takes its title from the name he used while in hiding – which was a combination of the first names of two of his favourite writers, Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov.

The memoir opens with the moment when Rushdie, already a member of London’s literary elite, received a call from a journalist asking for his reaction to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa, or religious edict, calling for his head.

“It doesn’t feel good” was his understated reply, but at the time he recalled thinking to himself: “I’m a dead man.”

In 1988, British-Indian Rushdie published his fourth novel The Satanic Verses. The book charts the adventures of two Indian actors, Gibreel and Saladin, who fall to earth in Britain when their Air India jet explodes.

It was shortlisted for the Booker prize and won the Whitbread novel award, but it was not universally well received.

Some of the adventures in the book feature a character based on the prophet Muhammad, which shows both him and his transcription of the Koran in a light that drew criticism from Muslim leaders.

Accusations of blasphemy against Islam and demonstrations by Islamist groups in Pakistan and India sprang up, and on 14 February 1989 the orthodox Iranian leader Khomeini publically condemned the book.

Khomeini issued a fatwa against the author and a bounty was offered to anyone who would execute him.

The publication of his memoirs comes as violent protests spread across the Muslim world in response to a US-made video mocking the Prophet Mohammad.

“I always said that what happened to me was a prologue and there will be many, many more episodes like it,” Rushdie told the Daily Telegraph at the book launch.

“Clearly, (the film is) a piece of crap, is very poorly done and is malevolent. To react to it with this kind of violence is just ludicrously inappropriate. People are being attacked who had nothing to do with it and that is not right.”

Under the protection of Scotland Yard, Rushdie went into hiding for almost 10 years. He emerged occasionally, sometimes in other countries, and continued to write and win strings of awards, but his movements were always restricted.

After nine years in hiding, the Iranian government said in 1998 that it was distancing itself from the reward offered for the killing of Rushdie.

Since 2000, Rushdie has lived in New York, and in 2007 he began a five-year term in Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, as distinguished writer in residence.

Rushdie was knighted in 2007 – a move which was criticised by the Iranian government, Pakistan’s parliament and al-Qaeda.