The Enduring Legacy of Iran’s Call for Salman Rushdie’s Death

Last Thursday marked the 30th anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s infamous fatwa against the novelist Salman Rushdie, in which he called on Muslims to murder Rushdie and the publishers of his book The Satanic Verses. While Rushdie has long since come out of hiding, and has expressed his readiness to put the episode behind him, Jonathan Rauch argues that its legacy remains very much alive in the West:

In the nightmarish eruption that followed [Khomeini’s declaration], dozens of people were killed, including the book’s Japanese translator, and many more were threatened. . . . Echoes still reverberate; just this past October, Norwegian police filed charges in the shooting of William Nygaard, the publisher of the Norwegian edition, who was left for dead outside his home (but survived). . . .

The Rushdie affair was hardly the first incident of terrorism committed against Western targets by Islamists, or in the name of Islam or of associated political causes. . . . Even so, in 1989 the Rushdie edict was rightly understood as a paradigm shift. For one thing, it was state-sponsored. Khomeini not only called for multiple assassinations, he put his government’s imprimatur and treasury behind his decree. Further, the attack was global in scope and ambition. By seeking to mobilize Islamist sympathizers everywhere, and by declaring publishers and editors and translators and bookstores to be targets, Khomeini declared borders to be of no consequence. Henceforth, the battlefield had no boundaries. In 1996 and 1998, when Osama bin Laden declared a global war on the United States, Israel, the West, and their allies, he was following the path Khomeini had blazed. . . .

In much the same way that the Columbine High School massacre of 1999 became a template for subsequent school shootings, the Rushdie affair became a template for global intellectual terrorism. In 2005, an eruption over cartoons of Muhammad in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten left hundreds dead. . . . In 2011 and again in 2015, the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was attacked by terrorists in response to Muhammad cartoons. . . .

The broader, less spectacular result of the Rushdie affair has been to chill thought and expression everywhere. “For every exercise in free speech since 1989, such as the Danish Muhammad cartoons or the no-holds-barred studies of Islam published by Prometheus Books,” [the scholar Daniel] Pipes wrote in 2010, “uncountable legions of writers, publishers, and illustrators have shied away from expressing themselves.” Today, we know that the Rushdie affair, though unique, debuted a quite successful business model. Rushdie may be free, but the shadow of the fatwa lingers.

Read more at Spiked

More about: Charlie Hebdo, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Jihadism, Politics & Current Affairs

Israel Just Sent Iran a Clear Message

Early Friday morning, Israel attacked military installations near the Iranian cities of Isfahan and nearby Natanz, the latter being one of the hubs of the country’s nuclear program. Jerusalem is not taking credit for the attack, and none of the details are too certain, but it seems that the attack involved multiple drones, likely launched from within Iran, as well as one or more missiles fired from Syrian or Iraqi airspace. Strikes on Syrian radar systems shortly beforehand probably helped make the attack possible, and there were reportedly strikes on Iraq as well.

Iran itself is downplaying the attack, but the S-300 air-defense batteries in Isfahan appear to have been destroyed or damaged. This is a sophisticated Russian-made system positioned to protect the Natanz nuclear installation. In other words, Israel has demonstrated that Iran’s best technology can’t protect the country’s skies from the IDF. As Yossi Kuperwasser puts it, the attack, combined with the response to the assault on April 13,

clarified to the Iranians that whereas we [Israelis] are not as vulnerable as they thought, they are more vulnerable than they thought. They have difficulty hitting us, but we have no difficulty hitting them.

Nobody knows exactly how the operation was carried out. . . . It is good that a question mark hovers over . . . what exactly Israel did. Let’s keep them wondering. It is good for deniability and good for keeping the enemy uncertain.

The fact that we chose targets that were in the vicinity of a major nuclear facility but were linked to the Iranian missile and air forces was a good message. It communicated that we can reach other targets as well but, as we don’t want escalation, we chose targets nearby that were involved in the attack against Israel. I think it sends the message that if we want to, we can send a stronger message. Israel is not seeking escalation at the moment.

Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Iran, Israeli Security