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Video: Salman Rushdie: Friends helped me survive fatwa

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    >>> we're back now at 7:43 with a man who has a unique perspective on the current anti-american violence in the muslim world . 23 years ago salman rushdie watched as protesters raged against his novel "the satanic verses " in the middle east . he was marked to death and forced to hide for nearly a decade. now he writes about his life as a marked man using an alias while living underground in the new member roy "joseph anton." it's a pleasure to have you here.

    >> good to be here.

    >> this is a story that captured headlines 23 years ago.

    >> yes, yes.

    >> deeply personal story for you, and you haven't told it until now. why?

    >> partly because it was so personal, and i wanted to feel emotionally in a better place to tell it, but i always knew that i would tell it. and actually it's that personal story that i think needs to be told, you know. how did a writer and his family and his publishers face off against this extraordinary act of terrorism.

    >> and so many connections to what we're seeing now, but let's try to remind people of the heat that was surrounding you. theit t thei the atiyah khamenei marked you, you were told by death squads that they had, quote, unquote, frustrated credible plots. what kind of fear were you living in?

    >> it was a aim of incredible stress. a lot of people who knew me then and afterwards said ten years afterwar afterwards, i was worried about my publishers, book sellers , translators, a lot to worry about.

    >> i remember my coverage at the time. i'm old enough to refreshes and i remember some story line that kept coming up that during this you were living this life, enjoying the money and enjoying the fame, living a combination of a life of like james bond and david beckham , the international man of mystery and being whisked away by limbo and things. what was the reality?

    >> well, that was for me one of the strangest things that people should attempt to so dramatically distort what was going on. yes, i think sometimes it did look glamourous, if you arrive in a bulletproof jag and police leave out of the door, people think who the hell does he think he is? and for my side of it it felt like jail

    >> you write a lot about your friend and say throughout this entire ordeal not one friend ever said to you i can't be your friend anymore because you're too much of a hot potato .

    >> yeah.

    >> these people risked a lot to protect.

    >> you one of the things i really take away from that experience is the fact that i survived this because of the love of friends who did extraordinary things for me.

    >> so fast forward, 23 years, okay, and we're got a situation in the middle east right now, and you look at protests going on in some of these cities, and do you see a connection?

    >> yes, i mean, one of the reasons why in the book i used this metaphor of the hitchcock movie "the birds" is to real say what happened to me was like the first bird, and now we're in the middle of the storm.

    >> but what is -- i mean, if you remember, the itollia had never seen the movie.

    >> the reaction is a much more larger outrage. we still live in a rage of outrage and people are defined by their outrage and feels that it justifies itself.

    >> but is it legitimate outrage in your opinion or is it manufactured outrage? think were you talking to one of our producers over the weekend. you said it's kind of the outrage machine?

    >> there's an autorage industry, people who look for things to provoke their audiences, and it is, it's to a large extent manufactured. the fact that you can unleash these violent mobs like this is obviously completely unacceptable.

    >> and consider the fact that when you wrote "the satanic verses " 23 years ago it was not the age of social media .

    >> no.

    >> where a message can spread like wildfire.

    >> absolutely. it's much easier to do that now.

    >> when you look at this creator of this film in question, this internet film in, some ways do you have sympathy for that person, or do you feel that that person has done something horribly wrong?

    >> well, i mean, i think he's done something malicious, and that's a very different thing from writing a serious novel, you know. he's clearly set out to provoke, and he's obviously unleashed a much bigger reaction than he hoped for. i mean, one of the problems with defending free speech is you often have to defend people that you find to be outrageous and unpleasant and disgusting.

    >> when you saw that man taken in for questioning over the weekend slightly shrouded to mask his appearance, any level of sympathy there?

    >> not really.

    >> why not?

    >> well, because he did it on purpose. i mean, he set out to create a response, and he got it in spades.

    >> salman rushdie , interesting, interesting perspective and i can't wait to read more of this book. it's called "joseph anton."

    >> thank you.

    >> pleasure to have you here.

Random House
TODAY books
updated 9/17/2012 6:54:58 AM ET 2012-09-17T10:54:58

Condemned to death in 1989 by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini over the novel, "The Satanic Verses," revered author Salman Rushdie and his family spent almost a decade living underground under the threat of murder. In his new memoir, "Joseph Anton," Rushdie writes candidly about the experience. Here's an excerpt.

The Pakistani film International Gorillay (International guerrillas), produced by Sajjad Gul, told the story of a group of local heroes—of the type that would, in the language of a later age, come to be known as jihadis or terrorists—who vowed to find and kill an author called “Salman Rushdie.” The quest for “Rushdie” formed the main action of the film and “his” death was the film’s version of a happy ending.

Story: Salman Rushdie: Film that sparked Mideast unrest ‘disgraceful’

“Rushdie” himself was depicted as a drunk, constantly swigging from a bottle of liquor, and a sadist. He lived in what looked very like a palace on what looked very like an island in the Philippines (clearly all novelists had second homes of this kind), being protected by what looked very like the Israeli army (this presumably being a service offered by Israel to all novelists), and he was plotting the overthrow of Pakistan by the fiendish means of opening chains of discotheques and gambling dens across that pure and virtuous land, a perfidious notion for which, as the British Muslim “leader” Iqbal Sacranie might have said, death was too light a punishment. “Rushdie” was dressed exclusively in a series of hideously colored safari suits—vermilion safari suits, aubergine safari suits, cerise safari suits—and the camera, whenever it fell upon the figure of this vile personage, invariably started at his feet and then panned with slow menace up to his face. So the safari suits got a lot of screen time, and when he saw a videotape of the film the fashion insult wounded him deeply. It was, however, oddly satisfying to read that one result of the film’s popularity in Pakistan was that the actor playing “Rushdie” became so hated by the film-going public that he had to go into hiding.

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At a certain point in the film one of the international gorillay was captured by the Israeli army and tied to a tree in the garden of the palace in the Philippines so that “Rushdie” could have his evil way with him. Once “Rushdie” had finished drinking from his bottle and lashing the poor terrorist with a whip, once he had slaked his filthy lust for violence upon the young man’s body, he handed the innocent would-be murderer over to the Israeli soldiers and uttered the only genuinely funny line in the film. “Take him away,” he cried, “and read to him from The Satanic Verses all night!” Well, of course, the poor fellow cracked completely. Not that, anything but that, he blubbered as the Israelis led him away.

At the end of the film “Rushdie” was indeed killed—not by the international gorillay, but by the Word itself, by thunderbolts unleashed by three large Qur’ans hanging in the sky over his head, which reduced the monster to ash. Personally fried by the Book of the Almighty: There was dignity in that.

On July 22, 1990, the British Board of Film Classification refused International Gorillay a certificate, on the fairly self-evident grounds that it was libelous (and because the BBFC feared that if it were to license the film and the real Rushdie were to sue for defamation, the board could be accused of having become party to the libel, and could therefore be sued for damages as well). This placed the real Rushdie in something of a quandary. He was fighting a battle for free speech and yet he was being defended, in this case, by an act of censorship. On the other hand the film was a nasty piece of work. In the end he wrote a letter to the BBFC formally giving up his right of legal recourse, assuring the board that he would pursue neither the filmmaker nor the board itself in the courts, and that he did not wish to be accorded “the dubious protection of censorship.” The film should be shown so that it could be seen for the “distorted, incompetent piece of trash that it is.” On August 17, as a direct result of his intervention, the board unanimously voted to license the film; whereupon, in spite of all the producer’s efforts to promote it, it immediately sank without trace, because it was a rotten movie, and no matter what its intended audience may have thought about “Rushdie” or even Rushdie, they were too wise to throw their money away on tickets for a dreadful film.

Video: Salman Rushdie: Friends helped me survive fatwa (on this page)

It was, for him, an object lesson in the importance of the “better out than in” free speech argument—that it was better to allow even the most reprehensible speech than to sweep it under the carpet, better to publicly contest and perhaps deride what was loathsome than to give it the glamour of taboo, and that, for the most part, people could be trusted to tell the good from the bad. If International Gorillay had been banned, it would have become the hottest of hot videos and in the parlors of Bradford and Whitechapel young Muslim men would have gathered behind closed drapes to rejoice in the frying of the apostate. Out in the open, subjected to the judgment of the market, it shriveled like a vampire in sunlight, and was gone.

Reprinted by arrangement with Random House, an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, from “Joseph Anton" by Salman Rushdie. Copyright © 2012 by Salman Rushdie.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive


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