On this day in 1989, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran offered a $3 million bounty for the death of Salman Rushdie. This followed ten days after the fatwa against him for writing The Satanic Verses. This was a stupid thing to do. And maybe if Khomeini, who I generally think of as having been a pretty smart guy, had been younger, he wouldn’t have done it. But he was almost 90 years old, and only months from death.
We accept that people are stupid. I see it all the time. Hardly a day goes by when someone doesn’t tell me about some minor thing that they are outraged about. But leaders are supposed to be educated and thoughtful. Even if you are a fundamentalist, you need to pick your battles. At a time when Iran should have been trying to integrate itself with the rest of the world, the fatwa just made Iran seem like a thuggish state. The fatwa went along with a one million dollar bounty for Rushdie’s murder. And then Khomeini ups it to $3 million? It’s just pathetic.
The Satanic Verses Wouldn’t Have Been a Hit
At that point, Salman Rushdie was a celebrated writer. He had won the Booker Prize. But he was hardly JK Rowling. The fatwa made Rushdie’s career. And The Satanic Verses would have continued in that tradition. Most people today would not have ever heard of Salman Rushdie nor The Satanic Verses had it not been for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s ridiculous assassination contract.
Obviously, I’m not talking about the immorality of calling for murder because someone writes a book you don’t like. I don’t think we need to discuss that. Everyone around here agrees on that point. And I seriously doubt that Khomeini read the book, anyway. And I doubt anyone important in the fatwa process had read the book. Yet Iran has now renewed the bounty for the outrage of The Satanic Verses. My understanding is that in modern Iran, everyone wants to grab onto the mantle of Khomeini and so that’s what this is all about. Perhaps the most stupid thing the man ever did in his life, when his mind feeble, and they are still chasing it as though he were God.
I feel sorry for Salman Rushdie. But I feel more sorry for the Iranian people, who have been so ineptly ruled both before and after Khomeini. And this business about publicly calling for the murder over The Satanic Verses is the best encapsulation of this that there is.