Salman Rushdie: The book-burning that changed Britain for ever

    Twenty years ago a fatwa was imposed on Salman Rushdie, but as Kenan Malik explains, Islam’s outrage touched more than one man – it altered us all. It was 20 years ago this month that Ayatollah Khomeini pronounced his fatwa on Salman Rushdie. “I inform all zealous Muslims of the world”, he proclaimed, “that the author of the book entitled The Satanic Verses . . . and all those involved in its publication who were aware of its contents, are sentenced to death.” This was not just a brutally shocking act that forced Rushdie into hiding for almost a decade; it also helped to transform the character of British society. The Rushdie affair was the moment at which a new Islam dramatically announced itself as a political force — and the moment when Britain realised that it was facing a new kind of social conflict. Muslim fury seemed to be driven not by harassment or discrimination, but by a sense of hurt that Rushdie’s words had offended their deepest beliefs. Where did such hurt come from? How could a novel create such outrage? Could Muslim anguish be assuaged and should it be?

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