Backlash grows against British award of knighthood to Salman Rushdie

Pakistani hard-line clerics respond with an award of their own to Osama bin Laden.

The award of a knighthood to Salman Rushdie, author of "The Satanic Verses," has prompted deep criticism from Egypt's parliament, which said Wednesday that the move was a bigger mistake than the publication of Danish cartoons about the prophet Muhammad that provoked global protests.

The parliament's Arab Affairs Committee said that the honor was a rejection of "all diplomatic principles" as it was given to someone who "has become famous because of his hostility to Islam."

Britain's award of a knighthood to the novelist, whose 1988 novel was criticized for its depiction of Islam, has stirred anger among many world Muslims, most notably in Pakistan, which has seen days of anti-British demonstrations and prompted one cabinet minister apparently to come out in defense of suicide attacks.

Reuters reports that a major Pakistani religious organization, the Ulema Council, has presented an award of their own to Osama bin Laden in response to Rushdie's knighthood.

If a blasphemer can be given the title 'Sir' by the West despite the fact he's hurt the feelings of Muslims, then a mujahid who has been fighting for Islam against the Russians, Americans and British must be given the lofty title of Islam, Saifullah," the chairman, Tahir Ashrafi, told Reuters.
A Mujahid is a Muslim holy warrior. Bin Laden was one of many Arabs who helped Afghan guerrillas battle Soviet invaders in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
The speaker of the provincial assembly in Punjab province said blasphemers should be killed while Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, president of Pakistan's ruling party, said British Prime Minister Tony Blair was "personally and mentally against Islam.

Rushdie's novel famously led to Iran's then-religious leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei, to call in 1989 for the murder of Rushdie and all of his collaborators. That forced Rushdie into years of hiding and led to the murder of his Japanese translator and attacks on his Italian and Norwegian translators.

Agence France-Presse reports that Britain has felt compelled to defend its decision.

Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett … said that Britain was "sorry if there are people who have taken very much to heart this honor, which is after all for a lifelong body of literary work." She stressed that the 60-year-old Rushdie was just one of many Muslims who had been recognized by the honors system, something she said "may not be realised by many of those who have been vocal in their opposition...."
[The] comments came amid a rising fury in the Muslim world at the honor for Rushdie, with 20 members of Malaysia's main Islamic opposition, the Pan-Malaysia Islamic party, shouting "Go to hell Britain! Go to hell Rushdie!" outside the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.

The article also cites Abul Rashi Ghazi, who runs a hard-line mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan, as calling for Rushdie's murder.

"Salman Rushdie deserves to be killed and anyone who has the power must kill him," Ghazi said in a statement. He added that if the Pakistani government cooperated "we will make arrangements to murder ... Rushdie here."

Pakistani Religious Affairs Minister Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq also appeared to call for Rushdie's murder. The Associated Press quoted him as saying that "If someone exploded a bomb on his body, he would be right to do so unless the British government apologizes and withdraws the 'sir' title."

Mr. Haq, a son of a former Pakistani dictator, has since said he was misunderstood and has announced plans to go to Britain.

The 52-year-old minister said the schedule of his visit was not finalized but that it would give him an opportunity to better convey his point of view." The visit would also help clear many things and misunderstandings about my remarks about the knighting of Salman Rushdie by Britain," added the minister.

But Pakistan's The Dawn, that country's leading English-language newspaper, quoted former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto as calling for Haq's dismissal, alleging that he has links to suicide bombers.

Mr Haq had appointed the Lal Masjid clerics … who were running the militant madressahs known as Jamia Hafsa and Jamia Fareedia, she said. The clerics had publicly stated that the madressah housed some suicide bombers. Given the statements of the minister justifying suicide attacks as well as his connection with the Lal Masjid, Ms Bhutto said, the regime of President Gen Pervez Musharraf should immediately sack him. Any inaction, she added, would be seen as a covert act to fuel extremism while preaching moderation.

It isn't just Muslims who are attacking the award for Rushdie. The BBC reports that a conservative member of Parliament struck out at the award, saying the government should have shied away from potentially offending Muslims.

Conservative MP Stewart Jackson, chairman of the all-party group on Pakistan, said: "Salman Rushdie was subjected to one of the most famous death sentences in the 20th Century.
If the senior officers of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office were not able to use their knowledge of the Islamic world to consider the likely ramifications of this decision, then I'm extremely concerned."
He believes the decision will exacerbate tensions with the Pakistani government at a time when it is struggling to deal with political uncertainty and terrorism.

But Rushdie is finding support from not only the British government but free-speech advocates. In a statement, International PEN, an organization that advocates freedom of expression for authors, attacked the "hateful" response to the knighthood.

The comments made about Salman Rushdie's knighthood and the hateful reactions to it, serve to highlight the complexities of human life and the role of literature in reflecting and debating these complexities, and furthering understanding,' says Jiøí Gruša, International President of International PEN.
Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, International Secretary of International PEN adds, "Salman Rushdie is a major writer whose works of imagination have engaged and galvanized society as important writing does. International PEN takes no position on the honors given by any government but celebrates writers being honored and opposes those who would, through intimidation and inflammatory statements, try to curb freedom of expression."
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