When Rushdie published “The Satanic Verses” in 1988, it was immediately met with controversy. Many Muslims objected to the novel's plot, in which the devil tries to convince the Prophet Muhammad to add extra verses to the Koran accepting three goddesses as deities. Some in the Muslim community also charged Rushdie with blasphemy because several characters in the novel who are prostitutes have the same names as Muhammad’s wives.
The book was banned in several countries, including Kenya, Indonesia, and Singapore, and Ayatollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran at the time, issued a fatwa against Rushdie, asking “all valiant Muslims” to attempt to kill Rushdie and any editors or publishers associated with the book.
Several bookstores were bombed, including Dillons in London and two stores in Berkeley, Calif. The office of The Riverdale Press, a community paper based in New York, suffered damage from firebombs after the newspaper ran an editorial supporting Rushdie.
Hitoshi Igarashi, the translator who rendered the book into Japanese, was killed in 1991, and other translators were injured in or narrowly escaped assassination attempts. Some citizens were killed in the violence that broke out around the globe.
After the UK broke diplomatic relations with Iran, Iranian government leader Muhammad Khatami stated in 1998 that it would “neither support nor hinder assassination operations on Rushdie,” but some in the country still embrace the fatwa, including Ayatollah Ali Khameini, who stated in 2005 that the fatwa is still in place.
Rushdie’s letter thanking independent bookstores for their support has been made into posters that will be hung at various locations.
“The independent booksellers of America put the book in windows, mounted special displays, and courageously stood up for freedom against censorship, refusing to allow the choices of American readers to be limited by the threats of an angry despotic cleric far away,” Rushdie wrote. “The bravery of independent booksellers influenced other stores to follow their lead, and in the end a key battle for free expression was won…. I’m glad to be able to honor your courage and give you all your due…. It was a privilege to be defended by you, and I have been trying, and will continue to try, to be worthy of that defense.”
The author was recently the subject of another threat when the head of a religious organization in Iran, Hassan Sanei, told the Iranian Students' News Agency that he was increasing a reward for killing Rushdie to $3.3 million, adding $500,000 from its previous standing.
“I'm not inclined to magnify this ugly bit of headline grabbing by paying it much attention,” Rushdie told the Los Angeles Times.