As if Salman Rushdie didn’t have enough stress in his life, living in the shadow of a 23-year-old death sentence imposed on him by the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Now there is a video game, “The Stressful Life of Salman Rushdie and Implementation of his Verdict,” announced in Tehran at Iran’s second annual International Computer Games Expo, which will allow gamers to carry out the Ayatollah’s death sentence against Mr. Rushdie.
Ayatollah issued a fatwa, or religious directive, against Rushdie in 1989, because Rushdie had authored the book “Satanic Verses,” which many Muslims thought had defamed the founder of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad.
It’s tempting to see Rushdie, who spent the first few years of his fatwa living in hiding, as a champion of modernity against the superstitions of ancient prejudice, and for the non-curious among us, that is how he will likely remain. But consider this irony. Rushdie himself is an unapologetic Luddite, a man who prefers to practice the art of writing with pen and paper, a man who once told an interviewer that Steve Jobs, whose Apple computer company had given the world the iPad, had “destroyed the world of literature.” And in Iran, the successors of the Ayatollah Khomeini, the presumed defender of a 1300-year-old religion, are the ones allegedly developing nuclear weapons, and now, creating video games to virtually snuff out a writer.
"We used to have only two weak [Iranian-made] games, but after the issue of computer games came on the agenda of the Council at the order of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution [Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei] we developed around 140 games with Islamic and Iranian contents which can compete with foreign products," Mokhber Dezfouli, secretary of the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution, told the Fars News Agency.
In the Clash of Civilizations, the lines can get pretty blurry.
Rushdie, whose novels “Midnight’s Children,” “The Moor’s Last Sigh,” and “Haroun and the Sea Stories,” never set out to tweak the nose of the Ayatollah, or to offend the faith of his fellow Muslim brethren. But despite the Asian locales and Muslim themes that embroidered Rushdie’s fiction, there was an underlying spiritual core of doubt in the Divine, a challenge to religious authorities, a preference of the individual over the group that Islamists like Khomeini found much more threatening than the latest pot-boiler spy novel from a Western novelist. Ultimately, Rushdie’s greatest sin, in the eyes of Khomeini, was not that he was modern; he was a traitor, a “bad” Muslim.
Since 1989, Rushdie became a media darling and a symbol of free artistic expression. Technology surely should have made it possible for Rushdie to engage with the public, remotely by teleconference, rather than put himself or his audience at risk. But there is a part of Rushdie that remains stubbornly old fashioned. His arguments with Steve Jobs and with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg are famous. Last year, Rushdie engaged in a public battle with Facebook to keep his Facebook identity as “Salman Rushdie” rather than follow the Facebook rules of using his legal first name, “Ahmed.”
And in a panel discussion at Emory University, Rushdie admitted he prefers the low-tech nature of writing.
“One of the things I have liked about the business of putting words on a page is that it is incredibly low technology,” Rushdie said during a panel discussion at Emory University. “You need a piece of paper, a pen, and a room, and even the room is not essential.”
Rushdie is by no means the only celebrity to be the target of violent video games. After President George W. Bush was attacked in Baghdad by a shoe-throwing journalist, dozens of games were created to give gamers the chance to try their own luck with the 43rd president of the United States.
There are games for giving former French President Nicolas Sarkozy a hard slap in the face, and games (unfortunately in Russian) allowing gamers to experience a day in the life of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
And yes, there is a game for those who want to kill Osama Bin Laden, who it must be said, is already dead.