Salman Rushdie: Still on the Run, But Speaking Out More
SIX years after the late Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for his execution for blasphemy of the Prophet Muhammad, the author Salman Rushdie is still living under a threat of death. But increasingly he is emerging from hiding to draw attention to his plight.
The Indian-born, British-naturalized author of ''The Satanic Verses,'' the novel that prompted Khomeini's fatwa (sentence of death), made one of his rare public appearances at a Paris book fair yesterday as part of his campaign for international pressure to overturn the order. He is expected to meet with French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur today.
On March 15, he won the unanimous support of the 34-nation Council of Europe. At a London meeting, the Council's assembly, which is made up of elected parliamentarians and includes all of Europe's parliamentary democracies, voted last Wednesday to reject closer political and trade ties with Iran until Tehran lifts the fatwa.
But Mr. Rushdie, who has to live in secret locations under round-the-clock police protection at an estimated government cost of $1.58 million (1 million), attacked the British government for its ''incomprehensible failure to put pressure on Iran.''
He welcomed the Council's support, but said ''actions, not words'' were needed to get the fatwa lifted.
The Council's support for Rushdie is linked to its rising concern about the growth of Muslim fundamentalism in Algeria, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. A report on Rushdie's case, debated by the assembly, said: ''In countries where Muslim fundamentalists hold sway, hundreds of people are persecuted for their views.''
During the debate, Rushdie noted that although he had so far survived the fatwa, Japanese, Italian, and Turkish translators and publishers of ''The Satanic Verses'' had been killed or wounded.
Miguel Martinez, Spanish president of the parliamentary assembly, said: ''You represent the values the Council of Europe stands for.''
Iran's current religious leaders refuse to rescind the fatwa, claiming that ''The Satanic Verses'' blasphemes the prophet Mohammed and that its author deserves to die. Ayatollah Ali Akbar Khamanei, Khomeini's successor, has frequently said the death edict should be carried out, whatever the consequences.
Three years ago, an Islamic religious foundation offered $3 million for anyone killing Rushdie. At the time, Mr. Khamanei said the author should be ''shown no mercy.''
Rushdie told the London meeting: ''Nothing has changed since then. There is ample evidence of Tehran's involvement in political assassination, yet apart from declarations of support for me, Britain has done nothing.'' Trade between London and Tehran, he said, was ''proceeding as usual.''
Friends describe Rushdie's life since the fatwa as a hole-in-corner existence. Frances d'Souza, one of a circle of supporters, says the author has to move regularly. His few public appearances have to be organized in deepest secret.
OF late, however, he has been traveling secretly to European capitals, seeking the support of governments. So far he has visited more than a dozen countries, including Germany, whose parliament in 1993 passed a resolution saying Iran should be held legally responsible for any attempt on Rushdie's life. But in Britain, Rushdie's adopted country, government supporters are divided over whether to pressure Tehran on his behalf.
In May 1993, Prime Minister John Major spurned advisers' warnings and held a private meeting with Rushdie at the House of Commons. Their 30-minute conversation unleashed an attack by former prime minister Sir Edward Heath who said Britain would lose ''masses of trade'' with Iran if the government showed the author too much sympathy.
Rushdie has told friends he is upset by Major's failure to follow up on the meeting two years ago.
The author told the Council of Europe assembly that he was ''caught in a battle between freedom of speech and terrorist fanaticism.'' It was ''incomprehensible'' that he was still having to live under a constant threat of death.