Days before Iran’s foreign minister Kamal Kharazi met his British counterpart Robin Cook in New York on September 24 agreeing to restore full diplomatic relations, the British media had launched a campaign linking this to the Salman Rushdie saga. British and indeed western media reports have tried to present the restoration of diplomatic relations as ‘proof’ that the fatwa had been ‘lifted.’
Mahmoud Mohammadi, the man designated as Iran’s ambassador to London, had to issue a clarification in Tehran on September 28 stating quite categorically that the fatwa had not been rescinded because no one has the authority to do so. A fatwa is a religious edict issued by an Islamic scholar on a matter of great significance to Muslims. Imam Khomeini was such an authority who issued his fatwa on Februray 14, 1989 sentencing Rushdie to death following a review of the contents of his blasphemous book, the Satanic Verses.
A fatwa cannot be rescinded unless a higher authority can offer a different interpretation. Since the death of Imam Khomeini in June 1989, there has not emerged another authority with greater or even equal stature to rescind the fatwa. In any case, it is based on sound Islamic principles and is supported by Qur’anic commands as well as numerous ahadith. Muslims throughout the world, of all Schools of Thought, support the fatwa. On September 29, three senior Ayatullahs in Iran reaffirmed the fatwa and said that it cannot be rescinded.
Britain, eager not to miss on lucrative trade deals that its other European partners - notably Germany and France - have signed up, needed a way out of the 10-year-logjam over the Rushdie affair. It had painted itself into a corner over the saga of the Indian-born blasphemous author.
The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has repeatedly stressed that as far as it is concerned, it will not send anyone to enforce the fatwa nor support anyone carrying it out. Similarly, Dr Kharazi reiterated that the government of Iran has nothing to do with the reward for the execution of the fatwa, or indeed of Rushdie!
The responsibility for carrying out the fatwa is not the exclusive responsibility of Iran. It is the religious duty of all Muslims - those who have the ability or the means - to carry it out. It does not require any reward. In fact, those who carry out this edict in hopes of a monetary reward are acting against Islamic injunctions.
The reward was announced by a private organisation, the 15th of Khordad Foundation in Iran, in support of the fatwa. Since that reward was not offered by the government of Iran, it cannot be held accountable for it. While Muslims would have been much happier had the Islamic Republic not said it would not carry out the fatwa, it does not mean Rushdie can pop out the champaign yet (we know he is fond of drinking and womanising), or that he can roam around freely.
For the British government, he has been quite a drag on their resources. Imagine looking after a ‘wog’ (western oriental gentleman, ie, a brownie), and an arrogant one at that. Rushdie is not the politest of creatures. Even his friends detest his cantankerous behaviour and loud outbursts. He would be foolish to venture outside. He must continue to serve the sentence in his bunker, moving from one rathole to the next.
For the record, let us state what was said after the Kharazi-Cook meeting in New York. ‘The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has no intention, nor is it going to take any action whatsoever to threaten the life of the author of the Satanic Verses or anybody associated with his work, nor will it encourage or assist anybody to do so,’ Dr Kharazi declared. British foreign secretary Cook stood by his side at the United Nations headquarters as he spoke.
‘Accordingly the government dissociates itself from any reward which has been offered in this regard and does not support it,’ he added. However, he repeated Iran’s strong condemnation of the book which he said ‘insults our sacred Islamic values.’
In return, Cook stated that Britain ‘regretted the offence that the book, The Satanic Verses has caused to Muslims in Iran and elsewhere in the world.’ He also said neither Britain nor the European Union condoned the contents of the book. Given Britain’s - and the west’s - animosity to Islam, such assurances are not likely to convince Muslims.
Rushdie, meanwhile, was reported beside himself in London when he got the news. His elation is likely to prove short-lived. The fatwa is not Iran-specific. When told of the Kharazi-Cook meeting, he said, ‘It’s all over.’
It a’int over till its over. Even Rushdie should know that.
Muslimedia: October 16-31, 1998