Rushdie says fatwa only minor issue now; urges Australia to let Cat Stevens in

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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TORONTO — Acclaimed British author Salman Rushdie said Monday that the death sentence imposed on him by Iran’s late leader no longer affects his daily life, but the issue still hasn’t gone away.

Rushdie commented on the fatwa in Toronto, where he was teamed up with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel for a discussion on freedom of speech and human rights.

“It doesn’t really affect my daily life particularly any more, I’m happy to say,” Rushdie said.

“It’s been well over a decade really since that was an issue, but it bubbles up every so often.”

The latest surfacing of the issue came over a call from an Australian member of Parliament to bar the entry of popular musician Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, who is on a come-back tour.

Islam endorsed the fatwa, which was issued by Ayatollah Khomeni for Rushdie’s 1988 novel, “The Satanic Verses,” a book many Muslims considered blasphemous.

The Australian politician says the musician should not be issued a visa until he withdraws support for the 1989 edict, but Islam now says he was expressing the views of Muslims rather than his own.

Rushdie said Australia should allow the musician’s entry, but was adamant that Islam had spoken “extremely unpleasantly” and “outspokenly” in favour of the death decree that forced the author to go into hiding for many years.

“I used to be a fan of Cat Stevens when I was a college student, but I’m afraid that’s no longer the case,” Rushdie said.

“The fact that it now suits him to pretend that’s not the case (that he supported the fatwa) is his business, but the facts are the facts.

“Nevertheless, he should go to Australia, and preferably stay there.”

Wiesel, on hand with Rushdie for the “Spirit of Hope Benefit” by the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, expressed sympathy with the bile directed at the author for his ideas and writings.

“The hatred that both of us inspire is something extraordinary; I get so many hate letters (and) death threats,” said Wiesel, a renowned human-rights activist.

“The world is sick; somehow the situation is getting worse and worse all over the world. Too many wars, much violence, intolerance, fanaticism.”

Wiesel did disagree with Rushdie over whether Holocaust denial should be a crime, saying it should be outlawed everywhere except in the United States.

That’s because the First Amendment in the U.S. guaranteeing freedom of expression is too important, Wiesel said.

Rushdie, on the other hand, said prosecuting Holocaust deniers simply extended them a platform.

The author said freedom of speech and the value of human rights were both topics that could not be discussed enough.

“These are fights which we believed to have been won and it seems to me that we now live in a time in which the battle has to be fought all over again,” Rushdie said.

Organizations: Simon Wiesenthal Centre

Geographic location: Australia, TORONTO, Iran United States

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