Jonathan Rauch buries this striking fact in a parenthetical remark halfway into his latest National Journal column: “At least 22 people, including Rushdie’s Japanese translator, were killed as a consequence of the Rushdie affair.”
On Valentine’s Day, 1989, the ailing Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the murder of apostate Muslim novelist Salman Rushdie and anyone who assisted in getting his book The Satanic Verses to press. British law enforcement picked up Rushdie and placed him in secluded, protective custody. An Iranian “charity” quickly placed a bounty of $1 million on his head, and then upped the bounty.
The furor over The Satanic Verses, writes Rauch, was frightening, in part, because it was truly global in scope:
It sparked riots in Muslim countries, but also mass protests in Britain, bookstore attacks in California, and assassinations or attempted assassinations in Belgium, Italy, Japan, and Norway. . . . This militance, it should have been plain, was no isolated Iranian whim. Khomeini spoke for a global constituency of millions, some of whom were prepared to kill for the cause.
The column is a classic Rauch number. It fingers the Salman Rushdie affair as the more appropriate beginning of the war on terrorism/militant Islam/insert euphemism here that has got the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East all hot and bothered of late.
Khomeini may have been the leader of Iran, but in the matter of Salman Rushdie, writes Rauch, “he acted in a different capacity, that of the leader of a worldwide revolutionary movement.” You see, “While the West still thought in terms of state actors,” Khomeini left them in the dust by operating “both above and below the state level.” The unfortunate novelist became an important proxy in the war to impose Khomeini’s vision of Islamic values on fellow Muslims and to challenge the dominance of the West.
Rauch judges that the mastermind of September 11 “is a very different creature from Khomeini,” but then he turns around and calls very into question as an appropriate word choice. He argues, for instance, that it is not at all “outlandish to think of the World Trade Center towers as The Satanic Verses, magnified immeasurably but not beyond all recognition.”