ON 14 FEBRUARY 1989, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Supreme Leader of Iran, passed a death sentence upon the writer Salman Rushdie. For Rushdie, the days that followed were hyper-tense, full of fear. In his new book, Joseph Anton: A Memoir, Rushdie gives a gripping account of the threat against his life, his concealment under police protection and the alias Joseph Anton, his rapid succession of relocations, and of the world around him as it brimmed over with anger at his supposed apostasy and his “blasphemous” book, The Satanic Verses (1988).
Although Rushdie had some unstinting support—from his publishers, his friends, and people who steadfastly maintained the absolute primacy of free speech—he was widely and violently denounced. Among his many critics—a circus of Muslim clerics and extremists; a few British and American conservatives; and, to his surprise, even some liberal intellectuals, commentators and writers—was a curious alliance of religious leaders:
[The] Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, had said that he “understood the Muslims’ feelings”. Soon the Pope would understand those feelings too, and the British Chief Rabbi, and the Cardinal of New York. The God squad was lining up its troops.