Revealed: Rushdie’s shelter from the storm

February 16th, 2009 - 6:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Thai AirwaysLondon, Feb 16 (IANS) British Airways refused to fly writer Salman Rushdie in the days after the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini’s death sentence against him, but Middle Eastern airlines had no problems at all.

Rushdie’s lawyer Geoffrey Robertson and fellow-writer Ian McEwan hid him in their homes to protect him from the fatwa over his novel The Satanic Verses, an episode that turned McEwan against religious fundamentalism.

And a man who accidentally scraped his truck against Rushdie’s car in the Australian outback was grilled by police for his non-existent links to Iranian bounty-hunters.

Intimate details of Rushdie’s life in the days after Khomeini’s Feb 14, 1989 fatwa have begun to emerge in the British and American press, containing some surprising revelations.

Celebrated British novelist McEwan sheltered Rushdie in his cottage in the Cotswolds, a picturesque region in south-west England.

McEwan told the New Yorker magazine in an interview to be published next week: “I’ll never forget - the next morning we got up early. He had to move on. Terrible time for him.

“We stood at the kitchen counter making toast and coffee, listening to the eight o’clock BBC news. He was standing right by my side and he was the lead item on the news.

“Hezbollah had put its sagacity and weight behind the project to kill him.”

McEwan said his views on religion had hardened, adding: “Faith is at best morally neutral and at worst a vile mental distortion. The powers of sweet reason look a lot more attractive post-9/11 [than] the beckonings of faith, and I no longer put them on equal scales.”

In a separate article in The Sunday Times, Rushdie’s lawyer revealed that the threatened writer came to stay at his home in Islington, north London, soon after the fatwa was issued.

The location of the house was important, noted Geoffrey Robertson wryly: “Our bedrooms, the security service explained, offered a clear view of the approach of any would-be assassin.”

Robertson said after a few months of “edgy precautions,” Rushdie’s supporters became more relaxed, although curtains would be drawn when he came to dinner.

“We tried to arrange a holiday for him but British Airways refused to fly him. (Other airlines, of Arab countries, were all too willing.)

“Eventually he made it to Sydney, courtesy, I think, of Thai Airways or Air New Zealand, and left our beach apartment for a long drive down the coast. At an outback town named after the poet Milton, his hire car was slightly scraped by a sewage truck (or dunny cart, in local parlance).

“Its driver, to his astonishment, was immediately taken into police custody and grilled exhaustively on his possible links to Iranian terrorists.”

Robertson said the British Special Branch policemen protecting Rushdie enjoyed a relationship of “goodwill” with Rushdie’s radical supporters.

“The police enjoyed the literary company rather more than that of the politicians they were normally detailed to protect, and radical writers came to see the point of secret state surveillance of suspected terrorists.”

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