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Praise, concern in Iran after Rushdie attack; calm government


The front pages of the August 13 edition of the Iranian newspapers, Vatan-e Emrooz, on the front, with the headline in Farsi: “Knife in the neck of Salman Rushdie”, and Hamshahri, on the back, with the headline: “Attack against the writer of Satanic Verses’, are pictured in Tehran on Saturday August 13, 2022. Rushdie, whose novel ‘The Satanic Verses’ prompted death threats from the Iranian leader in the 1980s, was stabbed in the neck and abdomen Friday by a man who rushed onto the stage as the author was about to give a talk in western New York.(AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)


Iranians reacted with praise and concern on Saturday following the attack on novelist Salman Rushdie, the target of a decades-old fatwa by the late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini calling for his death.

It remains unclear why Rushdie’s attacker, identified by police as Hadi Matar of Fairview, New Jersey, stabbed the author as he prepared to speak at an event out west on Friday from New York. Iran’s theocratic government and its state media attributed no motive to the attack.

But in Tehran, some willing to speak to The Associated Press have praised an attack on a writer they say smeared the Islamic faith with his 1988 book “The Satanic Verses.” In the streets of the Iranian capital, images of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini still stare at passers-by.

“I don’t know Salman Rushdie, but I’m happy to hear that he was attacked for insulting Islam,” said Reza Amiri, a 27-year-old delivery man. “It is the fate of anyone who insults the sanctities.”

Others, however, worried aloud that Iran could become even more cut off from the world as tensions remain high over its tattered nuclear deal.

“I feel like those who did this are trying to isolate Iran,” said Mahshid Barati, a 39-year-old geography teacher. “It will negatively affect relations with many, even Russia and China.”

Khomeini, in poor health during the last year of his life after the 1980s Iran-Iraq War stalemate that decimated the country’s economy, issued the fatwa on Rushdie in 1989. The Islamic edict is came amid a violent uproar in the Muslim world over the novel. , which some considered to be making blasphemous suggestions about the life of the Prophet Muhammad.

“I would like to inform all intrepid Muslims around the world that the author of the book titled ‘Satanic Verses’…as well as the publishers who were privy to its contents, are hereby sentenced to death,” Khomeini said in February. . 1989, according to Tehran Radio.

He added, “Anyone who is killed doing this will be considered a martyr and will go straight to heaven.”

Early Saturday, Iranian state media reported that a man had been identified as having been killed while attempting to carry out the fatwa. Lebanese national Mustafa Mahmoud Mazeh died when a book bomb he had prematurely detonated in a London hotel on August 3, 1989, just over 33 years ago.

Matar, the man who attacked Rushdie on Friday, was born in the United States to Lebanese parents who emigrated from the southern village of Yaroun, the town’s mayor, Ali Tehfe, told the AP.

Yaroun is only kilometers (miles) from Israel. In the past, the Israeli army has fired at what it described as positions of the Iranian-backed Shiite Hezbollah militia around this area.

On newsstands Saturday, front-page headlines offered their own take on the attack. The main story of the hardline Vatan-e Emrouz covered what it described as: “A knife in the neck of Salman Rushdie”. The headline of the reformist newspaper Etemad asked: “Salman Rushdie near death?

The conservative newspaper Khorasan carried a large image of Rushdie on a stretcher, its headline screaming: “Satan on the way to hell”.

But the 15th Khordad Foundation – which put the more than $3 million bounty on Rushdie – remained silent at the start of the workweek. Staff members declined to comment immediately to the AP, referring questions to an official who was not in the office.

The foundation, whose name refers to the 1963 protests against the former shah of Iran by Khomeini supporters, generally focuses on helping people with disabilities and others affected by war. But it, like other foundations known as “bonyads” in Iran, funded in part by property confiscated during the shah’s time, often serves the political interests of hardliners in the country.

Reformists in Iran, those who want to slowly liberalize the country’s Shia theocracy from within and have better relations with the West, have sought to distance the country’s government from the edict. Notably, reformist President Mohammad Khatami’s foreign minister said in 1998 that “the government dissociates itself from any award that has been offered in this regard and does not support it”.

Rushdie slowly began to reappear in public life around this time. But some in Iran have never forgotten the fatwa against him.

On Saturday, 34-year-old Tehran resident Mohammad Mahdi Movaghar described having a “good feeling” after seeing Rushdie attacked.

“It is nice and it shows that those who insult the sacred things of us Muslims, in addition to punishment in the hereafter, will also be punished in this world by people,” he said.

Others, however, feared the attack – for whatever reason – could hurt Iran as it tries to negotiate its nuclear deal with world powers.

Since President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled America out of the deal in 2018, Tehran has seen its rial currency plummet and its economy collapse. Meanwhile, Tehran is enriching uranium now closer than ever to weapons-grade levels amid a series of attacks across the Middle East.

“It will make Iran more isolated,” warned former Iranian diplomat Mashallah Sefatzadeh.

While fatwas can be revised or revoked, Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who succeeded Khomeini, has never done so.

“The decision made about Salman Rushdie still stands,” Khamenei said in 1989. “As I said before, this is a bullet for which there is a target. He was shot. day sooner or later the target.

As recently as February 2017, Khamenei replied laconically to this question posed to him: “Is the fatwa on the apostasy of the cursed liar Salman Rushdie still in force? What is the duty of a Muslim in this regard?

Khamenei replied: “The decree is the one that Imam Khomeini issued.


Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press reporters Mehdi Fattahi in Tehran, Iran, and Kareem Chehayeb in Beirut contributed to this report.