"I do not need the idea of God to explain the world I live in." -- Salman Rushdie
Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie ( ; born 19 June 1947) is a British-Indian novelist and essayist. He achieved notability with his second novel, Midnight's Children (1981), which won the Booker Prize in 1981. Much of his fiction is set on the Indian subcontinent. His style is often classified as magical realism mixed with historical fiction, and a dominant theme of his work is the story of the many connections, disruptions and migrations between the Eastern and Western worlds.
His fourth novel, The Satanic Verses (1988), was the centre of a major controversy, drawing protests from Muslims in several countries. Some of the protests were violent, in which death threats were issued to Rushdie, including a fatw? against him by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, on February 24, 1989.
He was appointed a Knight Bachelor by Queen Elizabeth II for "services to literature" in June 2007. He holds the rank Commandeur in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France. He began a five-year term as Distinguished Writer in Residence at Emory University in 2007. In May 2008 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2008, The Times ranked Rushdie thirteenth on their list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945". His latest novel is The Enchantress of Florence, published in June 2008. In 2010, he announced that he has begun writing his memoir.
"A book is a version of the world. If you do not like it, ignore it; or offer your own version in return.""A poet's work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.""Be sure that you go to the author to get at his meaning, not to find yours.""Books choose their authors; the act of creation is not entirely a rational and conscious one.""Doubt, it seems to me, is the central condition of a human being in the twentieth century.""Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself.""I hate admitting that my enemies have a point.""I used to say, 'There is a God-shaped hole in me.' For a long time I stressed the absence, the hole. Now I find it is the shape which has become more important.""If I were asked for a one-sentence sound bite on religion, I would say I was against it.""If Woody Allen were a Muslim, he'd be dead by now.""In this world without quiet corners, there can be no easy escapes from history, from hullabaloo, from terrible, unquiet fuss.""It is very, very easy not to be offended by a book. You just have to shut it.""Most of what matters in your life takes place in your absence.""Names, once they are in common use, quickly become mere sounds, their etymology being buried, like so many of the earth's marvels, beneath the dust of habit.""One of the extraordinary things about human events is that the unthinkable becomes thinkable.""Our lives are not what we deserve; they are, let us agree, in many ways deficient.""Our lives teach us who we are.""Rock and roll music - the music of freedom frightens people and unleashes all manner of conservative defense mechanisms.""Sometimes legends make reality, and become more useful than the facts.""Such is the miraculous nature of the future of exiles: what is first uttered in the impotence of an overheated apartment becomes the fate of nations.""The acceptance that all that is solid has melted into the air, that reality and morality are not givens but imperfect human constructs, is the point from which fiction begins.""The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to turn other ideas - uncertainty, progress, change - into crimes.""Throughout human history, the apostles of purity, those who have claimed to possess a total explanation, have wrought havoc among mere mixed-up human beings.""Vertigo is the conflict between the fear of falling and the desire to fall.""What distinguishes a great artist from a weak one is first their sensibility and tenderness; second, their imagination, and third, their industry.""What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.""What one writer can make in the solitude of one room is something no power can easily destroy.""When thought becomes excessively painful, action is the finest remedy.""Writers and politicians are natural rivals. Both groups try to make the world in their own images; they fight for the same territory."
The only son of Anis Ahmed Rushdie, a University of Cambridge-educated lawyer turned businessman, and Negin Bhatt, a teacher, Rushdie was born in Bombay (now known as Mumbai), India. He was educated at Cathedral and John Connon School in Mumbai, Rugby School, and King's College, Cambridge, where he studied history. He worked for two advertising agencies (Ogilvy & Mather and Ayer Barker) before becoming a full-time writer.
Rushdie has been married four times. He was married to his first wife Clarissa Luard from 1976 to 1987 and fathered a son, Zafar. His second wife was the American novelist Marianne Wiggins; they were married in 1988 and divorced in 1993. His third wife, from 1997 to 2004, was Elizabeth West; they have a son, Milan. In 2004, he married the Indian American actress and model Padma Lakshmi, the host of the American reality-television show Top Chef. The marriage ended on 2 July 2007, with Lakshmi indicating that it was her desire to end the marriage. In 2008 the Bollywood press romantically linked him to the Indian model Riya Sen, with whom he was otherwise a friend. In response to the media speculation about their friendship, she simply stated "I think when you are Salman Rushdie, you must get bored with people who always want to talk to you about literature."
In 1999, Rushdie had an operation to correct ptosis, a tendon condition that causes drooping eyelids and which, according to him, was making it increasingly difficult for him to open his eyes. "If I hadn't had an operation, in a couple of years from now I wouldn't have been able to open my eyes at all," he said.
His first novel, Grimus, a part-science fiction tale, was generally ignored by the public and literary critics. His next novel, Midnight's Children, catapulted him to literary notability. It significantly shaped the course that Indian writing in English would follow over the next decade, and is regarded by many as one of the great books of the last 100 years. This work won the 1981 Booker Prize and, in 1993 and 2008, was awarded the Best of the Bookers as the best novel to have received the prize during its first 25 and 40 years. Midnight's Children follows the life of a child, born at the stroke of midnight as India gained its independence, who is endowed with special powers and a connection to other children born at the dawn of a new and tumultuous age in the history of the Indian sub-continent and the birth of the modern nation of India. The character of Saleem Sinai has been compared to Rushdie.
After Midnight's Children, Rushdie wrote Shame (1983), in which he depicts the political turmoil in Pakistan, basing his characters on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. Shame won France's Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger (Best Foreign Book) and was a close runner-up for the Booker Prize. Both these works of postcolonial literature are characterised by a style of magic realism and the immigrant outlook of which Rushdie is very conscious, as a member of the Indian diaspora.
Rushdie wrote a non-fiction book about Nicaragua in the 1980s, The Jaguar Smile (1987). The book has a political focus and is based on his first hand experiences and research at the scene of Sandinista political experiments.
His most controversial work, The Satanic Verses, was published in 1988 (see section below). Rushdie has published many short stories, including those collected in East, West (1994). The Moor's Last Sigh, a family epic ranging over some 100 years of India's history was published in 1995. The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999) presents an alternative history of modern rock music. The song of the same name by U2 is one of many song lyrics included in the book, hence Rushdie is credited as the lyricist.
Rushdie has had a string of commercially successful and critically acclaimed novels. His 2005 novel Shalimar the Clown received, in India, the prestigious Hutch Crossword Book Award, and was, in Britain, a finalist for the Whitbread Book Awards. It was shortlisted for the 2007 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
In his 2002 non-fiction collection Step Across This Line, he professes his admiration for the Italian writer Italo Calvino and the American writer Thomas Pynchon, among others. His early influences included James Joyce, Günter Grass, Jorge Luis Borges, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Lewis Carroll. Rushdie was a personal friend of Angela Carter and praised her highly in the foreword for her collection Burning your Boats.
Rushdie has quietly mentored younger Indian (and ethnic-Indian) writers, influenced an entire generation of Indo-Anglian writers, and is an influential writer in postcolonial literature in general. He has received many plaudits for his writings, including the European Union's Aristeion Prize for Literature, the Premio Grinzane Cavour (Italy), and the Writer of the Year Award in Germany and many of literature's highest honours. Rushdie was the President of PEN American Center from 2004 to 2006.
He opposes the British government's introduction of the Racial and Religious Hatred Act, something he writes about in his contribution to Free Expression Is No Offence, a collection of essays by several writers, published by Penguin in November 2005. Rushdie is a self-described atheist, and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.
In 2006, Rushdie joined the Emory University faculty as Distinguished Writer in Residence for one month a year for the next five years. Though he enjoys writing, Salman Rushdie says that he would have become an actor if his writing career had not been successful. Even from early childhood, he dreamed of appearing in Hollywood movies (which he would later realize in his frequent cameo appearances).
Rushdie includes fictional television and movie characters in some of his writings. He had a cameo appearance in the film Bridget Jones's Diary based on the book of the same name, which is itself full of literary in-jokes. On 12 May 2006, Rushdie was a guest host on The Charlie Rose Show, where he interviewed Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta, whose 2005 film, Water, faced violent protests. He appears in the role of Helen Hunt's obstetrician-gynecologist in the film adaptation (Hunt's directorial debut) of Elinor Lipman's novel Then She Found Me. In September 2008, and again in March 2009, he appeared as a panelist on the HBO program "Real Time With Bill Maher".
Rushdie is currently collaborating on the screenplay for the cinematic adaptation of his novel Midnight's Children with noted director Deepa Mehta. The film will be called Midnight's Children. While casting is still in progress, Seema Biswas, Shabana Azmi, Nandita Das, and Irrfan Khan are confirmed as participating in the film. Mehta has stated that production will begin in September, 2010.
He is also a member of the advisory board of the Secular Coalition for America, an advocacy group representing the interests of atheistic and humanistic Americans in Washington, D.C..
The publication of The Satanic Verses in September 1988 caused immediate controversy in the Islamic world because of what was perceived as an irreverent depiction of the prophet Muhammad. The title refers to a disputed Muslim tradition that is related in the book. According to this tradition, Muhammad (Mahound in the book) added verses (sura) to the Qur'an accepting three goddesses who used to be worshipped in Mecca as divine beings. According to the legend, Muhammad later revoked the verses, saying the devil tempted him to utter these lines to appease the Meccans (hence the "Satanic" verses). However, the narrator reveals to the reader that these disputed verses were actually from the mouth of the Archangel Gibreel. The book was banned in many countries with large Muslim communities. (11 total: India, Bangladesh, Sudan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Thailand, Tanzania, Indonesia, Singapore, and Venezuela)
On 14 February 1989, a fatw? requiring Rushdie's execution was proclaimed on Radio Tehran by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of Iran at the time, calling the book "blasphemous against Islam" (chapter IV of the book depicts the character of an Imam in exile who returns to incite revolt from the people of his country with no regard for their safety). A bounty was offered for Rushdie's death, and he was thus forced to live under police protection for years afterward. On 7 March 1989, the United Kingdom and Iran broke diplomatic relations over the Rushdie controversy.
The publication of the book and the fatw? sparked violence around the world, with bookstores firebombed. Muslim communities in several nations in the West held public rallies in which copies of the book were burned. Several people associated with translating or publishing the book were attacked, seriously injured, and even killed. Many more people died in riots in Third World countries. Despite the danger posed by the fatw?, Rushdie made a public appearance at London's Wembley Stadium on 11 August 1993 during a concert by U2. In 2010, U2 bassist Adam Clayton recalled that "[lead vocalist] Bono had been calling Salman Rushdie from the stage every night on the Zoo TV tour. When we played Wembley, Salman showed up in person and the stadium erupted. You [could] tell from [drummer Larry Mullen, Jr.'s face that we weren't expecting it. Salman was a regular visitor after that. He had a backstage pass and he used it as often as possible. For a man who was supposed to be in hiding, it was remarkably easy to see him around the place."
On 24 September 1998, as a precondition to the restoration of diplomatic relations with Britain, the Iranian government, then headed by Mohammad Khatami, gave a public commitment that it would "neither support nor hinder assassination operations on Rushdie."
Hardliners in Iran have continued to reaffirm the death sentence. In early 2005, Khomeini's fatw? was reaffirmed by Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a message to Muslim pilgrims making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Additionally, the Revolutionary Guards have declared that the death sentence on him is still valid. Iran has rejected requests to withdraw the fatw? on the basis that only the person who issued it may withdraw it, and the person who issued it — Ayatollah Khomeini — has been dead since 1989.
Rushdie has reported that he still receives a "sort of Valentine's card" from Iran each year on 14 February letting him know the country has not forgotten the vow to kill him. He said, "It's reached the point where it's a piece of rhetoric rather than a real threat." Despite the threats on Rushdie, he has publicly said that his family has never been threatened and that his mother (who lived in Pakistan during the later years of her life) even received outpourings of support.
A former bodyguard to Rushdie, Ron Evans, planned to publish a book recounting the behaviour of the author during the time he was in hiding. Evans claimed that Rushdie tried to profit financially from the fatwa and was suicidal, but Rushdie dismissed the book as a "bunch of lies" and took legal action against Ron Evans, his co-author and their publisher. On 26 August 2008 Rushdie received an apology at the High Court in London from all three parties.
Failed assassination attempt and Hezbollah's comments
On 3 August 1989, while Mustafa Mahmoud Mazeh was priming a book bomb loaded with RDX explosives in a hotel in Paddington, Central London, the bomb exploded prematurely, taking out two floors of the hotel and killing Mazeh. A previously unknown Lebanese group, the Organization of the Mujahidin of Islam, said he died preparing an attack "on the apostate Rushdie". There is a shrine in Tehran's Behesht-e Zahra cemetery for Mustafa Mahmoud Mazeh that says he was "Martyred in London, 3 August 1989. The first martyr to die on a mission to kill Salman Rushdie." Mazeh's mother was invited to relocate to Iran, and the Islamic World Movement of Martyrs' Commemoration built his shrine in the cemetery that holds thousands of Iranian soldiers slain in the Iran—Iraq War. During the 2006 Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah declared that "If there had been a Muslim to carry out Imam Khomeini's fatw? against the renegade Salman Rushdie, this rabble who insult our Prophet Mohammed in Denmark, Norway and France would not have dared to do so. I am sure there are millions of Muslims who are ready to give their lives to defend our prophet's honour and we have to be ready to do anything for that." James Phillips of the Heritage Foundation testified before the United States Congress that a "March 1989" (sic) explosion in Britain was a Hezbollah attempt to assassinate Rushdie which failed when a bomb exploded prematurely, killing a Hezbollah activist in London.
In 1990, soon after the publication of The Satanic Verses, a Pakistani film entitled International Gorillay (International Guerillas) was released in which Rushdie was depicted plotting to cause the downfall of Pakistan by opening a chain of casinos and discos in the country. The film was popular with Pakistani audiences, and it "presents Rushdie as a Rambo-like figure pursued by four Pakistani guerrillas". The British Board of Film Classification refused to allow it a certificate, as "it was felt that the portrayal of Rushdie might qualify as criminal libel, causing a breach of the peace as opposed to merely tarnishing his reputation." This move effectively banned the film in Britain outright. However, two months later, Rushdie himself wrote to the board, saying that while he thought the film "a distorted, incompetent piece of trash", he would not sue if it were released. He later said, "If that film had been banned, it would have become the hottest video in town: everyone would have seen it". While the film was a great hit in Pakistan, it went virtually unnoticed in the West.
Rushdie was knighted for services to literature in the Queen's Birthday Honours on 16 June 2007. He remarked, "I am thrilled and humbled to receive this great honour, and am very grateful that my work has been recognised in this way." In response to his knighthood, many nations with Muslim majorities protested. Parliamentarians of several of these countries condemned the action, and Iran and Pakistan called in their British envoys to protest formally. Controversial condemnation issued by Pakistan's Religious Affairs Minister Muhammad Ijaz-ul-Haq was in turn rebuffed by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Ironically, their respective fathers Zia-ul-Haq and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had been earlier portrayed in Rushdie's novel Shame. Mass demonstrations against Rushdie's knighthood took place in Pakistan and Malaysia. Several called publicly for his death. Some non-Muslims were disappointed by Rushdie's knighthood, believing that the writer did not merit such an honour and there were several other writers who deserved the knighthood more than Rushdie.
Al-Qaeda has condemned the Rushdie honour. The Al-Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri is quoted as saying in an audio recording that Britain's award for Indian-born Rushdie was "an insult to Islam", and it was planning "a very precise response."
Rushdie came from a Muslim family but says that he was never really religious. In 1990, in the "hope that it would reduce the threat of Muslims acting on the fatwa to kill him," he issued a statement in which he claimed "he had renewed his Muslim faith, had repudiated the attacks on Islam in his novel and was committed to working for better understanding of the religion across the world." However, Rushdie later said that he was only "pretending".
His books often focus on the role of religion in society and conflicts between faiths and between the religious and those of no faith.
Rushdie advocates the application of higher criticism, pioneered during the late 19th century. Rushdie calls for a reform in Islam in a guest opinion piece printed in The Washington Post and The Times in mid-August 2005. Excerpts from his speech:
What is needed is a move beyond tradition, nothing less than a reform movement to bring the core concepts of Islam into the modern age, a Muslim Reformation to combat not only the jihadist ideologues but also the dusty, stifling seminaries of the traditionalists, throwing open the windows to let in much-needed fresh air. (...) It is high time, for starters, that Muslims were able to study the revelation of their religion as an event inside history, not supernaturally above it. (...) Broad-mindedness is related to tolerance; open-mindedness is the sibling of peace.
Rushdie supported the 1999 NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, leading the leftist Tariq Ali to label Rushdie and other "warrior writers" as "the belligerati'". He was supportive of the US-led campaign to remove the Taliban in Afghanistan which began in 2001, but was a vocal critic of the 2003 war in Iraq. He has stated that while there was a "case to be made for the removal of Saddam Hussein", US unilateral military intervention was unjustifiable.
In the wake of the 'Danish Cartoons Affair' in March 2006 — which many considered to be an echo of the death threats and fatw? which had followed the publication of The Satanic Verses in 1989 — Rushdie signed the manifesto 'Together Facing the New Totalitarianism', a statement warning of the dangers of religious extremism. The Manifesto was published in the left-leaning French weekly Charlie Hebdo in March 2006.
In 2006, Rushdie stated that he supported comments by the then-Leader of the House of Commons Jack Straw, who criticised the wearing of the niqab (a veil that covers all of the face except the eyes). Rushdie stated that his three sisters would never wear the veil. He said, "I think the battle against the veil has been a long and continuing battle against the limitation of women, so in that sense I'm completely on Straw's side."
Rushdie continues to come under fire from much of the British academic establishment for his political views. The Marxist critic Terry Eagleton, a former admirer of Rushdie's work, attacked him for his positions, saying he "cheered on the Pentagon's criminal ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan". However, he subsequently apologized for having misrepresented Rushdie's views.
At an appearance at 92nd Street Y, Rushdie expressed his view on copyright when answering a question whether he had considered copyright law a barrier (or impediment) to free speech.
No. But that's because I write for a living, [laughs] and I have no other source of income, and I naďvely believe that stuff that I create belongs to me, and that if you want it you might have to give me some cash. [...] My view is I do this for a living. The thing wouldn't exist if I didn't make it and so it belongs to me and don't steal it. You know. It's my stuff.
When Amnesty International suspended human rights activist Gita Sahgal for saying to the press that she thought AI should distance itself from Moazzam Begg and his organization, Rushdie said:
Amnesty ... has done its reputation incalculable damage by allying itself with Moazzam Begg and his group Cageprisoners, and holding them up as human rights advocates. It looks very much as if Amnesty's leadership is suffering from a kind of moral bankruptcy, and has lost the ability to distinguish right from wrong. It has greatly compounded its error by suspending the redoubtable Gita Sahgal for the crime of going public with her concerns. Gita Sahgal is a woman of immense integrity and distinction.... It is people like Gita Sahgal who are the true voices of the human rights movement; Amnesty and Begg have revealed, by their statements and actions, that they deserve our contempt.
Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism, 1981—1991 (1992)
Homeless by Choice (1992, with R. Jhabvala and V. S. Naipaul)
East, West (1994)
The Moor's Last Sigh (1995)
The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999)
The Screenplay of Midnight's Children (1999)
Collected Nonfiction 1992 - 2002 (2002)
Shalimar the Clown (2005)
The Enchantress of Florence (2008)
The Best American Short Stories (2008, as Guest Editor)
Luka and the Fire of Life (2010)
" A fine pickle." The Guardian, 28 February 2009.
" Imagine There Is No Heaven." , extracted contribution from Letters to the Six Billionth World Citizen, a UN sponsored publication in English by Uitgeverij Podium, Amsterdam. The Guardian, 16 October 1999.