(Photo: JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/GettyImages)
On the afternoon of January 14, 1988, 1,000 protesters gathered in Bradford, UK to burn a copy of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. The protest marked a dramatic escalation in the controversy surrounding the 1988 novel, which would eventually elicit a fatwa from Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini sentencing Rushdie to death.
By January 1989, several countries, including India, Pakistan and Egypt, had banned Satanic Verses for its allegedly blasphemous content. The book was accused of parodying Muhammad and denigrating Islam. In an essay from the New York Review of Books responding to the book burning, Rushdie characterized the controversy in the following manner: "One may not discuss Muhammad as if he were human, with human virtues and weaknesses. One may not discuss the growth of Islam as a historical phenomenon, as an ideology born out of its time. These are the taboos against which The Satanic Verses has transgressed."
The protests in Bradford, a town with a large Muslim population, grew out of the tensions that had been fomenting for months. In fact, it wasn't even the first time a copy of Satanic Verses was burned: on December 2, 1988, 7,000 people gathered in Bolton, England to burn the book. But as Daniel Pipes writes in his book The Rushdie Affair: The Novel, the Ayatollah, and the West, "press coverage was virtually nil." The protest in Bradford, meanwhile, became a major news story — in part, Pipes argues, because of the support that local non-Muslim politicians gave to the book's detractors.
The end of the video below, an excerpt from a documentary about The Satanic Verses, shows footage from the demonstration:
The protests against Rushdie and his book escalated dramatically afterward, culminating with Khomeini's fatwa in February. Rushdie was forced to go into hiding then and would be under police protection for the next 10 years. In 1991, Hitoshi Igarashi, the novel's Japanese translator, was stabbed to death.
On September 24, 1998, the Iranian government announced that it would no longer pursue Rushdie or call for his death. "It looks like it's over. It means everything, it means freedom," Rushdie said at the time. The book would continue to cause problems for him, though. As recently as two years ago, Rushdie was forced to cancel his attendance at the Jaipur literature festival in India after Muslim clerics spoke out against his visit and assassination threats surfaced.
In 2012, Rushdie published Joseph Anton, a memoir about his time in hiding. The book's title refers to Rushdie's alias during those years, which was derived from the names of two of his favourite writers: Anton Chekhov and Joseph Conrad.
Rushdie came on the show last season to talk about the book and his life underground. When he was in the red chair, George asked him if he'd imagined his own death: