More than 17 years after Iran's late spiritual leader Ruhollah Khomeini launched a fatwa against him, British writer Salman Rushdie remains firm in his criticism of fundamentalist sects of Islam, fearing they will make the West surrender its values.
“We're all living under a fatwa now,” the 60-year-old author, who is of Indian origin, declared in a long, open interview with the British daily The Independent.
“You can see the fatwa as the overture to 9/11,” he said last week.
“It's not a direct line. Maybe you could say it was not the same piece of music. But in some way it was a harbinger — a small thing before a big thing. The first crow, you know, flying across the sky.”
On February 14, 1989, Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, condemned Rushdie to death following the publication of his book The Satanic Verses, judged to be blasphemous. In 1998, the Iranian government committed to not applying the fatwa, but various groups regularly affirm their intention to honor it.
“I've tried, quite hard, as an act of will, to put it behind me, because I don't want to carry that weight around,” he said of the religious decree which made him aware of his own “worthlessness” and for a long time led him to live a reclusive lifestyle in constant fear.
“The warring halves of the world — East and West — were also the warring halves of my soul,” said Rushdie, who was born to a wealthy Muslim family and educated in England.
Rushdie, who rejected Islam as a youth but whose grandfather, a fervent believer, remains “the model of tolerance,” does not hesitate to denounce religious fanaticism.
The radicalisation of Islam worries him. Last week he entered without hesitation the debate raging in Britain over the point of the veil, declaring that “veils suck”.
For him, the veil “is a way of taking power away from women”.
In his interview, he said he feared that “the good guys are losing the battle within Islam. There's no question. The Islam that now exists is not the Islam that I grew up with.”
He despairs that too many reasonable people decline to see the true nature of Islamic fundamentalists and instead consider terrorism as the just reward for the evils caused by the West.
“It's one thing to criticize the way in which the American government is behaving, or the British government, and I have a lot of criticisms of that -- in fact, nothing but criticisms,” he said.
“But it's another thing to fail to see that an enemy actually exists and is extremely serious about what he wishes to do.”
A solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians will not bring about a change to the ambitions, he said.
“It's not what they want. What they want is to change the nature of human life on earth into the image of the Taliban.
“They do not represent the quest for human justice. That, I think, is one of the great mistakes of the left,” he said.
He said he was scared on September 11, 2001, while thinking: “It's a shame that 3,000 people had to die for something pretty obvious to get through people's heads.”
The United States is not the savior in the face of Islamic fundamentalism, in Rushdie's view, because he has “never seen great power as having a moral dimension”.
He fears that the West will, in 25 years, regret its “surrender” because “in the name of tolerance and acceptance, we tied our own hands and slit our own throats” — referring, for example, to the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that appeared in a Danish newspaper last year and which ignited fury in some parts of the Muslim world earlier this year.