Twenty-three years ago, Booker Prize-winning writer Salman Rushdie was forced into hiding when his novel, The Satanic Verses, provoked fervent protests, death threats, and a fatwa from Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran. Now the author is telling the story of his life underground in a new memoir called Joseph Anton – the release of which just happens to come on the heels of Middle Eastern violence inspired by an inflammatory video called Innocence of Muslims.
But Rushdie doesn’t have much sympathy for Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the filmmaker apparently behind Innocence. “He’s done something malicious, and that’s a very different thing from writing a serious novel,” the writer told Today’s Matt Lauer this morning. “He’s clearly set out to provoke, and he’s obviously unleashed a much bigger reaction than he hoped for. I mean, one of the problems with defending free speech is you often have to defend people that you find to be outrageous and unpleasant and disgusting.”
That said, Rushdie is in no way defending the violence in Libya. On Today, he explained how he believes the world is at the mercy of an “outrage industry” driven by fundamentalists who look for things to be offended by: “It’s to a large extent manufactured. The fact that you can unleash these violent mobs like this is obviously completely unacceptable,” he said.
In another interview, Rushdie told the BBC that he believes The Satanic Verses could never be published in 2012 – “A book which was critical of Islam would be difficult to be published now,” he said, citing a climate of “fear and nervousness.”
That climate certainly seems to be having an effect on Midnight’s Children, a new movie based on Rushdie’s most beloved book. The Washington Post writes that distributors in Rushdie’s native India have been reluctant to screen the film, apparently scared off by Muslims and Indian politicians who have boycotted Rushdie and the movie. The Satanic Verses is still banned in India.