Indian fest hopes Rushdie attends, despite protest

By the Associated Press | January 17, 2012 | 6:10 AM EST

FILE - In this Monday, May 7, 2007 file photo, Indian-born writer Salman Rushdie poses before the gala presentation of the Montblanc de la Culture Award in New York. Organizers said Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012 they hope Rushdie will attend an Indian literary festival, despite calls by Muslim clerics to ban the British-Indian author from the event starting Friday, Jan. 20. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

LUCKNOW, India (AP) — Organizers of an Indian literary festival said Tuesday they hope Salman Rushdie will attend, despite calls by Muslim clerics to ban the British-Indian author from the event.

Rushdie's planned appearance at the Jaipur Literary Festival has sparked an outcry among some Muslims who consider his 1988 book "The Satanic Versus" blasphemous.

Last week, Darul Uloom seminary leader Maulana Abdul Qasim Nomani urged the government to bar Rushdie from the five-day event that starts Friday. The 150-year-old seminary preaches an austere form of Islam that has inspired millions of Muslims, including the Taliban.

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot of Rajasthan, where Jaipur is based, said protesters' feelings should not be ignored and that Rushdie should stay away due to security concerns.

The 64-year-old author has attended the annual festival previously without incident. He has said he does not need permission or a visa to enter or travel within India.

Festival director Namita Gokhale said Tuesday the invitation to Rushdie stands. "We certainly hope he'll be there," she said, though his planned Friday appearance has been shifted due to changes in his schedule. Gokhale would not give more details about when he might show.

Organizers called the controversy an "irritation," and said they were discussing security measures with authorities to ensure the safety of all who attend.

"Every liberal person in this country needs to stand up and be heard," organizer Sanjoy Roy told Indian broadcaster CNN-IBN. "We are becoming a very shrill nation" that calls for banning and burning "stuff we don't like."

Rushdie, who won the 1981 Booker Prize for his novel "Midnight's Children," spent years in hiding after Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini urged that he be killed for blasphemy because of "The Satanic Verses." The book also was banned in India.