(CNSNews.com) – Twenty-seven years after Iran’s supreme leader ordered the death of Salman Rushdie and publishers of his book The Satanic Verses for “blaspheming” Islam, dozens of state-run media organizations are jointly offering a new reward for the assassination of the British author.
Among the biggest single contribution to the combined $600,000 bounty was a donation of around $33,000 from the Fars news agency, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Fars reported the reward offer – timed to coincide with anniversary of the 1989 death edict – in an item illustrated with a sketch of Rushdie, with a target painted on his head.
A year after Rushdie’s controversial novel was published, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in February 1989, accusing him of blasphemy and apostasy – Rushdie was born to an Indian Muslim family – and calling on Muslims to kill him and anyone associated with publishing the book.
The death threat sent Rushdie into hiding under 24-hour police protection, and triggered attacks on bookstores and assassination attempts against publishers – successful in at least one case, the 1991 murder of a Japanese translator.
It also soured relations between Iran and Britain for many years, with diplomatic ties only restored in 1998.
On the fatwa’s 20th anniversary, in 2009, Iran’s foreign ministry confirmed it was still valid, declaring that unlike a political decree a fatwa remains in force unless nullified by the cleric who issued it.
Khomeini died four months after issuing the fatwa, but before he did he said in a statement that “even if Salman Rushdie repents and becomes the most pious man of all time, it is incumbent on every Muslim to employ everything he has got, his life and wealth, to send him to hell.”
Reacting to the new bounty offer, Shahin Gobadi, a member of the exiled National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) opposition group’s foreign affairs committee, said it underlined the regime’s reliance on terrorism.
“This once again clearly shows that terrorism is intertwined with the very existence of this regime as one of the pillars of its survival,” he said. “The mere fact that even the so-called media in this regime allocate a budget for terror manifests that all of the regime’s institutions are geared toward its ominous objectives.”
“It’s simply ludicrous to think that one can reach out to some parts of the ruling theocracy to bring about moderation,” Gobadi said.
The NCRI contends that Khomeini issued the Rushdie fatwa in an attempt to divert Iranians’ attention from the regime’s failure to achieve its objectives in a costly, decade-long war against Iraq, which ended the previous year.
In his fatwa, Khomeini declared the book to be in opposition to Islam, Mohammed and the Qur’an.
“I call on all zealous Muslims to execute [Rushdie and his publishers] quickly, where they find them, so that no one will dare to insult the Islamic sanctity,” he said. “Whoever is killed on this path will be regarded as a martyr, Allah-willing.”
For some free speech advocates, the Rushdie affair – and the weak global response to it – laid the groundwork for subsequent efforts by Islamic governments to outlaw what they view as blasphemy, or speech “defamatory” of Islam.
A veteran U.N. observer, historian David Littman, recalled in 1999 that it took the U.N.’s top human rights body, the U.N. Commission for Human Rights, four years before it included a reference to the Rushdie case in a resolution.
“This attitude of indifference emboldened member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) sympathetic to the enhancement of the shari’a and they proceeded to try to introduce Khomeini-style restrictions on freedom of speech about certain political aspects of Islam to the United Nations itself,” he wrote in the Middle East Quarterly.
Over the years, Rushdie and other critics have accused Western governments, publishers and corporations of practicing self-censorship and appeasement in the face of Muslim threats.