John Reid: Britain won’t apologise for Rushdie honour
Britain stands by the knighthood awarded to Salman Rushdie and would not apologise for honouring him, the Home Secretary said today.
John Reid said the issue was “sensitive” but the protection of people’s right to express their opinions in literature, argument and politics was “of over-riding value to our society”.
His comments came as Britain voiced “deep concern” over a Pakistani minister’s comments appearing to state the award of the honour justified suicide bombings.
Mr Reid said: “I think we have a set of values that accrues people honours for their contribution to literature even when they don’t agree with our point of view.
“That’s our way and that’s what we stand by.” The Home Secretary said some Christians were upset when John Cleese made the Life of Brian and some Jewish people were upset when Mel Gibson made films.
“We have to be sensitive, but I think that we take the approach that in the long-run the protection of the right to express opinions in literature, argument and politics is of over-riding value to our society,” he said.
“We have very strong laws about promoting racial intolerance. It isn’t a free-for-all. We’ve thought very carefully about it.
“But we have a right to express opinions and a tolerance of other people’s point of view, and we don’t apologise for that.”
His comments came in response to a question at the end of a speech to the Citizens’ Crime Commission in New York today.
The international row over Rushdie’s knighthood today spread further around the globe with new protests flairing in Asia.
Members of Malaysia’s Islamic fundamentalist opposition party protested in front of the British High Commission over Britain’s decision to grant a knighthood to author Salman Rushdie.
About 25 activists from the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party in the Muslim-majority nation shouted “Crush Salman Rushdie” and “Damn Britain” as police stood watch during the one-hour peaceful demonstration outside the British diplomatic mission in Kuala Lumpur.
The protesters dispersed after the party’s youth leader, Salahuddin Ayub, handed a protest note to a commission official.
“We consider this an irresponsible move by the British government,” Salahuddin said.
Britain announced on Saturday it would award a knighthood to Rushdie, one of the most prominent novelists of the late 20th century.
Rushdie went into hiding after Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a 1989 religious edict ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie because his novel “The Satanic Verses” allegedly insulted Islam.
Iran’s government said in 1998 it would not support but could not rescind the fatwa. But after Saturday’s news Islamic extremists placed a £80,000 bounty on the writer’s head.
The British Government has expressed its “deep concern” over reported comments by one of Pakistan’s ministers which suggested Rushdie’s knighthood could justify suicide attacks.
Protests against the awards continue in Pakistan and its government has summoned Britain’s high commissioner in Islamabad for talks on the escalating row.
“This insulting, suspicious and improper act by the British government is an obvious example of fighting against Islam,” Ebrahim Rahimpour, Foreign Ministry director for Western Europe, told British Ambassador Geoffrey Adams.
Iranian conservatives attacked the Queen over Salman Rushdie’s knighthood, with a top MP saying the British monarch lived in a dreamworld and a newspaper labelling her an “old crone”.
“Salman Rushdie has turned into a hated corpse which cannot be resurrected by any action,” Mohammad Reza Bahonar, first deputy speaker of Iran’s parliament, said in an address to the house.
“The action by the British queen in knighting Salman Rushdie, the apostate, is an unwise one,” he said, to loud cheers from MPs.
“The British monarch lives under this illusion that Britain is still a 19th century superpower and that bestowing titles is something still deemed important.”
Hardline daily Jomhuri Eslami also launched a scathing attack on the queen, describing the monarch as an “old crone” whose action was a “grimace to the Islamic world”.
“The question is what the old British crone sought by knighting Rushdie, to help him? Well, her act only shortens Rushdie’s pathetic life,” it added.
The daily also linked the award of the knighthood – which marked the queen’s 81st birthday – to a controversial party at the British embassy on Thursday celebrating the same occasion.
Dozens of Islamist students protested against the party, hurling stones, eggs and paint filled bags outside the doors of the compound in southern Tehranand vented anger against Iranians who attended the event.
Tory MP Paul Goodman (Wycombe) accused ministers of failing to deal with incitements to terrorism in the UK and said Mr al-Haq’s remarks were such an incitement.
“Although he’s since sought partially to withdraw his remarks, no condemnation of them has been forthcoming to date from a higher level within the government of Pakistan,” said Mr Goodman.
In London, Lord Ahmed, Britain’s first Muslim peer, said he had been appalled by the award to a man he accused of having ‘blood on his hands’.
In Pakistan, where effigies of the Queen and 59-year-old Rushdie were burned, a minister appeared to justify suicide bombings as a response to the knighthood.
“This is an occasion for the world’s 1.5billion Muslims to look at the seriousness of this decision,” said Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq, Pakistan’s religious affairs minister.
“The West is accusing Muslims of extremism and terrorism,” he told his country’s parliament.
“If someone exploded a bomb on his body he would be right to do so, unless the British government apologises and withdraws the ‘sir’ title.”
The parliament in Islamabad – supposedly a key ally in the war on terror – then backed a government-sponsored motion demanding an apology and the withdrawal of the honour from the The Satanic Verses author.
This isn’t the first time that Salman Rushdie has his the headlines this year.
There has been much speculation that his three year marriage to Padma Lakshmi is in trouble.
Over the course of their relationship Rushdie and his 36-year-old wife have repeatedly denied claims that he is with for her looks while she is attracted to his wealth and fame.
Padma is a model and actress who has more recently been forging her own career as the host of reality show, Top Chef.
Four years ago the couple went to the trouble of releasing a statement denying Lakshmi found Rushdie “boring” or that he thought she wasn’t “intellectually stimulating enough”.
However rumours of an impending split have persisted.
As a backlash begins in the Muslim world against Rushdie’s knighthood, same way as last year’s furore over 12 cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published in a Danish newspaper.
There were violent protests throughout Europe and the Middle East, Danish citizens were warned not to travel to Arab countries and more than a dozen countries removed Danish goods from their shops.
Labour’s Lord Ahmed expressed surprise at the decision to give a knighthood to Rushdie, who was placed under a fatwa, or death sentence, by Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini 18 years ago after the publication of the allegedly blasphemous The Satanic Verses.
“I was appalled to hear Salman Rushdie had been given a knighthood,” Lord Ahmed said.
“Two weeks ago the Prime Minister was calling for building relations between the Muslim world and Britain, then suddenly this knighthood is given to a man who has not only been abusive to Muslims, but also to Christians – because he used abusive language towards Jesus Christ.”
He said whoever had made the decision had made Gordon Brown’s job very difficult as he takes over as Prime Minister.
“The confidence that was being built within Britain with inter-faith work and community cohesion work has once again been damaged because of this provocative decision.
“This man not only provoked violence around the world because of his writings, but there were many people who were killed around the world.
“Forgiving and forgetting is one thing, but honouring the man who has blood on his hands, sort of, because of what he did, I think is going a bit too far.”
In the Iranian capital Tehran, officials of a group called The Organisation to Commemorate the Martyrs of the Muslim World said a £80,000 reward should be paid to anyone ‘who was able to execute the apostate Salman Rushdie’.
Forouz Rajaefar, the general secretary, said that the decision to honour Rushdie with a knight-hood demonstrated the animosity of Britain towards Islam.
He added: “The British and the supporters of the anti-Islam Salman Rushdie could rest assured that the writer’s nightmare will not end until the moment of his death and we will bestow kisses on the hands of whomsoever is able to execute this apostate.”
Iranian MP Mehdi Kuchakzadeh declared: “Rushdie died the moment the late Imam (Khomeini) issued the fatwa.
“It would be a hollow dream for the Queen of England to think that with such a move she could revive one of her mercenaries to oppose Islam. Granting a knighthood to Salman Rushdie will only lead to further hatred towards Britain.”
In the eastern Pakistan city of Multan, hard-line students burned effigies of the Queen and Rushdie.
About 100 students carrying banners condemning the author also chanted, ‘Kill him! Kill him!’
Asim Dahr, a student leader demanded Rushdie face Islamic justice. “This Queen has made a mockery of Muslims by giving him a title of sir,” he told the demonstrators.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman Tasnim Aslam said Rushdie’s knighthood would hamper inter-faith understanding and that Islamabad would protest to London.
“We deplore the decision of the British government to knight him. Salman Rushdie has tried to insult and malign Muslims.”
As his apparent justification of suicide bombers was reported, ul-Haq took a step back and said he was trying to stress what was at the root of terrorism.
The reignited bitterness has caused concern at Scotland Yard. The taxpayer has already spent £10million protecting Rushdie 24-hours a day.
He is afforded the same level of protection as Lady Thatcher or some of the royals.
Robert Brinkley, British high commissioner to Pakistan, defended the honour for Rushdie for his contributions to literature.
“It is simply untrue to suggest that this in any way is an insult to Islam or the Prophet Mohammed, and we have enormous respect for Islam as a religion and for its intellectual and cultural achievements,” Mr Brinkley said.
Asked if he was concerned it could provoke unrest in Pakistan, he replied: “We will just have to see where it goes from here. There’s certainly no reason for that.” (Daily Mail, 20/6/07)