author Normal Mailer

"So, my best to you, old man, wherever you are ensconced,
and may the muses embrace you."

author Salman Rushdie

Two months after the publication of Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses" in December 1988, the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran declared the book an offense to Islam and issued a fatwa that Rushdie should be killed. "Anyone who dies in the cause of ridding the world of Rushdie," the Ayatollah declared, "will be a martyr and will go directly to heaven." Rushdie, who was born in India but lived in England, was immediately placed under the protection of armed guards by the British government. The threat was genuine; bookstores that sold "The Satanic Verses were firebombed, riots ensued in areas where it was believed Rushdie was visiting, and two of the book's translators were stabbed -- one fatally -- by Muslim extremists. In the midst of it all, many prominent writers sent Rushdie letters of support and encouragement, including the following by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Norman Mailer.
(from "Letters of a Nation", edited by Andrew Carroll)

      Dear Salman Rushdie,

      I have thought of you often over the last few years. Many of us begin writing with the inner temerity that if we keep searching for the most dangerous of our voices, why then, sooner or later we will outrage something fundamental in the world. and our lives will be in danger. That is what I thought when I started out, and so have many others, but you, however, are the only one of us who gave proof that this intimation was not ungrounded. Now you live what must me a living prison of contained paranoia, and the toughening of the will is imperative, no matter the cost to the poetry in yourself. It is no happy position for a serious and talented writer to become a living martyr. One does not need that. It is hard enough to write at one's best without wearing a hundred pounds on one's back each day, but such is your condition, and if I were a man who believed that prayer was productive of results, I might wish to send some sort of vigor and encouragement to you, for if you can transcend this situation, more difficult than any of us have known, if you can come up with a major piece of literary work, then you will rejuvenate all of us, and literature, to that degree, will flower.

      So, my best to you, old man, wherever you are ensconced, and may the muses embrace you.


      Norman Mailer

Back to A. Khomeini and the Fatwa against Rushdie Page