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World - Europe

Living in the shadow of death: Rushdie's son speaks out

January 22, 1999
Web posted at: 1:26 a.m. EST (0626 GMT)

LONDON (CNN) -- The son of controversial British writer Salman Rushdie spoke publicly for the first time on Thursday about how the 10-year execution order on his father "became a way of life."

The Indian-born writer has faced a religious death edict or fatwa since 1989 when the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini said his novel "The Satanic Verses" blasphemed Islam, and although Iran sought to distance itself from the fatwa last year, some Iranians still seek Rushdie's life.

"There were times when you would pick up the phone and have people there saying we know where you live and we are going to get you. But on the whole, it became a way of life and you get used to it," Zafar Rushdie said.

"There is always a random psychopath who might jump out and do something but you can never get away from that. I think things will change and are changing for the better," he added.

"I was lucky that when all the trouble started I was very young and I didn't really understand what was going on and I was also with my mother who sheltered me very well," he said.

He added that things were gradually returning to "normal" and said that British Airways had after a long time now agreed to fly his father.

Salman Rushdie lived 10 years under armed British police guard since the fatwa was declared. Despite Iranian government moves to distance itself from the fatwa, an Iranian foundation has placed a $2.8 million bounty on Rushdie's head and many others have offered property as rewards.

Author 'succeeded in making East and West meet'

Zafar Rushdie was speaking as his father received France's most prestigious literary award at the French Embassy in London, saying that he had been sheltered from most of the trouble by his mother, who is now separated from his literary father.

Zafar Rushdie is currently studying at a British university, but is not aiming to go into the literary world.

With the award, Rushdie becomes a "Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres," and joins other non-French "Commandeur" in an elite group including former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney, actress Lauren Bacall and film director Stanley Kubrick.

Rushdie has published 12 books, of which "Midnight's Children," "Shame" and "The Moor's Last Sigh" have won literary awards across Europe.

"Obviously, it is a very great honor and I'm very pleased to have it, and it's very nice to be recognized for the right reasons, that is my work and writing and things I have dedicated my life to," said Salman Rushdie.

Jack Lang, chairman of the French National Assembly's Foreign Affairs Committee and former Minister of Culture presented Rushdie with the award, which reflected his popularity in France, where his novels and his stand against intolerance have won him many friends.

"In novel after novel you have succeeded in making East and West meet, mixing Swift with the Arabian Nights... enriching the English language with your never ending creativity," Lang said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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