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Rushie talks about his death threat being lifted on "CNN Morning News"

Rushdie plans book on life under Iran death threat

Web posted on: Friday, September 25, 1998 12:35:34 PMEDT

LONDON (Reuters) -- A jubilant Salman Rushdie on Friday said his next book was likely to relate his experiences during the decade he spent hiding from an Iranian death threat.

"I've always wanted to write about this matter and I always felt the time to write about it was when I knew what the last chapter was," he told a packed news conference the day after Britain and Iran struck a deal to help ensure his security.

"I think that time might be very close and it's a very hot story and most of you don't know it, so I look forward to telling it," he said.

Charting his descent

The book would chart Rushdie's descent into his own personal hell in February 1989 when Iran's then supreme leader, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa, or religious edict, condemning the author to death for blasphemy against Islam in his book "The Satanic Verses."

Rushdie and his backers campaigned tirelessly against the fatwa for almost a decade, saying there was much more at stake than the travails of a single author.

"Some incredibly important things were being fought for her ... the freedom of the imagination, the great, overwhelming, overarching question of freedom of speech, the right of human beings to walk down the streets of their own country without fear," the Indian-born writer said.

Rushdie, 51, was lionized for his 1981 novel "Midnight's Children" but the fatwa destroyed much of his hitherto comfortable life. He was given permanent police protection and forced to move dozens of times from one safe house to another.

"It's an extraordinary thing to see people walking down the streets of foreign cities, carrying your picture with the eyes poked out and calling for your death," he said.

Marriage ended, but life went on

Shortly after the fatwa was declared Rushdie's second wife, U.S. writer Marianne Wiggins, left him. He has since married again and has a son by his new companion, who has not been publicly identified, as well as a son by his first marriage.

"Their support for me has been the crucial factor which has allowed me to survive this," he said.

Rushdie said one of the most worrying things he had to endure was the climate of fear which his presence created.

British Airways still refuses to carry him as a passenger. And plans to hold Friday's news conference in a local design center were scrapped when someone else in the building protested.

During his time under the death threat, he slowly began to emerge from behind his screen and sometimes turned up unexpectedly at London dinner parties. Later he turned up for book signings and even attended soccer matches.

"I've been gradually reclaiming all kinds of freedoms over these years..," Rushdie said.

"Some incredibly important things were being fought for here ... the freedom of the imagination, the great, overwhelming, overarching question of freedom of speech, the right of human beings to walk down the streets of their own country without fear."
-- Salman Rushdie

"Normality is a very simple thing, yet it's the thing I've been denied. Spontaneity, to make one's own decision without referring to anyone else. To do something at the precise moment you feel like doing it, such as going for a walk," he said.

The author, who kept writing during his seclusion and published a couple of books, bubbled with enthusiasm.
Rushdie says it was all about free speech

"When I woke up this morning it was very exciting. There was the residual fear I would switch on the television and discover it wasn't true, so of course I switched on the television and fortunately there had been no alteration," he said.

"It does seem as though the (British-Iranian) agreement is solid and that gives me great happiness," he added, thanking successive British governments for their support and also the teams of bodyguards who never left his side.

Rushdie said he did not regret "The Satanic Verses" and bristled when asked whether he would apologize for having written it or bow to demands to have it removed from bookstores.

"There is not a chance in hell of the book being withdrawn. We have not fought a battle for freedom of speech to give in at the last moment," he said.

All he wants now is to return to the life of a writer.

"What I'm saying is: End of story. Time for the next story."

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.


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