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Protests flare over author Rushdie's honour

world Updated: Jun 20, 2007 22:11 IST
Faisal Mahmood
Highlight Story

Angry protesters took to the streets in Pakistan and Malaysia on Wednesday to denounce a British knighthood for author Salman Rushdie, whose novel the Satanic Verses outraged Muslims worldwide.

Afghanistan's Taliban insurgents also condemned the knighthood, which Britain's Queen Elizabeth awarded the Indian-born British writer last week for services to literature.

A hardline cleric in Pakistan called for Rushdie's death, saying whoever was in a position to kill him should do so while protesters in Pakistan and Malaysia demanded that Britain withdraw the honour.

"This is an attempt to provoke Muslims all over the world," Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a leader of an Islamist alliance, told a rally of about 200 women outside parliament in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

The Satanic Verses prompted protests, some violent, by Muslims in many countries after it was published in 1988.

Muslims say the novel blasphemed against the Prophet Mohammad and ridiculed the Koran and events in early Muslim history.

British High Commissioner to Pakistan Robert Brinkley said on Monday Rushdie's knighthood was a reflection of his contribution to literature and was not intended as an insult to Islam or Prophet Mohammad.

But on Tuesday, Pakistan summoned Brinkley to protest against the award. Britain's envoy in Iran was also summoned.

In Islamabad, a pro-Taliban cleric said Rushdie should be killed. "He is condemned to death. Whosoever is in a position to kill him, he should do so," Abdul Rashid Ghazi, a cleric at the capital's hardline Red Mosque, said in a statement.

In the central Pakistani city of Multan about 300 people chanted "Death to the British Queen" and "Death to Rushdie". They burned a British flag and effigies of Queen Elizabeth and Rushdie.

Several hundred people including members of the provincial parliament protested in the Pakistani city of Lahore.

The Pakistani parliament adopted a resolution on Monday deploring the knighthood, and the religious affairs minister said the honour could be used to justify suicide bombings. He later said he did not mean such attacks would be justified.

The late Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa death warrant against Rushdie in 1989, forcing him into hiding for nine years.

"Sudden feeling of anger"

About 30 supporters of Malaysia's hardline Islamic party protested outside the British embassy in Kuala Lumpur chanting "Destroy Salman Rushdie" and "Destroy Britain".

"This has tainted the whole knighthood, the whole hall of fame of the British system," the party's treasurer Hatta Ramli told reporters after the party handed a protest note to embassy officials.

"The British government must be responsible because it has created a sudden feeling of anger not just on Salman Rushdie but on the British government," he said.

Afghanistan's Taliban insurgents also condemned the knighthood for the "apostate" British writer, who was born into a Muslim family in 1947.

"We ... consider this another major affront to Islam by the infidels," said a Taliban spokesman.

In 1998 Iran's government formally distanced itself from the fatwa death warrant issued by Khomeini, but hardline groups in Iran regularly renew the call for his murder, saying Khomeini's fatwa is irrevocable.

(Additional reporting by Jalil Hamid in Kuala Lumpur, Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul, Rehmatullah Mehsud in Islamabad, Asim Tanvir in Multan)