Salman Rushdie on Faith and the Future

The world-renowned author Salman Rushdie is no stranger to controversy.

His 1988 novel, "The Satanic Verses," sparked an international firestorm. The Ayatollah Khomeini called for Rushdie's assassination because of what he felt was the author's scathing critique of Islam. In the wake of Khomeini's death threat, Rushdie became an icon of free speech.

After spending years underground, Rushdie is once again in the public eye. He recently sat down with ABC's Diane Sawyer to talk about everything from Islam to love.

Diane Sawyer: I have to ask because everyone still you live in fear?

Salman Rushdie: No, I'm okay, thank you.

Diane Sawyer: No?

Salman Rushdie: I'm okay except that none of us are okay.

Diane Sawyer: What do you mean?

Salman Rushdie: I mean now it's all of us. It used to be just me, now it's everybody.

Diane Sawyer: Do you think ultimately religion is going to end the world?

Salman Rushdie: I hope not. I mean I's a good chance that it might, but obviously one has to be optimistic about these things.

Diane Sawyer: [If you] could say one thing to Americans, about Islam, and about what they must understand about Islam, it would be?

Salman Rushdie: What you have to know about Islamic fanaticism is that the ... people who are most oppressed by it, at first oppressed by it, are other Muslims.

Diane Sawyer: And so the solution --

Salman Rushdie: The solution is to look away from the fanatics to of the Muslim world, which actually isn't like that at all.

Diane Sawyer: Would you just prescribe a book to everybody? How would you suggest that we go about starting to build the bridge that hasn't been built for hundreds of years?

Salman Rushdie: I do think that what's happening is that people are looking for books that explain the world. It actually is a moment for literature. A moment when storytellers, by making you care about people, can take you into worlds which otherwise you would have no interest in.

Faith in Women

Rushdie's latest novel is an example of the type of literature he believes the world now craves. "Shalimar the Clown" is set in both India and America; it focuses upon an act of desire that ignites a dangerous destiny. Tiough it is not at all a typical love story, its ravishing passages address both religion and romance.

Salman Rushdie: Happy love stories are really short, you know. They are boy meets girl, they live happily ever after, the end. So good love stories do tend to have trouble, you know, so it's a love story that turns into a revenge story. And I have a little feeling, that right at the end of the story, it might be turning back into a new love story.

Diane Sawyer: You have a philosopher who talks about the question of death and says that the question of death is also the question of life. The question of how to live is also a question of love and this is the question you have to go on answering. Have you answered it?

Salman Rushdie: Well, I mean I, I'm lucky in love, so I think that's, that's probably the right answer to that.

Diane Sawyer: You seem to be saying at the end, you think...that women are going to be the ones who have to redeem the political situation.

Salman Rushdie: I do think so.

Diane Sawyer: And yet we read, that some of the Egyptian television actresses, some of the most popular ones have now decided to go back under the veil. How are we to understand that?

Salman Rushdie: When you hear...these stories about mostly young women saying they wish to choose to be veiled as a badge of identity --

Diane Sawyer: Or glamour.

Salman Rushdie:Or glamour, yes, or eroticism, I don't know...I think they're really doing a disservice to their sisters in parts of the world, where there is not a free choice. You know, where women are actually being forced into these things and are fighting hard against them.

Diane Sawyer: So you don't think that it's a true religious faith --

Salman Rushdie: No, there's nothing, there's nothing in the Koran which says that you have to be veiled, nothing. I mean there's a, there's a verse somewhere which says...that women and men, by the way, should be modestly dressed. But there's nothing which talks about covering the face. There's nothing which talks about the whole body. That's more the sort of Arab idea that's being exported to other cultures.

Diane Sawyer: So unity of women around the globe might actually change it?

Salman Rushdie: I hope so, you know, and I think -- really do think -- I mean I come from a family almost entirely composed of women, if you live in that world of very brilliant, argumentative, opinionated, forceful women, you begin to see that there's a force there which really could change the world.