A fatwa against author Salman Rushdie led to more than 30 years of terror: a timeline

Extremists have targeted writers, publishers and translators since 1989.

August 15, 2022, 6:08 AM

LONDON and CAIRO -- Since 1989, when the Iranian supreme leader of the time, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued an apostasy fatwa against the Indian-British Salman Rushdie, it has not been just the "The Satanic Verses" author who has been threatened and attacked.

Multiple writers, translators and publishers have been targeted around the world by extremists with links to this fatwa, which included a religious death warrant for "all the editors and publishers" of the novel who were "aware of its contents."

Salman Rushdie holds up a copy of his book "The Satanic Verses" at Freedom Forum in Arlington, Va., March 1992.
Ron Edmonds/AP

Rushdie was hospitalized after being stabbed multiple times in New York on Friday, about 33 years after the fatwa was issued.

Rushie's agent and family released statements Sunday saying he has a long road ahead but is improving and is off a ventilator. The stabbing marked the latest violent attack on people who were targeted around the world with direct and indirect links to the fatwa.

Ettore Capriolo

Ettore Capriolo, an English literature expert who had translated "The Satanic Verses" into Italian, was stabbed multiple times on July 4, 1991, in Milan, Italy. He survived the attack.

Talking to the local press, Capriolo said he had forgotten about "The Satanic Verses" translation and had moved on to other works when received a message from a young man saying he was from the Iranian embassy with a translation proposal.

A few days later, the man showed up at Capriolo's house. As they sat for a chat about the proposal, the guest asked him for Rushdie's address. The translator said he didn't know it. As the young man was leaving, he turned and punched Capriolo in the face before stabbing him several times, local media reported.

The attacker was never arrested, and the only comment from the Iranian embassy at the time was that they did not know anyone named Capriolo and they had never searched for him, local media reported.

Hitoshi Igarashi

Eight days later, a 44-year-old Japanese scholar, Hitoshi Igarashi, was found stabbed to death at his office on July 12, 1991, at Tsukuba University in Tokyo.

A year and a half earlier, Igarashi and his publisher Gianni Palma held a press conference in Tokyo to announce their translation of Rushdie's work. Midway through the session, a Pakistani Muslim took over the stage and attempted to assault Palma. The attacker was arrested and reportedly deported afterward.

Aziz Nesin

Turkish writer and humorist Aziz Nesin started translating "The Satanic Verses" in the early 1990s. In May 1993, Nesin published excerpts from the controversial novel in the newspaper Aydinlik.

The move, along with some of his speeches led to riots in Istanbul by Islamic fundamentalists who denounced Nesin for “spreading atheism.”

A few months later, on July 2, 1993, a mob reportedly organized by Islamists gathered around the Madimak Hotel in the Anatolian city of Sivas, where a cultural festival was taking place, to protest the presence of Nesin, according to The New York Times. They reportedly set the hotel on fire. Nesin and many other guests escaped, but at least 37 people were killed, according to multiple reports.

William Nygaard

Publisher William Nygaard, who had put out a Norwegian translation of Rushdie's novel, was shot three times outside his home on Oct. 11, 1993, in Holmenkollen, Norway. He survived the attack, but was hospitalized for months.

Both Nygaard and the translator of the novel, Kari Risvik, had received death threats before the attack, according to local reports.

Twenty-five years later, in October 2018, Norway's National Criminal Investigation Service said two people were charged with attempted murder; one from Iran and one connected to Lebanon.

Naguib Mahfouz

Egyptian writer and Nobel Prize laureate for literature Naguib Mahfouz was stabbed in the neck by a Muslim extremist outside his Cairo home on Oct. 15, 1994.

He survived the injuries, but his right hand was paralyzed afterward, according to The New York Times.

Mahfouz had denounced the fatwa against Rushdie, saying that "the veritable terrorism of which he is a target is unjustifiable, indefensible."

Novelist Naguib Mahfouz poses for a portrait at his home in Cairo, Oct. 19, 1988.
AFP via Getty Images, FILE

The controversy around "The Satanic Verses," had revived criticisms against Mahfouz's novel "Children of Our Alley." The book, published in 1959, had been deemed blasphemous by some, including extremist cleric Abdel-Rahman, known as "the blind sheikh." If Mahfouz had been killed 30 years ago, Rushdie would not have appeared, Abdel-Rahman said in an interview with Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Nabaa.

"Nobody can force any piece of literature on art on anyone; people choose whatever they want to read," Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid, an Egyptian writer, told ABC News. "Such fatwas should stay away from literature and arts."

Denying any effects of such fatwas on the readership of literary books in the long term, Abdel-Meguid said that "the intended aim of such attacks is never achieved."

"In the contrary," he added, "they encourage people to read the books which these extremists regard as blasphemous."