The Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwah against Salman Rushdie has done great damage to Rushdie’s life. It helped bring an end to his marriage; it has made it difficult for him to arrange meetings with his young son; it has effectively exiled him from India and the city he feels to be his home, Bombay; it has forced him into a constricted existence surrounded by security agents and bodyguards.

There is one element of Rushdie’s life that the fatwah has not harmed, however, and that is his literary reputation. The implication seems to be that if people are willing to kill a writer for his expressed views, those views, and the way they are expressed, must therefore be of supreme importance. As Rushdie himself said, “I get treated more seriously as a writer in Iran than I do here.” That is no longer the case: The Satanic Verses, a book of questionable merits, was accorded automatic dignity and...


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