What the world owes Rushdie

December 27, 1990|By New York Times

ON MONDAY Salman Rushdie tried to make peace with those who would have him dead. It was outrageous to begin with that the Ayatollah Khomeini should have declared a holy war on Rushdie's creative imagination. The least the nations of the world can now do is insist that Iran lift the death sentence.

Rushdie, in the presence of an Egyptian secretary of state and other moderate Muslims, signed a statement embracing the Muslim faith and disavowing sections of his novel "The Satanic Verses" for which the ayatollah two years ago called on Muslims worldwide to take Rushdie's life. He also agreed to forgo a paperback edition of the book.

Cloaked in British security, virtually paralyzed by the threat of death, the writer has lived underground during those two harrowing years. He has watched from the shadows as book publishers and politicians equivocated over the sacrifice he made for free expression. The time for equivocation has ended.

Rushdie, in a statement released in London, seems to acknowledge that his novel did damage to the feelings of the Muslim faithful. His words, whether or not they signal a religious conversion, are those of a man who wishes to live. Britain, which has renewed its diplomatic ties with Iran, can press to have the death sentence lifted.

Khomeini's assassination order has outlived him; his successors have reaffirmed it. The order was a barbarous affront to the comity of nations, and remains so as long as it stands.

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